Don’t Let Your Car Buying Experience Become A Horror Story
Jack-o-lantern flames gutter in a chill wind. Discordant music echoes from once serene suburban houses. Lights strobe disorientatingly. Macabre figures adorn once neatly pruned trees.
Grave markers appear with eerie and disturbingly piled leaves on lawns that were just yesterday pristine.
Eyes narrow … senses heighten. Ah yes … Halloween. A time for fear … and fun.
The little kids get 2 hours of costumed candy collection; and the bigger kids (i.e. most of us) break out our favourite horror films.
So many of us love to get scared. There’s a visceral reaction to it — it awakens our primal “fight or flight” response.
It used to be car-buying required the same heightened senses — the same “prepare for anything” attitude that survivors of a zombie apocalypse would need — but fortunately, thanks to Ontario’s consumer protection laws, times have changed and consumers needn’t shop in fear.
In 2010, the commercial marketplace (i.e. registered dealers) came under increasingly strict regulations. Registered dealers are now required to advertise all-in prices and provide full disclosure related to the past-use, history and condition of the vehicles they sell.
And if a car-buyer wants to know if the dealer they’re considering doing business with has been found in breach of any of these new regulations, a quick search on the regulator’s website (omvic.ca) will tell them. But, there remains one area of the automotive marketplace that can be nearly as scary as Elm Street — the private online classifieds.
“Buying privately certainly has more risk than buying from a dealer,” explains Terry O’Keefe, Director of Communications and Education for OMVIC — Ontario’s vehicle sales regulator. “Perhaps the biggest danger is posed by curbsiders.” Curbsiders are illegal, unlicensed dealers. Commonly they pose as private sellers or operate from small automotive-related businesses like repair shops. “Often the vehicles they sell are rebuilt wrecks or have rolled back odometers.”
Consumers who fall victim to these unscrupulous sellers have little recourse when they discover the truth about the vehicle they’ve bought. “Finding curbsiders after the sale is nearly impossible for most consumers,” explains O’Keefe. “Very often the vehicle sold was not registered in their name so the buyer doesn’t know who they actually bought from.”
OMVIC investigates and prosecutes curbsiders on a regular basis; the penalties handed down by the courts for those convicted can be severe. “Recently we’ve seen fines of $50,000, $11,000 and a six-month jail term in three high profile curbsider cases.”
But while these successful enforcement actions send a strong message to those who would prey on unwary car-buyers, it doesn’t actually address the financial losses their victims suffer when they discover the true history of the vehicles they’ve purchased.
To help consumers spot or avoid a curbsider, OMVIC offers these tips:
Beware Of Vehicles Priced Below Market Value
In order to sell vehicles as quickly and easily as possible, curbsiders may offer a “too good to be true” price. They can do this because the vehicles are often accident-damaged, odometer-tampered or rebuilt write-offs. If a deal seems too good to be true, it’s a warning, not an opportunity
Know Who You’re Buying From
Curbsiders often sell vehicles that are not registered in their name (or have only been registered in their name for a short period). It’s important to ensure you’re dealing with the registered owner. Be bold and ask for ID and proof of ownership: they should match.
Research The Vehicle’s History
Reports from CarProof and Carfax may provide useful information on reported collisions/incidents, liens (CarProof), past odometer readings, previous outof-province registration and Ministry of
Transportation branding (e.g., salvage, irreparable, rebuilt, none).
Get A Second Opinion
Have the vehicle inspected by a licensed mechanic. He or she may find problems the seller did not disclose or know about.
Buying a used car privately needn’t require a young priest and an old priest, a wooden stake or a silver bullet; it does however require equal doses of vigilance and awareness. Education is key — but hey, you still might want to avoid cars for sale on Elm Street … just sayin’.
For more information on your car-buying rights, visit omvic.ca.