There are several steps you should take to protect yourself when buying a used car. A visual check will seldom reveal the extent of work that may have been performed on a car in a collision - a crash that could result in an unsafe vehicle.

The vehicle history search

When shopping for a used car the vehicle history search is an important step. When you’ve found a vehicle you like, take advantage of online databases that can provide information about the car for a fee. Services like CarProof can be expensive, but offer the only easy way to learn something about a vehicle’s history.

In Vancouver, dealers visited by the APA sometimes offered to share history search reports with the mystery shoppers, but several only did so once the sale was well on its way to completion.

The reports can be difficult to decipher and often run more than 10 pages long, so it’s easy for a dealer to leave out a page that contains inconvenient information, which is why it’s important to check carefully and verify information independently.

Ask questions

In the APA survey, many dealers only mentioned relevant info when specifically asked – be prepared to find out specifics – was the car ever a rental? Are there extra fees? You don’t want any surprises when you’re ready to buy.

Beware of buying a rebuilt wreck -- the savings may not be worth it

You can buy a rebuilt car that has been repaired properly and you may get a good deal on one. However, the APA found that four out of eight rebuilt cars they inspected in Vancouver were not roadworthy.

Even some of the write-offs that suffered less damage were so crudely repaired that water leaks or tire and suspension issues would be chronic problems.

The pre-purchase inspection

One of the best things you can do is have an independent expert examine any vehicle you are considering buying. A good way to find a reliable pre-purchase inspection facility is to call around to repair shops and ask the staff where they would take their own car for a pre-purchase inspection.

This is what the APA has done when it's new to a city. Or check the APA website for a recommendation in the Vancouver area. If a car dealer won’t let you inspect the vehicle, move on.