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Dealership hours of operation
Mon - Fri 8:00am - 5:00pm
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Dealership hours of operation
Mon - Fri 8:00am - 5:00pm
Sat - Sun closed
2800 Barlow Trail NE, Calgary, AB, T1Y 1A2

What To Look For When Buying a Used Vehicle

What To Look For When Buying a Used Vehicle

Buying a pre-owned vehicle can be both a thrilling and a stressful experience as there are many things you need to check and think about before your purchase. In this article, we'll try to explain the process in detail, so you know exactly what to look for when buying a used car.

Key Takes For Those Who Are in a Rush:

  • Determine your needs for the type of vehicle you need and set a budget.
  • Choose where to buy: dealerships (secure, warranties), private sellers (negotiable prices), auctions (affordable, risky), or used rentals (newer cars, higher wear).
  • Check the vehicle’s history, inspect the exterior for damage, and examine the interior.
  • Assess engine and transmission; consider a professional mechanic inspection.
  • Test drive for handling, steering, acceleration, braking, noise levels, and safety features.
  • Evaluate insurance costs, potential taxes, and the need for formal inspections.
  • Negotiate the price with informed knowledge of the car's condition and market value.

Why You Can Trust Our Opinion

Sunridge Auto used car dealer in Calgary, is a name you can count on. Our team, made up of skilled technicians and knowledgeable sales advisors, has a deep understanding of cars. They offer honest, straightforward advice, drawing from a rich history of working with a wide variety of used vehicles. Our expertise means we can guide you through the process, ensuring you make a well-informed decision. Trust us to help you find the right used car with confidence.

What’s the Right Used Car for You?

You should start with understanding your specific needs. Are you looking for a fuel-efficient sedan, a spacious SUV, or a versatile hatchback? Consider factors such as mileage, fuel efficiency, and space. Figure out your budget and age of the vehicle; this can narrow down the selection and make it easier to choose your next car.

what to look for when buying a used vehicle

Where to Buy a Used Vehicle?

When it comes to buying a used car, there are a few main places people usually turn to, each with its own perks and risks.

Buying a Used Car at a Dealership

Buying from a dealership is often the most stress-free and convenient option. Dealerships offer security and often provide inspections and limited warranties. They usually have a wide selection, and you can get advice from experienced sales advisors that can help you choose the right vehicle for your budget. Dealerships can also provide you with an auto financing solution, which is great if you’re buying a newer, more expensive car. The downside is that dealerships can be pricier and there’s often less capacity for negotiations, because dealers buy used vehicles that are still in a good condition so they know they can sell a good car.

Buying a Used Vehicle from Private Sellers

Private sales often allow more room for negotiation, and you can sometimes find great deals if you meet the right sellers at the right time. But it also has some downsides. Private sales can be riskier, as you often buy an unchecked vehicle. Depending on how much car knowledge you have and whether you have access to the vehicle’s history, you might not know what you’re getting yourself into. Buying privately also means you take on all the risk and must allocate time to meet different sellers to test drive a few cars before you find one you like. When it comes to used car financing, you would have to turn to banks or other financial third-party institutions to see if you can get a loan on a used vehicle.

Buying a Car at an Auction

Auctions can be exciting places to find very affordable used cars, but they come with uncertainties. Before diving in, you should do your homework: try to find out as much as you can about the condition of the car, learn about the auction process, and research the reputation of the auction house. It’s a bit like a treasure hunt—there are great finds, but you need to be cautious. Sometimes, you might score a fantastic deal, but unexpected car issues can pop up. Even though auctions can be a great bargain, remember that many of them do have a bad rep; so make sure you find a reputable auction house to buy your vehicle.

Buying Used Rentals

Some companies primarily sell used rental vehicles. If you’re looking to buy a rental, you can often get a newer car slightly cheaper. But you should also remember that rentals can be worn down more than a regular car of the same year due to multiple drivers and a more extensive usage than a private vehicle would go through. Renters rarely take care of the rentals as well as they do of their owned vehicles. On the other hand, rental vehicles normally go through constant service checks to ensure they’re ready for the next driver.

What to look for when buying a used car

Things to Check When Buying a Used Car

When engaging with sellers, it’s best to be prepared. We recommend arming yourself with a comprehensive list of things to find out about the car's history and condition. Here are some of the primary actions we’d try to take if we were in your place.

Check the Vehicle’s History

Find out the VIN number and research the car’s history. If you can use Carfax VIN check or a similar service, it can provide some valuable information. Verify the vehicle's ownership history, including the number of previous owners, accidents, and service records. Any irregularities could potentially be red flags. While it might be a paid service buying from a private seller, dealerships provide history reports that you can quickly find online.

Exterior Inspection

Carefully inspect the exterior for signs of damage, rust, or repainting. Pay additional attention to panel alignment as if there are any distortions, it might be an indication of previous accidents or repairs. Additionally, check the tires for wear patterns, which can be a sign of alignment issues.

Interior Examination

Don’t forget to carefully assess the interior. Check the condition of the seats, dashboard, and upholstery. Ensure all electronic components, such as windows, lights, and air conditioning, are functioning properly. Check the car sun visors and the mesh around them to see if there has been any water damage, as often the water leaks through the railings or the sunroof and escapes there.

Engine and Transmission Assessment

If you don’t have much experience with cars, consult a mechanic to assess the engine and transmission. Look for leaks, unusual odors, or strange noises. We recommend doing a test drive that involves various speeds and terrains to evaluate the car's performance thoroughly. Often, you can arrange to take the car into a shop to do a thorough inspection; that’s always a good option if you’re planning on a bigger investment into your vehicle.

Dashboard Warning Lights

During the test drive, check the dashboard for warning lights. Even if a light goes off momentarily, it could signify underlying problems. Check with the seller about any illuminated errors to see if there’s a clear reason for it to appear. While some issues might be insignificant and easily fixable, others might be hard and expensive to fix. Think about what you want to invest additionally into the vehicle and if it’s worth it.

Although nothing will guarantee that the car will run without issues in the long run, this thorough inspection process will help you avoid some of the more critical problems you might run into sooner than later. And it’s one of the main things to know when trying to figure out what to look for when buying a used car.

what to look for when buying a used vehicle

Taking the Car for a Test Drive

Another important step when buying a used car is the test drive. This hands-on experience provides great insights into the car’s performance and comfort. Here are the main things we recommend checking when doing a test-drive.

Handling and Steering

Pay attention to how the car handles different terrains. Assess the steering responsiveness of the steering system. See if there are any vibrations or unusual noises, as they could indicate underlying issues. In addition to any technical issues, remember that you are choosing your next vehicle you’ll probably use every day. So, in addition to any technical issues, make sure it’s comfortable to drive.

Acceleration and Braking

Test the car's acceleration and braking capabilities. Check for smooth acceleration without hesitations or jerks. Test the brakes at various speeds to ensure they respond promptly and effectively. In case the brakes are old and worn, budget for new brake pads and disks as well.

Noise Levels

Listen keenly to the noise levels inside the car. Excessive road noise or unusual sounds from the engine could be red flags. A quiet interior indicates good insulation and attention to detail in the car's construction. Bear in mind though that some vehicles are just louder than others when it comes to road sounds penetrating the cabin.

Safety Features

Familiarize yourself with the car's safety features. Check for the presence and functionality of airbags, anti-lock braking system (ABS), traction control. In newer cars, check or ask about any other advanced safety technologies and try to determine if they’re working. As these features are crucial, you should take the time to get all the answers you need.

Comfort and Convenience

Evaluate the overall comfort and convenience features. Assess the seating comfort, visibility, and ease of access to essential controls. Consider things like the placement of cup holders, storage compartments, and overall cargo capacity. If you’re planning on driving this vehicle for an extended time, make sure it’s comfortable and it has enough space for your needs.
By inspecting these aspects during the test drive, you gain a comprehensive understanding of the car’s performance and suitability for your needs.

what to look for when buying a used vehicle

Consider Taking It to a Mechanic

If you’re still wondering what to look for when buying a used car, we have another great tip that can clear some things out easily. If you have the time and can spend a little bit of money before getting the next vehicle, consider taking it to a professional mechanic for an inspection. Discuss this option with the seller and take it to a shop where they will be able to thoroughly inspect the vehicle. Here are some of the main things a mechanic will be able to do for you.

Engine and Transmission Examination

A certified mechanic will conduct a thorough inspection of the engine and transmission. They'll assess for leaks, worn-out components, and signs of inadequate maintenance.

Suspension and Steering Assessment

The mechanic will examine the suspension system and steering components. Any issues in these areas can lead to a bumpy ride and affect the car's handling.

Brake System Inspection

As mentioned before, inspecting the brake system is an important step for your safety. The mechanic will check the brake pads, rotors, and brake fluid levels.

Exhaust and Emission Check

An evaluation of the exhaust system and emissions is essential for environmental compliance and optimal engine performance.

Overall Structural Examination

A mechanic will also inspect for rust, structural damage, or signs of previous accidents which can significantly impact the vehicle's safety and longevity.

Having a mechanic inspect the car offers peace of mind, ensuring you make a well-informed decision based on the vehicle's mechanical health. They can also give you a quote of what you may need to budget for in case you want to get some improvements done.

what to look for when buying a used vehicle

Check the Car Insurance Price

When getting another car, some buyers don’t consider the potential increase in insurance premiums. For those who have a long driving experience, that’s often not an issue. But newer drivers, or those who are new to Canada, should also bear in mind that insurance premiums can vary quite a bit depending on the model you’re planning to buy.

If you’re getting a newer used vehicle, you’ll also likely want a full coverage, which can be more costly than liability-only car insurance. We recommend obtaining some insurance estimates from various providers before you buy the vehicle.

Check If You Need to Pay Taxes

In Alberta, when buying a used car from a dealership or a company, you will likely need to pay a 5% Goods and Services Tax (GST) on the purchase price. However, if you opt for a private seller, GST is typically not applicable. Always check the tax regulations before buying the vehicle and remember that the rules can differ between provinces.

Check If it Needs a Formal Inspection

If you buy a car registered in another province, or if that car has been declared salvage by an insurance company, you will be required to take the car for an inspection at a licensed inspection technician. In some cases, vehicles older than 12 years can be required to undergo an inspection as well. So make sure you check this as well before you commit to buying a used vehicle.

Negotiating the Price

Negotiation is a delicate art that can significantly impact the final price. In addition to your negotiation skills, remember, that the knowledge about the car's condition. Consider the vehicle's history, insurance costs, and taxes, which can be valuable assets in helping you determine what you want to pay for the vehicle. When negotiating, be assertive yet respectful to the seller. Remember that both you and they have the right to decide what the value of the used vehicle is. Don’t hesitate to walk away if the deal doesn’t align with your budget but understand the seller has the right do the same.

what to look for when buying a used vehicle

Why Should You Consider Buying at a Dealership

When it comes to buying a used car, dealerships offer a great range of benefits:

  • First, dealerships thoroughly inspect their used vehicles, and often offer a one-year warranty for cars they sell. This means you can rely on getting a vehicle that is in a good condition.
  • Secondly, dealerships provide transparent vehicle histories, detailing previous owners and any incidents, at no additional cost. Most often you can find the report online and check the car’s history before you even reach out to the dealer.
  • Furthermore, dealerships offer car financing options, simplifying the payment process. You can explore various payment plans tailored to your budget, making the purchase more manageable.
  • Moreover, dealerships provide post-purchase services, offering maintenance packages and repair warranties, adding value to your investment.
  • Lastly, dealerships often offer a trade-in option for your old car, allowing you to easily transition from one vehicle to another, at a reduced cost.

In summary, buying from a dealership provides a stress-free experience, making it an attractive choice for many buyers.


When trying to figure out what to watch for when purchasing a used vehicle, remember that good research and smart questions can go a long way. These, combined with a thorough inspection, will help you make the right choice as a buyer.

If you have questions about buying a used car, you can always reach out to our experienced sales advisors who will help you get all the answers you need.

Categories: Used Vehicles