Five questions that could save you from buying a lemon

First love, then business blossomed in New Westminster for Amanda Mungal and husband Winston. They met here and now run Winston Auto Group together. Says Amanda, “Lunch is on Winston Auto Group between 12 and 1pm on sunny Saturdays! To show our appreciation for everything this city has brought us (and because we love BBQ’d hotdogs on a sunny day) we’ve decided to offer lunch to anyone out enjoying the sunshine on our car lot.” Amanda blogs about car-buying tips and shares a woman’s perspective on the auto industry at A Gal In the Car Biz, where this post was first published.

Before buying a used vehicle from any dealer, be sure to ask the right questions. Photo: Winston Auto Group
Before buying a used vehicle from any dealer, be sure to ask the right questions. Photo: Winston Auto Group

New Westminster is home to a number of used-car dealerships (including mine, Winston Auto Group, which just opened last August!). Used-car salespeople get a bit of a bad rap sometimes. People are wary of buying a lemon, and aren’t always sure what questions to ask to ensure a good buy.

Through new regulations and with the work of the Vehicle Sales Authority, legitimate dealers are working hard to turn that reputation around through licensing, training and consumer education. BCAA also has a used vehicle program wherein they work in partnership with dealerships to pre-inspect their vehicles so that customers know upfront what’s going on with the vehicle. Winston Auto Group is a member and you can check out our website or BCAA’s for more information about the program.

Granted I’ve not been doing this for long, but it doesn’t take long for a gal to learn what the important actions and steps are when buying a car and, most importantly, what to ask the salesperson.

Here are my top five questions to always ask before you buy.

1. Is the car a rebuild?
A rebuild is a car that has been written off and then re-built. A dealer is supposed to declare if a car is a rebuild – but . . . .

If you buy a rebuild you will get a really cheap car – and it may last a long time. You may also get a world of problems and really expensive car down the line. Know what you are buying.

2. Has the car been in an accident?

These days even a minor accident can cause a hefty bill, so don’t be scared off right away by an accident report. If at all possible you do want to know where on the vehicle the accident occurred. Talk to your salesperson – beyond asking the basic question. He may have knowledge of the accident and if it was recent he may even have paperwork on the repairs.

Where the accident happened is not in the ICBC reports so employ those observation skills: is the paint a different colour, is there a mysterious gap between the hood and body?

This one really does require judgement on your part. BUT, it is usually safe to say that if it’s not a rebuild and it has passed inspection you are good to go.

3. Has the car been inspected?

Who inspected the car? What was inspected? What were the results? There are many different types of inspections. The most basic inspection should at least cover the main components of the vehicle. Some are simply pass/fail tests and some provide a percentage. Some are so detailed that the minutiae of the report may get your feeling skittish. All of this needs to be taken into account. If you are provided a long detailed report it would be worth your while to take some time to read it and give some thought to what is actually important vs. what isn’t.

4. Are there any liens on the car?

You don’t want a car if a finance company is going to come along and repossess it. It is possible it’s an old lease vehicle and the paperwork has just lagged behind, but get it cleared up before you buy!

5. Finally “Show me the documentation!”

No matter how trustworthy and charming your salesperson appears to be, don’t just look into his eyes and say “o.k.”. A salesperson should be able to support his claims with paper. You want to see the lien search, inspection report, the ICBC report if there’s been an accident and paperwork related to any repairs.

A lemon can happen to the most thorough person – even a dealer – but if you do your homework and due diligence your chances of making a satisfying happily ever after purchase are much greater!

4 Replies to “Five questions that could save you from buying a lemon”

  1. As someone who sold cars in New Westminster and who owns a car with a $20,000 accident I can say that there is some truth here but the really critical issues are not addressed:


    Was the car driven hard?

    Is the odometer correct?

    Are you aware of the fair market price?

    I own a 2000 Jaguar with a $20k accident. GREAT car. Why? It was fixed right, it was serviced right and it was driven gingerly. I got it cheap and maintain it myself for little cost.

    Take a nice little Civic that has no accidents on it but the person changed the oil every time the oil light came on (running low). When their son drove it he beat the living TAR out of it. Lived at the bottom of a hill and gunned it COLD up the hill every day. Saw every salted snow and frost day. Never been waxed. Uncle fixed it and maintained it. 78,000kms

    Take a nice little Civic that has a $7,000 accident. Front bumper replaced, two airbags and one headlight too – fixed right. Religiously serviced by a competent mechanic. Warmed up for 30 seconds in the heated garage before driving off on a nice flat road. Wax applied at every wash, and the paint clear coat still has a nice thickness on it with great UV resistance. 102,000kms

    Now sadly, %99 of you will obsess on the accident and KMS and buy the ratbagged car. Car #2? It will sell for thousands less sadly(?) and people like me will score a bargain. When the car is 10+ years old they will all be the same price on Craigslist but I lost far less money.

    Skip the accident and the inspection worries. Will the rust monster or the dreaded engine/transmission replacement monster rear its ugly head? If you buy a car with an auto the first thing you do is change it. Regardless of service history.

    My 5 questions:

    1 "Was is started in a heated or underground garage for most its life?

    2 "Service history?"

    3 "Did you drive it in the snow?"

    4 "Who has been driving the car most of its life?"

    5 "Why are you selling it" – you need to be able to sniff out liars here

    Ask those questions, but use ICBC or Carfax to answer your questions about history. Carfax specifically shows maintenance records as well as accident claims.

  2. Your points are great ones Jason – people are often freaked out by accidents and kms when in fact if the car has been maintained and repaired properly they needn't be deal breakers. That being said, unless you're a mechanic I can understand why people are apprehensive about accident history because the average person feels at a loss when trying to ascertain if the repairs have been done properly.

    This is one area that having a BCAA inspection can really be helpful – if repairs were done in a shoddy manner it will likely show up in the report.

    And a quick tip for anyone reading the comments – dealers are required by law to declare if there are any odometer discrepancies. However, if something is causing you to question what you're being told there are a few places you can look. A CarProof report will have a record of any odometer readings taken at auctions, during air care inspections and if reported by ICBC. Also if the car is old enough to require air care you cold look at it's records on the AirCare website for free by plugging in the VIN.

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