What Would Forrest Gump’s Mama Say About Buying a Car?
Forrest Gump’s mama was right — “life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.” That wonderful, whimsical and yet profound insight seems to come to mind every February when the ubiquitous heart-shaped boxes of Valentine chocolates make an appearance on store shelves. But anyone who has made a blind confection selection without careful examination of the legend that usually accompanies the red faux-suede boxes knows that looks can be deceiving. It goes without saying the square shaped chocolate-covered caramels were fantastic; but some candy makers would sneakily create other flavours in the same square shape — some with a medicinal orange flavour and others with a thick white mystery filling. Biting into one of those when you expected caramel was heartbreaking — and clearly not in keeping with the spirit of the day.
Buying a car, especially buying a car privately, can sometimes come with similar disappointment — albeit on a far greater scale; and you can’t get the bad taste out of your mouth by discreetly spitting the disappointment into a tissue.
OMVIC, Ontario’s vehicle sales regulator, often hears from consumers who have had unpleasant surprises after purchasing a vehicle privately. In most cases the vehicles looked great and the sellers sang their praises; but shortly after purchase, the buyers discovered their cars weren’t what they expected.
“Buying a car privately comes with considerable risk,” explains Terry O’Keefe, OMVIC Director of Communications and Education. “Unlike registered dealers, private sellers are not regulated by OMVIC and don’t have to abide by Ontario’s mandatory disclosure laws that require the purchaser be made aware of a vehicle’s past-use, history and condition.” Worse, some “private sellers” are actually curbsiders — illegal dealers posing as private sellers. They commonly sell vehicles that are previous write-offs with undisclosed accident repairs, or are odometer-tampered. Research conducted by the regulator shows that 25 percent of the “private” classified car ads in popular online marketplaces are actually placed by curbsiders.
Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.
Buying a vehicle from a registered dealer isn’t a guarantee there won’t be any problems but according to O’Keefe, “it is definitely the safest way to buy.” So if a consumer forgoes the protections offered by OMVIC, Ontario’s consumer protection laws and the Motor Vehicle Dealers Compensation Fund, and decides to buy privately, OMVIC strongly encourages them to follow every one of these steps:
• Beware of vehicles priced below market value; this is often a sign you may be dealing with a curbsider or an indication the vehicle has undisclosed issues.
• Know who you’re buying from! Confirm the vehicle is registered to the seller; check ID and vehicle ownership. The names should match.
• Ask questions: how long was the vehicle owned? Are there maintenance records? Why is he/she selling?
• Take a thorough test drive, not just a quick drive around the block.
• Check for any accident history: purchase and review a vehicle history report like CarProof.
• Carefully review the Used Vehicle Information Package (UVIP); the seller is required to provide it.
• Ensure there are no liens (for outstanding loans/debts) on the vehicle or take steps to ensure any lien is removed. Lien info is usually available on the UVIP or CarProof report.
• Have the vehicle inspected by a trusted mechanic before purchase. This will help identify problems the seller failed to disclose or was unaware of.
• Request a receipt that includes the seller’s information and actual price paid.
So buying a used car doesn’t have to be like a box of chocolates. There are steps consumers can take that will help them determine what they are actually getting. Yes, some may cost a bit of money (like the pre-purchase inspection); but they can in turn save thousands of dollars and ensure vehicle-buyers end up with a chocolatecovered caramel of a car, not a deeply disappointing chocolate-covered white goo they immediately regret biting in to.
To learn more about your car-buying rights or how to spot a curbsider, visit omvic.ca.