8 Tips When Shopping for a New (Used) Car

Recently, I’ve become bffs with my mechanic and Autotrader. Although he’s a nice (and honest guy), the former isn’t really a good thing on my bank account!

I’m driving a ’98 Honda Civic and within the past 2 months, I’ve easily put down $800 on maintenance things that go along with owning an older vehicle. And now, it may be time to move on, but to what?

I wish selecting a car was like ordering off the McDonald’s menu – with no surprises and you’re familiar with every item. However, one of the main problems when looking for a new car is that there are just too many options out there: new/used, if so what year, which make/model, has this car been in a wreck, etc. etc.

So after doing some research, here are some tips that I’ve compiled if you’re looking for a new (used) car:

1. Know your budget. When buying a car, new or used, there are lots of hidden fees involved, including taxes, registration, licensing fees, perhaps a dealership fee, etc. So consider all these additional cost when looking at the sticker price. If you’re planning to trade in your current vehicle, consider the value of your car;

2. Figure out the size of the vehicle that will fit your needs. I recently rode in my friend’s new Toyota Yaris and we were rubbing elbows! And personally, this is something that I know would bother me, i.e. rubbing elbows with my passenger, especially on longer trips, so I immediately ruled out sub-compact cars!;

3. What do you like? While driving ’round, keep your eyes peeled on the type of cars that you like and research whether or not these cars are in your price range. I quickly ruled out the Mini when I found out that they’re owned by BMW = expensive on repairs/maintenance!

4. Keep on open-mind when shopping. Perhaps consider a make/model car that you’ve heard good things about, through trusted friends/family members. It’s also a good idea to contact car enthusiast friends/family members to ask them for ideas…as if you need anymore options! 😉

5. Consider things like fuel economy and future repair/maintenance costs. (This is sort of related to Tip #1.) The car that I’m eyeing is European which translates into EXPENSIVE. So even though the sticker price is within my budget, I may have to toss my fantasy aside for something more practical.

6. Look beyond the dealerships. Cast your net wide. I don’t know about you, but personally, I *hate* visiting dealerships mainly because I’m a woman and I can literally feel the car salesman sizing me up! So I wouldn’t recommend the dealership route UNLESS you’ve narrowed down the field a bit. Instead, do some online research via sites like Craigslist, Kijiji, Facebook Marketplace, Autotrader, etc.

7. Bring in the muscle/numbers person. Once you’ve narrowed down the choices and are serious to buy, bring along someone who KNOWS how to assess what’s going on under the hood &/or how to sift through all the fine print, financing crap to determine if you’re actually getting a deal. Remember, there is always room for negotiation, especially at this time of year or come September when the new models roll out!

8. Be prepared to walk away. If the car just doesn’t feel right, is beyond your means, be honest with yourself and walk away. There are tons of other options out there that will meet your needs! So be patient and don’t make any rash decisions.

Are there any cars that you’d advise against? Do you have any car shopping tips to share?

32 responses to “8 Tips When Shopping for a New (Used) Car”

  1. aileen says:

    I think the best thing you can do is arm yourself with knowledge, I just bought my first used car in Canada. I know nothing about cars, so I spent honestly about a month reading up about, common faults, safety flaws, Miles per gallon, and information about everything on cars.

    Being a FOREIGN SINGLE GIRL, I got taken for a ride in multiple garages, showing me lemons with high price tags, in these cases I simply started talking about the MPG or technical features, and the salesman would then direct me to something else figuring out I knew *something*.

    I ended up with a steal of a car, a tripped out 2007 VW Rabbit for 8k 😀

  2. Ange says:

    This past summer I bought my first used car that hadn’t come from a family member… it was an extremely daunting task! I ended up purchasing from a dealership’s used section… after having the minivan inspected by a mechanic I was able to get over $3000 knocked off the price the salesman started with. My best advice is to have a trusted mechanic have a look and give you a quote on any required work before you buy used! A small cost to have it inspected could potentially save you thousands on an overpriced lemon. Used cars that sit on a dealerships lots are often trade in cars that customers have brought in when they’ve bought a new one so the salespeople can be more than generous with their price reductions… if any of you have traded a vehicle in when you’ve bought new, you know that the dealers don’t give you much for your old car… so when they sell them, it’s usually quite a bit of ‘gravy’. I did a LOT of research when I was shopping for a new to me vehicle, I hope my experience can help someone else find one too.

  3. RmeBrt75 says:

    Well, you can’t go wrong with another Honda. They retain their value and are well built. Our mechanic has always said you cannot kill a Honda. He sees guys in there with 400k still going strong.

    That being said, for full disclosure, my husband works at the Honda plant. So I am biased:)

    I know a lot of people who swear by Toyota as well.

    I would steer clear of Hyundai. They look nice, but holy do they drop in value. I made the mistake of buying a Hyundai for my first car. It was painful come time to sell.

  4. MortgageQueen says:

    For those of you that live within a 100 km radius, there’s North Toronto Auction on the 400 just south of Barrie. I’ve heard they have “ridiculous’ good deals there and that particular auction house discloses any known issues with the vehicle, so that’s a bonus. You kinda know what your getting. . .warts and all.
    I’m probably due for a “newer” vehicke by Fall and I’ll be checking them out.

  5. Tracy says:

    I agree with having a mechanical inspection done. I’ve had it done on every second hand vehicle I’ve purchased as well as ones I walked away from based on the inspection results. The $50 or whatever it is for the cost of the inspection can potentially save you the repair bills & the hassle!

    I also agree with talking to lots of people about they have & how it has held up. I know a few people who have Dodge Caravans and although they were less expensive to buy initially than what my friend paid for their Toyota Sienna, the Dodge owners have had to take their vans in for repairs far more often than my friend with the Toyota. So in this situation, it seems like the Toyota was of a higher quality than the Dodges & was worth paying more up front. Not saying that is always the case, but good to know what other people experience.

    If going the new route, I have heard (not sure if this is true) that it is challenging to negotiate on the MSRP – so try to get lots of extra options thrown in, like free oil changes/tire rotations for x period of time, command start, winter tires, etc.

    Something else to consider is how long you plan on owning the vehicle, and what the resale value will be. For example, where I live it seems like Hondas really hold their value whereas Ford…not so much. If you plan on owning the vehicle until it dies this may not be a concern but if it is only going to be for a short time then it may be something to factor in to your decision.

    Good luck to all who are vehicle shopping!!

  6. Alyssa says:

    Don’t trust every news advert that talks about the 20 worst used cars. They’re not always correct. Check out reputable sites such as Consumer Reports and Lemonaid. The general consensus is that Toyotas and Hondas are great cars, but individual people and families may tell you otherwise. The invoice price is always a lie, as is the MSRP. The actual dealer cost is most likely a few thousand cheaper than what the “invoice price” is.

    A car isn’t an investment– You’ll rarely get near as much as you paid for it, used or new. Selling any car takes time and work.

    Certified used cars are a great way to go if you know what you’re looking for.

    Auto123 has a fantastic used car feature where you can compare models of different years or different cars altogether. It tells you the fuel economy, the size of the car, the safety, and everything you really wanted to know.

    Research before you buy. Stick to one or two models and refuse anything less.

  7. Carrie Hamm says:

    Love the picture!!!

  8. deedee286 says:

    I recently bought a certified used 2007 Toyota Camry. I used several sites to help me narrow down the list of cars I was interested in buying.

    1. http://www.autotraders.ca – To get an idea of what used cars (of every make and model) were going for.

    2. http://www.vmrcanada.com – To find the blue book value of a car.

    3. http://www.edmunds.com – To find out the features and gas mileage of each car I was interested in. It’s an American site but the site helped me narrow down my list of cars I was interested in buying by providing detailed articles about the specifications of each car model for that particular year (e.g. LE, CE, SE etc).

    4. http://www.insurancehotline.com – To compare the yearly insurance premiums for owning each car (car insurance is expensive in my province this is a major factor for me when buying a car). This site does not have every insurance company available in your province but it did give me an idea of the range for insurance premiums on each car. I actually ended up going with an insurance company not listed on this site but offering me an insurance premium in the lower range of the quotes shown to me on this website.

    Lastly, don’t buy a car based solely on the price and car report; make sure you have a honest mechanic, to check the car for you and let you know what kind of repairs they have seen with that type of car and what the repairs usually costs.

  9. SamIAm says:

    Be careful of Kia’s they haven’t changed their engines just the body and the interior. Also steer clear of Volkswagons, after 150 000km it’s not just one thing that goes…many things go and add up.

  10. mcdurf says:

    Look for executive deals. They drive it for a year or less and then sell them for book price. My insurance company was shocked as to how cheap I got my 2010 vehicle for this summer.

  11. Angela says:

    Eeshk. I’d say when your driving ’round, its best to keep your eyes on the road, not peeled on other cars! LOL! Sorry, just had to say it! HE HE HE!

  12. Kyle says:

    Do not buy a Pontiac Grand AM!

    My moms airbag in hers blew up in her face while waiting in traffic. It was a 96′. Not a good motor, and had to constantly take it into the shop.

    I am currently driving my second Ford Taurus and I absolutely love it. My first was a 98′ and this one is a 99′. Handles great, reasonable on fuel economy, no engine/transmission issues and it had 175xxx km. Both rust around the rear wheel wells, but thats notorious for this car. Not the prettiest car, but it gets me around no problem, even in a rough canadian winter. As long as you complete the regularly schedueled maintenance, it will love you back in return. Has some pretty good pick-up too if you need to step on.


  13. misha says:

    Don’t necessarily be afraid of dealerships, but know the MSRP and all the other costs that go into the price of the car. Lots of sites that can help you on getting the real car costs.
    I bought a popular Mazda car about 10 years ago and I was a young single woman and it was my first new car. I went to the only dealership in the Vancouver area that had the car in stock – it was definitely popular! After a long negotiation with the sales rep and going to sign the papers with the finance department, I was told things I knew not to be true so I called them on it and walked away from the deal.
    The next evening I received a call from the sales manager. They offered me the car at the price I wanted to pay.
    I’m not saying this will happen to you, but know what you want and what you are willing to pay, and don’t pay a dime more!
    Good luck to all.

  14. hibaxox says:

    yeah the finance dept suck! when i went in at kia… finance lady starts her CRAFTINESS with ‘this $1000 rustproofing is absolutely neccessary for your car…’ she ten brought it down to $200 …i was like sorry lady i dont like ppl tryna take me for a fool… and walked away from the deal…fishy salepeople turn me OFF1

  15. ladywisdom says:

    http://www.710motors.com is awesome …. free consultations
    they deal with everyone in North America. December 2010 I got a ……….

    2007 MAZDA 3 GX W/ 61,600KM

  16. FatB says:

    Research, research, research… The internet has turned negotiating into a pure numbers game. Once you know which car you want you’re only a few clicks away from knowing exactly how much the dealer paid to get the car from the manufacturer. With that info printed on a piece of paper in your hands, you show the dealer you already know what you should pay rather than what the dealer wants you to pay. Just be fair, and don’t let mysterious ‘fees’ enter into the equation when they aren’t justified.

  17. mary walsh says:

    You do have to do a lot of research and show that you know something about cars/trucks when you go to buy one.If buying privately ask to see their maintenance records and if there are none I would forget it. Also if you stick with the same dealer for several purchases over the years you can get great discounts on the next purchase. It`s like a loyalty program. Just make sure you love the car so you can enjoy your ride.

  18. alrozac says:

    If you have a trade in, find out how much it is worth before going shopping. I own a GMC Sierra and was looking at trading it in to save on gas a couple of weeks ago. I drive 140 km a day to go to work and it adds up, fuel wise. So I found out the black book value of the truck was $20,000 wholesale and $23,000 retail. I went to the Toyota dealer looking at a Corolla and the dealer offered me $11,500 for my fully loaded truck that sold for $57,000 new. When I told him where to go and how to get there, his manager came out and my trade quickly went up to $13,000 and when I started to leave it was up to $14,000. The salesman called me a few days later offering me $14,500. I sat back and started thinking – I would trade my perfectly good fully loaded truck for a base car with no features other than a decent radio. I opted for keeping my truck and am looking for a deal on a second car that is economical to go to work. Kind of funny when the black book says my truck is worth $20,000 wholesale and the dealer wants to give me only $11,500. Just goes to show how much profit they make off of used cars. I saw the same truck as mine for sale in St. Catherines for $24,500 last week.

  19. Gnorman says:

    I’m reluctant to follow the advice of those who say, “I had a friend who told me his Dodge always needed repairs,” as basis such a decision on such a small sample size may not be representative of the entire make or model. Also consider how this person treated the vehicle, as not getting regular oil changes can definitely lead to problems that are not the fault of the manufacturer. Having done considerable research leading to the purchase of a car in the last year, I found that dealerships don’t seem to have much room when negotiating the sticker price. There’s just too much information online for educated consumers for them to over-inflate the price. That being said, dealerships do have wiggle room with options and other extras, as mentioned earlier. Oil changes, bike racks, car starters and the like do have considerable mark up, and anything involving labour can easily be absorbed by the dealership. Finally, know your basic math. When it comes to financing, look at the details about interest and cash bonuses. For me, it was better to turn down the cash bonus in favor of a lower interest rate, since over the three years, I would save much more by paying less in interest. 0% financing is the way to go.

  20. Heather says:

    Get a CarProof report! http://www.carproof.com, it discloses all data on a vehicle, including accident information, odometre readings etc. When you get this information on a vehicle you become empowered since you are armed with information on the vehicle. My friend was considering purchasing 4 separate vehicles through private sellers a while ago (though Kijiji), and she ran a carproof on each one and every.single.one of them had damage that the seller hadn’t disclosed!! It’s very important to protect yourself with this information, not to mention lien information. You want to ensure that the vehicle you purchase doesn’t have a lien associated with it. Hope that helps!

  21. Tina says:

    If you are buying used from a dealership and can afford to pay cash, buy near the end of the month. I did this when I bought my new to me Toyota. I knew what I wanted before hand and told the salesman this is what I want, this is how much I can spend ($2000 less than the sticker price) but I could pay cash and take it right away. After a discussion with his manager he agreed and I got the extended warrenty thrown in as well ($1000). Dealerships report their sales monthly so if you can pay cash they can squeeze another sale into the month and it makes the manager look good. It usually takes a couple of days to get financing approved which would push your sale into the next month for the sales report.

    Also if you can afford to, once you have narrowed down your ideal car see if you can rent one for the weekend before you buy. I thought I knew what I wanted and was happy after the test drive. However after having the rental I found there was a huge blind spot that I didn’t really notice during the test drive and it wasn’t something I could live with. So I went with the Toyota which was originally choice #2.

  22. Leo says:

    I agree with #4 – keep an open mind. Thorough research online combined with conversations with family and friends will help you make sound buying decision. Always compare the prices, add-on features, book value and resale value. Don’t be lazy and shop around for the best deals. Most dealers will offer everything to make you stay until you say “yes” but their best may not be the best deal for you. Stay alert when dealing. Hope this helps.

  23. Gazpache says:

    Don’t EVER get a CARFAX report. They don’t show everything. When I was looking for a used car about 6 years ago I signed up with them. Just to check it out I looked up my old car which was an 89 Dodge Shadow. It showed no problems with the car at all.


    It said the car had never been written off. Yes it had. We had a massive hail storm here about 15 years ago and the car looked like a golf ball it was so dented. Insurance wrote it off.

    It said it had never been in an accident. I knew of at least one that it had.

    I called Carfax up and told them I wanted my money back, and they were very good about it and refunded me quickly.

    But after that experience, I don’t trust that anything they have is either current or correct. CBC Marketplace did a show on them and similar companies a few years ago.


  24. Moe says:

    The only thing you need is the Canadian guide below.

    Buy or Pick up at your Local Library Phil Edmonston’s Lemon aid used car guide.
    I have used it every time I’ve bought a used car & it’s helped me get the Best used cars.

  25. supermandy says:

    we recently looked at a minivan. after talking price we walked away to ‘sleep on it’ and withing 10 minutes he called my hubby and offered us another $G on our trade in. Walking away is great advice.

    We still didn’t buy it because we aren’t ready. WE plan to drive the new vehicle to the ground, so Im considering waiting until Sept when they are clearing out the 2012s to bring in the new models. I don’t care if it is a year old because resale value wont affect me.

  26. Skippy says:

    All very good suggestions, a few other things I’ve heard:

    Take a guy with you,preferably someone who knows something about cars(or a
    burly one with tattoos)as whomever you buy a car from may try to take advantage of you because you’re a woman.
    Better to buy from a dealer not privately(see Heather’s example).
    Know if your Province has consumer laws that may apply to purchases(just
    in case you have any problems).

  27. Linz says:

    And look at the “black book” price. We got “a steal” on our last vehicle and one year later it was worth 1/3 of what we paid. Apparently, this vehicle loses it’s value RAPIDLY at about 7 years old. Until year 6, they hold their value…. worth $12 ish. by year 7, I think value is 4, then by year 8, we’re at $2. Same vehicle !

  28. John T says:

    Lots of good advice here.

    A website I read regularly, is http://www.truedelta.com.

    Vehicle owners are polled every month for repairs beyond maintenance items. This data is presented in a format to easily show what vehicles are reliable, which are not, and what years to stay away from.

    I’m not affiliated in any way with this website, just post info on my Fusion.

  29. olivercat says:

    I think Moe hit it on the mark with the Edmonston’s Lemon aid used car guide. It can keep you away from some really bad models–remember everyone has a story of how bad or good a car can be–but the lemon guide gives you an objective view. Also, if your like me and get flustered when dealing with car salesmen (and their money people)–bring a notebook and WRITE all your questions and their answers. They always want you to make a quick decision–don’t take your notebook home and go throught their answers slowly. Also, if you need financing–look at your bank rate, and compare the car dealership rates along with all their bonuses (cashbacks, etc) if you
    pay cash (ie you finiance throught your bank) sometime the cashback offered by the dealerships –(I have got a cash back on a used car)may make it more worth your while to deal with your bank!
    oh and my answer to the idoit that tried to sell me $1000 uncoating–Was the uncoating offered by the manufacture not good? I got to see a speechless car salesman!!!

  30. Alex says:

    Dbf and I were in an accident last november, completely wrote off the car. After speaking with insurance, he got back all his money for his car. Car shopping is not easy, he took off a week of work and went car shopping, doesn’t help that the loner car only is covered for 5 days by his insurance. We drove 2 1/2 hrs to Orangeville to look an Audi it looked sooo nice on the website, when we got there the leather inside was ripped on the seat and there were acouple scratches on the door, it was a piece of junk. We also test drove another audi in Mississauga they were charging so much because it was from a dealership, however the tint inside was peeling off the windows! Insane. We then went to a dealership in etobicoke and found a volkswagen gti, dbf bought it because it was 8-9k what a steal.. it had been in an accident but it was internal no damage on the outside and it had all been replaced. Dbf bought it and afew months later things started to go on it including the enging, a common problem amongst 07 gti’s. Dbf knew he had to get rid of it we checked out a dealership and found his old car same color 2 years newer (acura tsx) it was an awesome car we traded his car in, the dealership did a car proof and that reduced the value of the car by atleast 2k.. always get a car proof, avoid cars that were in accidents and as soon as you purchase a car take it to the mechanic and get it checked. It is illegal not to disclose accidents and other info on the car proof!

  31. Regs says:

    In August, we bought a car off of Kijiji. It WAS the proverbial “Little old lady, never winter driven, 4 year old car with 19k on it! We looked at dealers and Kijiji. Their ad was placed and 15 minutes later we were the first to reply with interest. It was meant to be!

    We did our due diligence and followed everything recommended by the province of Ontario to do when buying a used car. Everything checked out perfectly.

  32. Michi says:

    Dont forget comparing prices on used cars and not completely listening and falling for the salespersons lies! And to try and bring an experienced mechanic with you while checking out the car.


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