When buying used car, pay for an inspection: Roseman

Published in The Toronto Star, Written by Ellen Roseman, 2013-09-30

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When buying a used car, search the vehicle's history to see if there's damage from a previous accident.

This advice is dispensed regularly by the Trillium Auto Dealers Association (TADA), which endorses CarProof as a vehicle history provider. Others include CarFax and AutoCheck.

Dealers often give you a clean vehicle history report as a sales tactic. However, these reports aren't comprehensive enough to avoid problems.

It's also smart to pay for a vehicle inspection by an independent mechanic before signing a purchase agreement. It's worth every penny to get an objective view of the car's condition.

Frederick (not his real name) relied on a dealer's verbal assurances and a vehicle history report that a 2008 Japanese model was in excellent condition.

Sadly, he found body damage soon after taking home his $10,000 used car. The passenger side had a misaligned fender and bent steel under the door.

"I consulted a professional, who confirmed the car had been in an accident. Most likely, it had rear-ended another vehicle," he says.

His complaint to the dealer was dismissed because the CarProof report he was given had shown no previous accidents.

Frederick pointed to a disclaimer in the report: "CarProof began reporting Ontario police records as of Dec. 15, 2010, and Quebec police records as of Jan. 21, 2013."

The car could have been in an accident from 2008 to 2010 in Ontario - or from 2008 to 2012 in Quebec - without any records showing up on a report.

Also, some drivers get into accidents and make a mutual decision not to report anything to the police and their insurance companies.

One driver accepts responsibility for triggering the accident and covers all the expenses. This means there's no paper trail for a vehicle history report.

Frederick also heard a noise from the front end whenever he used the brakes, especially at low speeds. This began after four weeks of ownership.

His 2008 model had 55,100 kilometres at the purchase date. And he'd driven 2,000 kilometres since then.

"I took the vehicle to an independent mechanic and got an ugly surprise," the owner says. "The brake pad springs were loose, which cost me $67 to fix (plus $75 in lost income for a half-day off work)."

The mechanic also found rust in the brake area and lack of lubrication, but the dealer refused to take responsibility for incomplete reconditioning.

Frederick wrote to the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC), which couldn't get the dealer to settle his complaint.

He thought he was buying peace of mind by going to a dealer, instead of a private seller. But his assumption was wrong.

Viraf Baliwalla owns a licensed car dealership, Automall Network. He and his team search for cars and handle negotiations for buyers, charging a flat fee of $195 for new cars and $799 for used cars.

"He didn't do his homework," Baliwalla said about Frederick's complaint, "but he didn't deserve what happened to him. He now realizes that the car business is totally 'buyer beware.'

"If he had done an independent inspection before handing over money to the dealer, he may have solved his brake issue as well. Identifying problems before a purchase gives you leverage to walk away if they aren't fixed."

To help buyers save money and protect themselves, Baliwalla is running a three-hour workshop at Kitchener's Conestoga College on Nov. 23. The cost is $45.

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