Buying a car, especially buying a car privately, takes more than money. It takes moxie - you know, pluck, spunk, nerve, tenacity, guts, grit…yeah, moxie! Not only do you have to know the right questions, you need to be bold enough to ask them. If you’re buying from a private seller, as hundreds of thousands of Ontarians do each year, you need to take the necessary steps to protect your interests and to ensure you are not dealing with a curbsider.
Curbsiders are illegal, unlicensed dealers who pose as private sellers innocently selling their ‘personal’ vehicles. The reality is much different. Curbsiders are in the business of selling cars and just as they misrepresent themselves, they commonly misrepresent the vehicles they’re peddling, many of which are rebuilt wrecks or odometer-tampered. “These guys are very good at what they do; and they cause considerable consumer harm,” stated Terry O’Keefe, Director of Communications and Education for Ontario’s regulator of vehicle sales, OMVIC. “And they are prolific. Twenty five percent of all ‘private’ vehicle sale ads posted online in Ontario, actually belong to curbsiders.” So you’re going to need some of that pluck and grit to ask the right questions and weed them out.
5 questions to ask when buying a car privately
1. How long have you owned this vehicle?
Most legitimate private sellers have owned their vehicle for many months or years…and they can prove it by providing a Used Vehicle Information Package (UVIP). In fact, private sellers are required by law to provide the purchaser with a UVIP. In addition to lien and historical odometer information, UVIP’s list the names of all owners (and dates of ownership) in Ontario. So check it, and confirm the seller’s story. Needless to say, be cautious of a seller who has only owned a vehicle for a few weeks or months; this could be an indication he or she is a curbsider.
2. Do you have a CarProof/CarFax Report?
You’ll want to find out if the car you’re thinking of buying has been in an accident, registered in another jurisdiction, has a rolled-back odometer or has a lien on it. A CarProof report may provide you with this valuable information. If the seller has a CarProof/Carfax report to give you, great; if not, get the VIN of the vehicle and buy one yourself! In fact, you may want to buy your own even if the seller offers one – OMVIC has heard of curbsiders providing vehicle history reports that have been altered to remove information they didn’t want the buyer to know.
(Note: CarProof will be changing its name to CarFax Canada in late 2018)
3. Can I see the maintenance records?
The answer to this question may also help establish how long a seller has owned the vehicle, and even more importantly, that they have properly maintained it! In fact, a private seller who can demonstrate that their vehicle has been well maintained should be happy to show those records as it will make the sale easier and probably get the seller a better price. So beware of any seller who says they’ve owned the vehicle for years but can’t provide any records.
4. Can I please see the vehicle’s ownership document and your driver’s licence?
This question requires you to be bold – but don’t you want to make sure that the vehicle is registered to the person selling it!!! And that is often not the case. It is a common ploy by many curbsiders not to have vehicles registered in their names. If questioned, a curbsider will likely have an excuse as to why the ID and proof of ownership don’t match. Watch out for answers such as “Oh I’m selling it for a friend, or a family member.” The likely story is that they didn’t want to pay the taxes that would have been due if they’d transferred it into their name, they don’t want you to be able to track them down after the sale (when you’ve learned the real history of the car) and they don’t want to make it easy for OMVIC to find and prosecute them.
5. Can I get this vehicle inspected by my mechanic?
First, no seller, not even a registered dealer, has to allow a prospective buyer to have a vehicle inspected before purchase. But failing to get a pre-purchase inspection is a huuuuuge risk, especially from a private seller. “We hear from many consumers who discover the vehicle they’ve purchased has significant mechanical problems when they take the vehicle for a mechanical inspection, the week after they’ve bought it,” explained O’Keefe. “Unfortunately, they have little recourse other than going to court. These problems could have been eliminated if they had had the vehicle inspected before they bought it.”
Spending 1-200 bucks on a pre-purchase inspection can uncover issues the seller didn’t disclose or perhaps, didn’t even know about. So if the seller says “no” to your request, it’s safest to simply walk away. Buying a car is a serious undertaking, but you don’t just need deep pockets…you need to know the right questions, have the moxie to ask them, and some savvy to evaluate the answers.
For more car-buying tips, visit Ontario’s vehicle sales regulator’s website, omvic.ca.
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Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council
Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council