W5 Extra: Protect yourself when shopping for a used vehicle
Wrecking yards, like Stark Metal and Iron in west Toronto, are treasure troves for sellers looking for seriously damaged insurance write-offs to fix or rebuild and try to sell as clean, collision-free used cars.
Published Saturday, April 14, 2012 7:02PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, December 13, 2012 8:42PM EST
Have the vehicle inspected before you buy it. This year, every dealer visited allowed the APA shoppers to have a vehicle inspected before buying it. Make it clear to the dealer that no pre-purchase inspection means no sale. Finding a reliable inspection service can be difficult. Most mechanical repair shops will not check for collision damage, and some will focus mainly on service they may eventually be able sell you, like tires, brakes and fluid changes.
The APA has located and tested the following reliable used car inspection services in the cities we visited for investigations with W5.
In Vancouver the first step is a history search. Record keeping in BC for collision and mileage for cars registered in the province is the most complete in Canada. When you've found a vehicle you like, the ICBC CarProof report is expensive, but the way to go.
- C. Martino Auto Center, 2055 Clarke Drive, Vancouver, B.C. (604) 255-3558 -- Mechanic Carmen Martino and his crew have worked with APA on many investigations.
- Hemrich Brothers Garage, 8506 Ash Street, (Marpole) Vancouver, B.C. (604) 325-8511 -- If you're buying a rebuilt vehicle in Vancouver, this is a shop to consider. A competent mechanical repair facility with good alignment equipment and the knowledge required to use it, derived from setting up vehicles for competition.
Priority Plus Inspection Centre, 302 Horner Avenue, Etobicoke, Ontario, M8W 1Z3, Tel: 416-252-1142 Mechanic Vince Carnovale offers an inspection-only service and has worked with the APA and W5 on several investigations. He can also help you order the history search that is appropriate for the vehicle you are considering. A pre-purchase inspection of a used car costs $149 plus tax.
At this time, collision reporting on Quebec vehicles that have made their way into the Ontario market is incomplete, although a "rebuilt" brand should show up, and also mileage records when the vehicle was transferred. APA used to recommend using CarFax to narrow down your selection, as their searches were very inexpensive, but their prices are now comparable to CarProof. When you have found a vehicle you like, order the CarProof report to learn more about its history.
Private sellers are supposed have in their possession the Used Vehicle Information Package, or UVIP, from the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario, which costs $20, but most don't. Only one of the classified advertising sellers did in this year's APA-W5 investigation, and he flashed it quickly in front of the APA shoppers.
You can obtain a Used Vehicle Information Package yourself for any vehicle registered in Ontario. The UVIP does not record ordinary collision claims, but it provides information on salvage and rebuilt status, as well as previous owners in the Province of Ontario. If the vehicle cannot be driven, or has only one license plate on it, the APA recommends you also perform a licence plate search at the MTO office.
- Andrew Bleakley at 514-890-5000 -- This mobile inspection service offers a complete body panel inspection, mechanical verification, and road test for $90. Call and leave a message on the pager to book an appointment.
Curbsiders are unlicensed dealers who pose as private parties in classified advertising. Curbsiders differ from genuine private individuals. They have owned the vehicle offered for sale for a very short time, or may not be the owner at all. Representations made by a curbsider about how reliable the vehicle is, or what service it has received are unfounded, because the curber doesn't really know. Curbers often peddle vehicles that a professional would have difficulty retailing for a good price; this includes collision write-offs, and vehicles from other jurisdictions with questionable records. Curbers get around these obstacles by grossly misrepresenting the vehicles they offer for sale. In order to appeal to the buyer's hunger for a good deal, curbers will usually price below comparable vehicles in top condition.
The APA has found that vehicles sold by curbers are usually worth thousands less than comparable vehicles in very good condition -- many of them will never run completely right, because of pre-existing damage. Collecting damages or obtaining a refund from a curber is difficult. Since curbers are not licensed dealers, there is no authority you can go to that will compensate you for your loss.
Some tips for spotting curbsiders, and strategies to deal with them
When you call about a vehicle in the classifieds, ask about "the car" for sale. If the ad was placed by a dealer you'll quickly realise it when they ask, "Which car?"
Curbers in Toronto are more crafty. The ones shopped by the APA recently appeared to use a unique telephone number for each car, so asking "which car?" won't always work. Some curbers will fear you are an investigator for OMVIC (the dealer regulator), and a very general question about what they have for sale will elicit an "it's sold" response. That's a quick and easy way to avoid a curber.
Suggesting a meeting in a parking lot or other public location is a curbsider tip-off. Curbers have also offered to meet APA shoppers in the parking garage of a residential building. In both cases, you won't really know where they live.
Curbers rarely say exactly how long they've owned a vehicle. They'll usually say a year, or longer (up to about five years). Curbers don't say they are the original owner.
Pay attention to your first conversation over the phone, because curbers often change their story. A curber may say it's a relative's car, yet later state that the car never gave them any trouble. A curber will sometimes say they've signed for another vehicle already, yet later claim they're in no hurry to sell because they're still looking for a car. A person who has difficulty with secondary controls for the radio, trip odometer etc. likely hasn't spent that much time in the vehicle.
Most curbers also know someone who can take care of the emissions test and safety certification. There's more than convenience at stake here -- the curber would like you to use a compliant facility that may look the other way at deficiencies on the vehicle.
Curbers have uncanny knowledge about how to transfer a vehicle or how to save taxes; that's information that a private seller who is in the market once or twice every ten years would not know. Some curbsiders will even offer to take a copy of your driver's license and handle all the paperwork to put the car in your name.
Ask to see the registration and insurance slips, even if this seems like an awkward question. They should be in the name of the person you are dealing with and at the appropriate address.
In any event it's prudent to get your own copy of the history search. The report is too hard to understand on the fly, and incriminating pages can be left out of the seller's copy, without the buyer realizing it. Take down the VIN and license plate numbers. In Ontario, a curber will almost never provide a copy of the Used Vehicle Information Package. Many buyers order one only at the moment the title is transferred, and after they've handed over the money -- that's too late. The same can be said of CarProof and CarFax history searches which are several pages long -- dealers and curbers occasionally leave out the page with negative information.