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Buying a Used Car: The Sale - Complete the sale

Complete the sale in four steps

Step 1. Reach an agreement about buying the car

Here are some things to keep in mind as you negotiate the terms on which you’ll buy the vehicle.

Do your research on price

Check out the Canadian Black Book, AutoTrader.ca and online classified ads to learn the average price of that make and model of vehicle.

Take into account other things that will affect the selling price

You’ll want to think about:

  • the mileage
  • the wear and tear both inside and out
  • the car’s accident history
  • how well it was cared for
  • any flaws or mechanical issues the car may have
  • the car’s accessories and added features 
  • any recent updates made to the car

Ask the tough questions

If the vehicle history report reveals that the vehicle has been damaged, check to make sure the vehicle has been properly repaired. (To learn about vehicle history reports and how to order them, see protecting yourself when buying a used car.) Don’t be afraid to bring up any other problems you find.

Negotiate with confidence

When you make your offer to the seller, say it with confidence. 

If negotiating with a dealer, make sure all the items that are part of the transaction are clear (for example, any dealer fee, documentation fee, warranties, etc.). Remember that anything about the sale of the car can be negotiated, with the exception of taxes. 

Don’t rush the decision

If the seller makes a counteroffer to your original offer and you’d like to think about it, that’s OK. You can simply stop the deal if you feel like you’re being pressured into paying too much or buying additional features.

Step 2. Write down and understand the agreement

Whether you are buying a used vehicle from a car dealer or a private individual, get the agreement in writing. Having clear, written terms protects both parties from unexpected surprises.

Get the agreement in writing

If you are buying from a dealer, they must give you a purchase agreement. They will typically have their own form of agreement.

If you are buying from a private seller, you can use this document template to create a draft agreement. Make sure that any promises made are included in the agreement. If the seller has said that they will get the brakes fixed before the sale, write that down in the agreement.

Read and understand the agreement

“As I drove the used car off the lot, I was thrilled. I loved the car, and the dealer had thrown in a 90-day warranty to sweeten the deal. Three weeks later, the back seat flooded during a heavy rain. I brought the car back to the dealer. The good news: the repair was covered under the warranty. The bad news: it would cost over $2,000, and I was going to have to pay half of it. I hadn’t realized that the dealer’s '50/50 warranty' meant that I had to pay 50% of the cost for a covered repair.” 

– Zhang, Richmond

Don’t take the signing of this document lightly. 

  • Go over every section of the document, including any text on the reverse side of printed pages. 
  • Ask the dealer or the person selling you the vehicle to explain what things in the agreement mean if you don’t understand them. 
  • Have the dealer or the person selling you the vehicle fill in all areas of the document or put a line through them if there are blank spaces. 

Once you sign the document, the other party can accept it. Once the other party has accepted it, it means that you have to buy the vehicle. When you buy a vehicle, there is no return or cooling-off period like there is if you lease a vehicle

Make sure the agreement is complete

If you're buying from a car dealer, the written agreement must include certain information. See above under "Understand your legal rights" for details. 

The dealer must give you a copy of the purchase agreement at the time the agreement is accepted. Be sure to keep a copy of the agreement in your records.  

Step 3. Consider how to pay

There are things to consider when deciding how to pay for a used vehicle. Consider all your options before getting financing or a loan. Financing or a loan can be an expensive way to pay, and you'll need to make sure you can realistically afford the monthly payments.

Never agree to pay for the vehicle upfront (that is, before you get the actual vehicle or the signed vehicle registration form). If the seller requests that you pay money to a third party that acts as a go-between in the sale (often called an "escrow service"), investigate the service to make sure it’s legitimate. Many online escrow sites are fraudulent.

In considering whether to buy or lease, consider that when you lease a used vehicle from a dealer: 

  • you don’t own the vehicle until the last payment is made
  • there will be a fixed monthly cost—so it’s easier to budget
  • the vehicle can be repossessed if you can’t keep up the payments

See more on leasing a car.

Step 4. Finalize the sale

Once you’re ready to buy (and having gone through the above three steps, with a written contract in place!), how do you go about finalizing the sale? These are the steps to transfer the ownership of a used vehicle in British Columbia.

First, seller picks up a transfer form

The seller must pick up a Transfer/Tax Form from an Autoplan broker. The ICBC website has a directory of Autoplan brokers and a sample Transfer/Tax Form

Second, seller prepares the car for sale

The seller should remove the licence plates from the vehicle, as well as the insurance and vehicle registration form. The insurance and vehicle registration are actually two parts of the same document. The seller should tear off the bottom portion of that document, the vehicle registration portion, and sign it.

Third, seller provides the vehicle registration, buyer pays 

The seller gives the buyer the signed vehicle registration. The buyer pays the seller. 

Fourth, both parties complete the transfer form 

Once the seller is paid, both the buyer and the seller complete the Transfer/Tax Form and sign it. If either of you make a mistake on the transfer form, a new form must be completed, as ICBC will not accept a form that has been changed.

Fifth, register the transfer

To complete the transfer, the vehicle registration and completed Transfer/Tax Form must be brought to an Autoplan broker within 10 days of the sale. 

ICBC recommends that the seller and buyer go together to register the transfer. Doing so protects both parties: the seller can ensure that their name and insurance are removed from the vehicle registration record in a timely way, and the buyer can register the vehicle, licence it and insure it all at the same time. 

If you're buying a used vehicle from a dealer, the staff at the dealership can help you with the registration, insurance and licensing. The dealership will either have an on-site insurance broker or a broker will have an office nearby.