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Let the buyer beware

If you’re looking to buy a car these days, you’re probably on a budget. You might be considering a used car — 40 per cent of all cars sold in Canada last year had previous owners, and with this economy, that’s expected to rise.

If you’re looking to buy a car these days, you’re probably on a budget. You might be considering a used car — 40 per cent of all cars sold in Canada last year had previous owners, and with this economy, that’s expected to rise.

So how do you make sure you’re getting a deal, but the vehicle is also safe? A lot of people — and dealerships — rely on a vehicle history report, which is supposed to give you a car’s background (mileage, accidents, fire, flood and frame damage, etc.). In Canada, the most popular report is called Carfax (carfax.com). For about $40, you can run unlimited checks on vehicles for a month.

Darren Brockett relied on Carfax when he bought a Nissan Xterra in Port Coquitlam, B.C. A dealership posted copies of Carfax reports on the web — so when Brockett saw the truck he wanted was problem-free, he snapped it up.

Trouble is, we’ve learned there can be big problems with Carfax. For one thing, it doesn’t have access to a lot of insurance data, so we discovered vehicles that looked good on Carfax actually had frame damage. Another big problem? Carfax relies on information from police departments, motor vehicle departments and so on, but there can be delays in reporting time. Which means it can take months — even years — for troublesome history details to show up in the database.

After Brockett bought his truck, he noticed it was pulling to the right when he drove. We tracked Brockett down and had his truck inspected by an auto frame expert. He discovered more than $2,000 worth of frame damage and said the truck wasn’t safe to drive. The dealer claimed Brockett might have damaged the truck himself, even though it was clear the damage was at least a year old, and he had only had it a few months. So Brockett was left with no recourse, except a time-consuming and costly legal battle — something he figured wasn’t worth it.

When we brought our concerns to Carfax, they insisted it’s not their fault that information can be slow to get into the system.

So, if you want to protect yourself when you’re buying a used car, start with a test drive, and make sure to accelerate and brake, listening for odd sounds. Most importantly, always get your vehicle inspected by a mechanic before you put down any money (even if the dealer says that was just done). Check several vehicle history databases and compare notes.
And if the price is too good to be true … there’s probably a reason.

 
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