How to determine the used car model to buy

A shopper checks cars at a yard sale in Paris on October 10, 2015.AdrianHancu / iStockPhoto / Getty Images

The short answer to the question Which used car should I buy? ‘ is that there is no short answer. There are hundreds of thousands of used cars for sale now in this country, and they range from good to bad to very ugly. The only way to know which one to buy is to do some homework.

The good news is that you don’t have to be someone in the car to know the answer. It’s not difficult, but it does take time. Sorry, there are no shortcuts, except for luck with the help of your relatives.

“You need to be clear in your eyes about your feelings and accept the fact that you want to be a bit surprised and happy with your car purchase,” said George Ene, director of the Automobile Protection Association (APA), a national consumer. An advocacy organization based in Toronto and Montreal. A car is a big purchase, but most people aren’t completely logical about it, which is fine, as long as you’re aware of it.

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If you’re completely rational, driven only by value for money, Eni said you should look for a reliable mid-size sedan like the 2016 Hyundai Sonata or newer. “A mid-size sedan, this is the best value at the moment,” he said. But in his experience advising car shoppers, nine out of 10 people would say no to this idea; There is not much surprise and delight there. People want what they want. (During the pandemic, Eni has found that car buyers are actually becoming more emotionally driven, more focused on wants than needs. You only live once, right?)

However, be realistic about your needs, advised Brian Murphy, vice president of research and analysis at Canadian Black Book (CBB), a company that tracks used car prices. Is it worth it to drive a full-size pickup truck because you’re thinking of towing a boat someday? Mostly not. If you have two kids and a dog, a tiny 4×4 will be very claustrophobic, but a huge 4×4 will feel tough downtown and add to your exorbitant fuel bills.

A word of caution about the prices. As a result of the pandemic, Murphy said, there is a shortage of used cars across Canada, which means prices are higher than usual. Good used cars aren’t on the market for long, so once you’ve finished your homework, be prepared to act fast.


Get started with online classifieds sites, including,, and Some car company websites will also have approved pre-owned listings. Narrow search results based on your wants and needs, as well as location and price. Set up a saved search if you can and check back regularly to learn about the market and what’s out there. be patient. Eventually you will be able to narrow down your choices to a few models of a particular year that you want.

When you see the vehicles ticking all of your boxes, the homework really begins.

Check for vehicle reliability ratings, which can often be obtained for free through your local library website. The lemon aid Used car guides, which Iny co-wrote, are also a good source of reliability information. Here at The Globe and Mail, you’ll find new car reviews going back more than a decade.

Most vehicles will have online communities — message boards or Facebook groups — populated by existing owners who can help answer any questions you may have.

Check safety ratings from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the independent nonprofit US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). While advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) like Automatic Emergency Braking are nice to have, remember that they won’t always save you; It is a backup of last resort. Transport Canada has a brief glossary of ADAS technology online.

Using Natural Resources Canada’s Fuel Economy Rating Finder before buying a car can save you money in the long run. “We’re on this gas price holiday, but I don’t know how long that will last,” said Brian Murphy, director of the central bank. The cost of gas, he added, is about 30 percent less than it was a year ago, but what if the price jumps to $1.40 a liter and you no longer work from home? Fuel bills add up quickly. Besides, lowering your carbon footprint is always a good idea.

The point of all this homework is partly to get rid of bad or unreliable cars, and partly to give you a checklist of trouble points and common problems to bring with you when you go to look at a car. Armed with your research, you’re trying to beat the odds that would normally be in the seller’s favour, and in doing so get you a better deal for a better car.

the hunt

“In real estate, they say location, location, location,” said George Ene. “It’s kind of an oversimplification, but with cars, it’s their condition, condition, condition.” Regardless of your budget, you want a vehicle in good condition with a well-documented maintenance history.

It is possible to buy a good used car for $5,000 as we said earlier. The trick to looking for a bargain is not to buy the cheapest Honda Civic or Ford Mustang you can find but to buy a boring one in the best mechanical condition possible.

Antoine Joubert, a Montreal-based auto journalist who has bought and sold 160 or 180 cars, advised you shouldn’t necessarily be put off by a poorly written classified ad with bad images. (He can’t remember exactly.) He took a chance in a mysterious ad recently and found a good 1987 Nissan Pulsar NX for a much lower price than it was worth. “I took the opportunity,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just luck like that.”

However, be wary of cars whose odometers may have been tampered with to show that the car was driven less than it actually was. Even readings on digital odometers can be undone. “Revised mileage is the worst thing in the used car market,” Jaubert said. Carfax reports of vehicle history aren’t perfect, but they can sometimes show erroneous tampering. With a VIN on hand, you can also call the automaker to find out where the vehicle was originally sold, then ask that dealer for proof of maintenance, which should show true mileage.

In other words, if the deal sounds too good to be true, it may or may not be. You have to do your due diligence.

If you’re on a higher budget, certified used cars — where the manufacturer offers inspection and sometimes extended warranties or roadside assistance programs as part of the package — are a good option, especially when you’re looking for a luxury vehicle, Murphy said. Certified used cars can often be financed at below-market rates, and usually come with a good manufacturer’s warranty. “Luxury cars have more bells and whistles, so you really want to buy with a guarantee,” he explained.

“Once a car is two years old, it usually depreciates by more than 30 percent,” Murphy said. “Once you get into a car that’s seven or eight years old, you all start to depreciate similarly.”

Eni said that three, four or five years old is a nice place for used cars. You’ll find a larger selection in that age group since that’s when many vehicles are rented. Since the supply of used cars is tight right now, don’t be afraid to take a look at the six or seven-year-old models, too.

After all, if you really have no idea what to buy, Iny has suggested a few options for value-conscious shoppers across different classes: a 2016 or newer Hyundai Tucson, a Kia Sportage or a Kia Soul, a Mazda3 or a modern V6 Ford Mustang, a pickup truck An old Ford Ranger, if you can find one in good condition, or a full-size 2014-2018 GM pickup with a six-speed automatic transmission.

Buying a used car doesn’t have to feel like you’re doing homework. “What I’m always interested in is the story that goes with the car,” said Antoine Joubert.

Be an investigator. Listen to the stories, find out who did what, uncover the truth, and you’ll end up with a good used car. Happy spy.

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