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OMVIC Blog: Car Buying Tips

When a Deal IS Too Good to be True

Apr 11

Thursday, April 11, 2019  RssIcon

Woman car breakdown

 “I saw a 2006 Ford advertised on Kijiji for $1,600 ‘as is’ or $1,900 certified, so I arranged to meet the seller. The car looked decent: no rust, no dents or scratches. It was comfortable and very clean inside.”- Anonymous, Toronto car buyer.

At first glance this car buyer, let’s call her Sheila, agreed to—what appeared to be— ‘a pretty good deal’ for an older, used vehicle. Unfortunately, after buying the car, Sheila learned that 'a pretty good deal’ was ‘too good to be true.’

“The day after I bought the car the check engine light came on and I couldn’t get it to start.” Sheila called OMVIC, Ontario’s vehicle sales regulator, who determined the seller was, in fact, a curbsider, an illegal unlicensed dealer posing as a private seller.  And the car? Well, it had major mechanical problems. “I had it towed to my mechanic and he told me it would cost thousands of dollars to fix the problem.”

OMVIC regularly receives complaint calls from consumers with similar stories. Victimized by curbsiders, these consumers discovered the vehicles they purchased had undisclosed mechanical issues, were undisclosed rebuilt wrecks or had rolled-back odometers.

OMVIC spends significant resources trying to protect consumers from these illegal sellers, laing charges that have resulted in large fines and jail sentences. And yet the regulator estimates that 25 per cent of all ‘for sale by owner’ online vehicle ads in Ontario are placed by curbsiders.

That’s a significant risk, though research in Quebec and BC found the rate of curbsider ads there was even higher at 52 and 61 percent respectively, which is why OMVIC provides eight tips to anyone considering buying a vehicle privately:

1. Ask Questions. How long was the vehicle owned? Are there maintenance records? Why are they selling?

2. Be Bold—Know Who You’re Buying From. Ask the seller for ID and compare it to the vehicle ownership document – is the vehicle registered to the seller? It should be!

3.Beware of Vehicles Priced Below Market Value. In order to sell vehicles as quickly and easily as possible, curbsiders may offer a ‘too good to be true’ price. They can do this because the vehicles are often odometer-tampered or rebuilt wrecks.

4.Research the Vehicle’s History. Carfax Canada ( history reports may provide useful information including reported collisions/incidents, existing liens, past odometer readings, out-of-province registration information and Ministry of Transportation branding information (e.g. salvage/rebuilt). As well, private vehicle sellers are supposed to provide the purchaser with a Used Vehicle Information Package (UVIP) that includes the current registered owner and vehicle ownership history (in Ontario), lien information, past odometer readings and estimated fair market value (if available).

5.Put the Test in Test-drive. Take the vehicle on the highway—not just around the block. Some problems might only be apparent at highway speeds. Partner up: bring a family member or friend; they may notice something you don’t.

6.Have the Vehicle Inspected. Even if you get maintenance records from the seller, have the vehicle inspected by a licensed mechanic! A mechanic may find problems the seller is trying to hide or is unaware of.

7.Get Proof of Purchase. Obtain documentation (bill of sale) that provides the price paid, seller and purchaser information (name and address) and vehicle information (VIN, make, model, year).

8. Pay Attention to Location and Inventory. When first contacting the seller, simply state that you are calling/writing about the ‘car for sale.’ If the seller asks “which one,” you may be dealing with a curbsider. If the vehicle is being sold at a business, or if the seller is using a yellow service licence plate or a white and red dealer plate, check that the business is actually a registered dealer at or ask to see the seller’s OMVIC licence. If they’re not registered, walk away and report the seller to OMVIC.

Unfortunately, because Sheila did not have the seller’s real name (it turned out the car wasn’t registered to him), and he changed cell numbers right after the sale, Sheila couldn’t track him down to begin civil action. And because she hadn’t purchased from a registered dealer, she was not eligible to file a claim with OMVIC’s compensation fund.

So remember, if a deal sounds ‘too good to be true,’ or the vehicle isn’t registered in the seller’s name (or has only been registered in the seller’s name for a short period); or the seller won’t allow a pre-purchase mechanical inspection—walk away. And to learn more about how to protect yourself when buying a vehicle privately, or from a dealer, visit


An educated and informed consumer is a protected consumer.Visit to learn more about your car-buying rights and when they apply, as well as additional tips for buying a car in Ontario.


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