Buying Used Vehicles in Alberta

Are you thinking about buying a used car? Decisions about buying a used car can be quite a daunting experience because of many things you need to consider. This guide will help you better understand the process of buying a used car and answer questions such as “What aspects of the vehicle should I inspect before buying?” and “Where are some of the best places to purchase used vehicles?”. When purchasing a car, you first consider your needs and wants, set a budget, and then start searching for your car.

What to Look for in a Used Car

Looking for a specific model or type when purchasing a used car is like buying a new car. There are a couple of things that individuals usually look at when purchasing a car:

  • Seating: It is important to know how many people will be travelling in the car depending on your family size and car usage. Generally, sedans and hatchbacks seat 5 people, and minivans seat 7-8 people. SUVs can seat 5-8 people and trucks can seat 3-6 people.
  • Engine and performance: If you have a trailer or need your vehicle to tow things regularly, you should pay attention to the engine size. You should also consider the vehicle’s fuel economy because larger cars and engines usually require more fuel.
    • Electric Car Range: If you decide to buy an electric car, you should look at the range of the battery and see what charging stations are available in your city and how far apart they are. You can see the range of your electric vehicle through its battery range. These ranges are usually given on the window stickers of vehicles being sold under the EPA rating tag. If purchasing from a private seller, you can look online on websites for what the maximum range of the vehicle will be.
  • Cargo Space: If you think you’re going to be carrying large items in your trunk, you should consider getting a larger vehicle such as an SUV or a truck.
  • Monthly Budget: This is very important to consider and it is always a good idea to take a look at the interest rates being offered by lenders on car loans. An average car loan interest rate is 4.5%, so anything close to that amount should be a competitive rate. This will help you determine your approximate monthly paymentfor your car. Along with this, you should check insurance comparison websites online to see how much your car insurance will be
  • Additional Car Options: These can include an infotainment system, cruise control, heated seats, a navigation system, Bluetooth, etc. These features help make your driving experience better and may or may not be available in a car at your selected budget.

Optimizing all these different options is a very difficult task as there are so many options to consider. A good way to compare all your options is through car comparison tools online like this one.

Where to Buy a Used Car


The best places to look for used cars are usually your local car dealerships because they sell cars that are mechanically inspected and detailed before being sold. This makes sure your car is coming from a trusted source and dealerships can help you obtain a car loan. Dealerships also offer several different warranty options depending on your vehicle’s age, however they are not required to offer you any warranty. Generally, dealers do not like to give warranties on older cars and would rather offer you a discount instead of a warranty.

  • Can be a good place to find a specific year, make and model
  • Can give you cashback and discount options at sale
  • Will do all the safety inspections and will detail the car before selling it
  • Have a wide variety of financing and leasing options available
  • Can be difficult to find a variety of types of cars
  • Mostly rigid on pricing
  • Usually more expensive than purchasing from a marketplace


There are also several trusted online marketplaces for buying used cars such as Kijiji, Autotrader, Craigslist, and CarPages. When using an online marketplace, individuals are responsible for transferring the title of the car and sourcing a loan on their car. Many dealerships also post their used cars for sale on these online marketplaces so it is useful to check both sources and have a wide variety of choices before making a selection. If the car is not being sold from a dealership then those cars are being sold privately, which is also a very common way to buy used cars.

  • More variety of vehicles available
  • Prices for vehicles will be lower
  • Can be difficult to find specific makes and models
  • Safety inspections and detail inspections all have to be done by yourself
  • No recourse if the car has a mechanical failure after purchase
  • Less financing options available

What to Check When Buying a Used Car

There are 4 primary details you should check when buying a used car:

  1. Vehicle History

Vehicle History is critical to the value of the car. When purchasing a vehicle, you should always check the following:

  • When the car was purchased
  • The number of previous owners
  • The vehicle’s Carfax report
  • The vehicle’s current value, which can be determined using tools like the Canadian RedBook
  • Any previous accidents the car had

All of these things factor into the true value of a vehicle. Previous accidents are especially important because broken parts in an accident can be replaced with after-market parts, which are lower quality than OEM parts from the manufacturer.

  1. Mileage

    A car’s mileage can change the value of a car significantly. More kilometres on the vehicle can mean that the engine of the car has more wear and tear, which could lead to future mechanical failures and repairs. A good rule of thumb for the number of miles on a car is to multiply the age of the car by 19,000 and that should be considered a car that has not been overdriven.

  2. Mechanic Inspection

    A mechanic inspection, or a pre-purchase inspection, is very important when purchasing a used vehicle. You should always get their vehicle checked by a mechanic to see if it has any hidden issues in its engine, transmission, steering, etc. These problems can be hidden even with a close visual inspection or test drive. Along with the mechanical inspection, you should also get the tires checked to see if they need replacements before purchasing.

  3. Rust or Paint Damage

    Paint damage and rust can damage the physical appearance of the car and affect the price of the vehicle, with rust affecting the price of a vehicle more and being more serious than paint damage. Rust on cars can be a very serious issue because they erode the material of cars and cause body panelling to loosen, which is very unsafe. Moreover, rust on the frame of a vehicle is even more damaging as that causes damage to the integrity of the car’s structure, which can cause parts to snap off. If a car has very little rust on it, then you should take this fact into account when determining its value. Along with this, you should apply some rust protection to the vehicle after purchase. In the northern parts of Ontario, salt on roads during the winter can cause rusting to happen faster. This means that if you belong to those parts of Ontario, you should try to get your car rust protection before purchase.

  4. Test drive

    Test driving a car is important before you buy. This is because you should feel out the driving experience of the car and check to see that the seat position, side and back mirrors, along with the interior space is comfortable. You should bring another person along to see if the ride is comfortable in the other seats. Along with this, check additional features like cruise control and navigation and see if the infotainment system buttons and touch controls are working well.

Certified Pre-Owned

Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) Cars are used cars that have been rigorously checked by a dealership. Every car brand has its own certified pre-owned vehicles in its dealerships. This is a very safe option to buy a used car as cars sold under the CPO tag are inspected with detail and undergo a list of safety checks. Their exterior and interior are usually detailed by the dealer and then sold again. Moreover, some CPO programs provide service warranties as an incentive. These warranties are very useful as they can cover everything from brake pads to oil changes. Though purchasing a vehicle from a program like this can give you a great deal of peace, these cars generally tend to be more expensive than if one were to buy the same model through, for example, an online marketplace.

How to Finance a Used Car

There are two routes to go through when financing your used car: through the dealership itself or a bank.

Financing Through a Bank

When looking for financing through a bank, it is a good idea to look at several banks rather than just one and see which bank is offering you the best interest rate. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of getting financing through a bank

  • Will give you better financial advice than a car dealership
  • Are a trusted source for getting a loan
  • Generally have more payment options available
  • Will be more flexible with payment plans
  • Will be hesitant towards granting loans towards used cars because of the amount of depreciation they have
  • Banks tend to be stricter for their rules on the lending process and you will have to adhere to their requirements for credit score
  • Interest rates will not be subject to a lot of change over the years of your loan
  • It takes more time to get financing from a bank approved

Financing Through a Dealership

Financing through a dealership might be a better option for you if you go to a trusted dealership and want to take the car off the lot the same day. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of doing that:

  • Application and approval time will be less time consuming along with provided convenience
  • Will offer better incentives and perks during purchase such as extended warranty
  • Credit scoredoes not matter as much as banks
  • Dealerships will be a lot more strict about your payment plan and don’t offer flexible payment schedules
  • Interest rates would be higher in a dealership as compared to a bank
  • Could actually end up paying double the cars worth over time if you were to finance from a dealership

The Buying Process

When buying a used vehicle from a private seller, you should make sure to complete a Bill of Sale which is important when registering your vehicle. It has the following items included:

  • full name and address of the seller(s) and buyer(s)
  • vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • make, model/series, style, colour and year of the vehicle
  • cost of the vehicle
  • signature from both the buyer(s) and seller(s)

It is also recommended to add the following (but is optional):

  • odometer reading
  • phone numbers of all people involved
  • personal identification of all people involved
  • signatures of witnesses
  • any impediments against the vehicle
  • if the vehicle was paid for in full or not
  • payment method (cash, cheque, money order, etc.)
  • payment terms (if any)
  • where the vehicle was last registered
  • special conditions of the sale

When purchasing from a dealership, the dealer is required by the provincial government to give you a Bill of Sale.

Registration and Taxes

Vehicle registration in Alberta happens through a registry agent. You must go to the registry agent with the following:

  • A proof of ownership document such as a lease or a bill of sale
  • A proof of valid insurance for the vehicle that includes the name(s) of the person(s) requesting the registration.
  • An acceptable identification such as a photo id or a driver’s license
  • An out-of-province, salvage or commercial inspection (if applicable)
  • If you are registering a used vehicle in Alberta for the first time, you may require an inspection if the vehicle was purchased outside of Alberta

After you go to the registry agent, they will register the vehicle for you. Note that purchasing from a private seller means you will pay no tax on the purchase. However, if you purchase from a dealership, you are required to pay GST.

Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles have specific federal and provincial incentives related to them should you purchase and EV. The Government of Canada can offer point-of-sale incentives of $2,500 to $5,000 for people who buy or lease an EV. The Government of Alberta has no current rebate programs for EVs as of 2021.


There are many decisions and checks made before buying a used car. It is important to keep all these caveats in mind when selecting a car of your choice. Hopefully, this guide has cleared up some confusion and given some clear insight into how to successfully make the right decision on choosing your next car.