Buying a Vehicle in Canada and the USA
Tips for International Students and Travellers
This is written for international students, but
the information has value for everyone.
Most international travellers and students have no plans to purchase
a car, but once they find out how inexpensive per-owned vehicles
are in Canada and the U.S., many want one.
The first step in maintaining a vehicle
is to purchase one with as few problems or potential problems
Get help when buying
Above: Excellent tips for a buying a car directly from its owner.
Independent businesses that sell used cars—"preowned" as they say—do not enjoy
a high ethical reputation in North America.
See the excellent film "Breaking Away" for a typical
view of this industry.
Every library has copies of automobile price
and quality guides, or you can check on line with sites like Edmund's. Ask your librarian
for suggestions. Also—and this is very important—check out the
reputation of a car dealer with the Better
Business Bureau (with links to offices in both Canada and
U.S.) Contacts for local bureaus are found on the web site.
Consider joinig the American or Canadina automobile associations
Once a member you also receive
referrals to honest and fairly priced repair shops anywhere in
North America. Membership includes some towing and minor help
when you have broken down.
Do not abuse these services (by for
example getting service for the cars of friends), or your membership
will be cancelled.
Members, too, receive discounts on automobile
insurance, which must be purchased in most jurisdictions to avoid
fines and even jail in case of accidents.
Although your AAA or CAA chapter will come
and change a flat tire for you, learn how to this yourself for your safety
and for not be stranded in isolated areas while waiting for service.
In most cases, you'll be on your way quicker if you do this things yourself. You'll learn how below.
Inspect before buying
Before buying, have a knowledgeable person
inspect the car after you have made a preliminary inspection.
Look for extreme wear on the gas and brake
pedals that belies low mileage. Have the tires been painted black?
When cool, rub the inside of the tailpipe outlet. Are your fingers
left covered with soot? Are any leaks visible in the engine compartment
or under the vehicle? How does the passenger compartment look?
If all stained and torn, the previous owners may not have taken
very good care of the working parts either.
Look out for flood damage
In the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, you must watch out for flood-damaged vehicles.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller warned, "There may be half a million vehicles that were severely damaged in the hurricanes. The threat is that a vehicle may be repaired only cosmetically . . . and offered for sale without indication of the prior damage."
Watch for these signs of flood damage:
Check inside the trunk, including around the spare tire, for evidence of moisture, silt, or corrosion.
Check the engine for signs of moisture damage, such as rust or silt or grass.
Give the vehicle a smell test - inside and out - if it smells musty, it could have been flood-damaged.
Examine the underside of the vehicle for signs of excess moisture.
Check inside dome lights, glove boxes, and other places where water might have been trapped for signs of moisture, mold, rust, or silt.
Check the interior for signs of mismatched items such as carpeting or seat covers.
Test all electrical components, including lights, signals, switches, and audio system.
"Perhaps the most important thing to do is take a vehicle you are considering to a mechanic you trust. Never buy a vehicle from a seller who won't let you take the vehicle to someone you trust for an inspection before you agree to buy," Tom Miller said.
You can also check a vehicle's history on a service such as Autocheck
or Carfax before
buying. This tells you if a car or truck was used in a suspicious
area and other key information.
For more tips on adjusting to life in the USA and