The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Used Car in Alberta

By Arthur Dubois | Published on 10 Jul 2023

a car parked on the side of a road

Buying a used car can intimidate anyone, especially first-time buyers. However, it can get you a reliable car without breaking the bank. Alberta makes for a great place to shop for used cars, as you have so many options available. In this guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to know to make the best decision for your needs and budget.

Understanding the Alberta Used Car Market

If you seek a used car in Alberta, it’s always helpful to have an understanding of the market before you start shopping. This applies whether you’re a first-time buyer or a seasoned pro, since trends change. Alberta drivers have their own preferences, so do your research beforehand to read the landscape.

So, what types of vehicles are popular in Alberta? According to Autotrader, large vehicles still ruled in Alberta in 2022. Trucks and four SUVs top its list, including Ford 150 trucks, the BMW X5, Honda Civic and Toyota Highlander. Meanwhile, the smaller Toyota Tacoma, 4Runner and Chevrolet Corvette fell out of favour. 

This corresponds with Alberta’s rugged terrain and harsh winters, which make larger vehicles more practical for many drivers. However, keep in mind that popular models can also come with higher price tags due to increased demand.

Also consider seasonal trends when shopping for a used car in Alberta. Just like with any other commodity, prices can fluctuate depending on the time of year. In general, vehicles tend to be more expensive during the summer months due to higher demand. Naturally, many people prefer to buy cars when the weather feels nicer and they have more time to shop around. On the other hand, prices may drop in winter months when fewer people seek a car.

Given the ups and downs in car supply in the early 2020, knowing the market value of the vehicle helps you avoid overpaying. In short, collect multiple price quotes then check what others pay on price-comparison sites. For instance, you can check prices via the Canadian Black Book or Kelley Blue Book

Due to higher prices, the amount needed for a down payment has risen in recent years. In late 2022, the average down payment climbed to a record of $3,921 for used vehicles in Canada.

Buying from a Dealership vs. a Private Seller

When it comes to purchasing a used car in Alberta, you have three options: dealerships, online sites or private sellers. Each option has its own pros and cons, so consider them carefully before making a decision.

Buying from a dealership can offer several advantages, such as access to a wider selection of vehicles and in-house financing. Dealerships may also offer warranties or other guarantees, which can provide peace of mind for buyers. However, buying from a dealership can cost more and you may encounter sales tactics and pressure to make a purchase.

Buying from a private seller, on the other hand, can often be more affordable and less intimidating. You may also have more room to negotiate the price and ask questions about the vehicle’s history. However, buying from a private seller can come with more risk, as buyers have fewer safeguards to protect them. Therefore, always thoroughly inspect the vehicle and ask for documentation before making a purchase.

Buying From an Online Dealership vs. a Traditional Dealership

Likewise, you can shop at an online dealership or a traditional one. Both come with advantages and drawbacks, which we’ll explore.

If you prefer to shop online already, looking for a car online may put you in your comfort zone. Cruising sites like Clutch and CanadaDrives will open you up to more options, since they don’t have limited physical space. They also organize options by make, model and price so you can quickly find what you want. 

However, you don’t get the chance to sit in a car or truck to see if it feels right to you. Further, you cannot haggle on price the way you could at a dealership. This type of purchase may also come with a delivery fee, so factor that into your budget.

On the other hand, dealerships can give you manufacturer incentives and advice to try models you hadn’t considered. Of course, it takes more time to go from lot to lot. Sales staff also make it harder to walk away when you don’t find what you want. Yet if you thrive on in-person negotiating, then you may feel more at home in this situation.

Finally, you can try to buy from online marketplaces, like Facebook or Kijiji. While you’ll find a variety of vehicles here, the more reliable ones tend to end up on paid sites. Also, scammers thrive in an unregulated environment like this, so always make sure you see the car before handing over any money. 

Overall, you have many factors to consider when shopping for a used car in Alberta. By carefully researching and weighing your options, you can find the perfect vehicle to fit your needs and budget.

Preparing for Your Used Car Purchase

If you feel ready to shop, there are a few things you should consider before making your purchase. These tips will help you prepare for the buying process:

Set a Budget

Most importantly, set a budget before buying a used car. This will help you narrow down your options and ensure that you don’t overspend. When setting your budget, factor in the purchase price of the car and the ongoing maintenance and repair costs. You don’t want to end up with a car that you can’t afford to keep running.

If you plan to finance your purchase, also look at the monthly payment so you can keep pace with them. Fortunately, Hardbacon created an online car loan calculator to help with this insight. Also, prepare yourself for additional fees, such as five percent GST, delivery charges or undercoating. On the up side, Alberta does not have provincial sales tax, so you won’t pay any when purchasing a car in the province. You also only pay GST to dealerships, not private sellers.

Identify Your Needs and Preferences

Before you start looking for a used car, identify your needs and preferences. Do you require a car with copious cargo space? Or do you prioritize fuel efficiency? 

Think about the driving conditions you face and what type of ride would give you the most confidence. Also factor in how many people you’ll transport during the vehicle’s lifespan with you. 

If you commute long distances, you may wish to buy a car with the highest fuel efficiency to save money. Knowing what you need and want will help you narrow down your options and find the perfect vehicle for you.

Research Car History and Reliability

When buying a used car, take time to research the car’s history and reliability. This will help you avoid purchasing a car with recalls or a history of poor performance in a collision. You can check the car’s history by obtaining a vehicle history report, which will show you any accidents, repairs, or other issues the car has had in the past.

Explore Financing Options for Used Cars

Mapping out your financing options makes for a crucial initial step before buying a used car in Alberta. Your strategy for securing a used car loan can significantly impact your car-buying experience and financial responsibilities. Here’s a snapshot of various car financing alternatives.

Financing through Traditional Banks and Credit Unions

Many people automatically turn to banks and credit unions for used car loans. While interest rates can fluctuate, those with solid credit ratings might obtain a beneficial agreement. However, banks can have slower, more stringent approval procedures, particularly for individuals with lower credit scores. Hence, for this route, it’s wise to start the process early and brace for a thorough examination of your finances.

Financing from Online Car Loan Providers 

In this internet era, online car loan providers like Car Loans Canada, Loans Canada and Clutch have emerged as quick and easy options. They simplify the application process, provide rapid approval times, and tend to better accommodate individuals with below-average credit scores. On the downside, the trade-off for this convenience could mean higher interest rates. Therefore, make sure to explore multiple platforms and compare loans before finalizing your choice.

Financing from Used Car Dealerships 

Dealership financing presents another option, mainly because of its convenience. Essentially, this serves as a one-stop-shop for both your vehicle purchase and financing. Dealerships often collaborate with a range of lenders, which allows them to offer you a variety of loan proposals. However, you should exercise caution. Their financing could include higher interest rates and stricter loan conditions. Consequently, while instant financing might seem appealing, always thoroughly examine the fine print and understand what you commit to.

Inspecting a Used Car in Alberta

Always thoroughly inspect any used car before making an offer. This can help you identify any potential issues and ensure that you get a fair deal. The inspection process should include a test drive and inspections of the exterior, interior, engine and mechanical systems. 

When inspecting the exterior of the car, check for any signs of rust, dents, or scratches. These can indicate how well the car has been maintained over time. Additionally, inspect the tires for any signs of wear or damage. Uneven wear on the tires can signal alignment issues or suspension problems.

The interior inspection should include checking the upholstery for any tears, stains, or signs of wear. Make sure to test all of the electrical components, such as the windows, locks, and radio, to ensure they are functioning properly. Check the dashboard for any warning lights that may be illuminated, as this can indicate potential issues with the car.

During the engine and mechanical inspection, check the oil level and look for any signs of leaks. Inspect the belts and hoses for any signs of wear or cracking. Check the battery to ensure it is working properly and has no signs of corrosion. If possible, have a mechanic perform a more thorough inspection of the engine and mechanical components.

You can search for a Government of Alberta Motor Vehicle Inspection station or via CAA’s registered inspection centres. This service takes one to two hours and costs between $120 and $150, depending on the auto shop’s fee structure.

What to watch for during a test drive

When test driving the car, pay attention to how it handles, how the brakes feel and how smoothly it rides. This can give you a better idea of any potential problems with the car.

In particular, pay attention to any unusual noises or vibrations. Test the brakes to ensure they respond well without making any unusual sounds. Check the steering to ensure it does not pull to one side. Take note of the transmission, ensuring it shifts smoothly and doesn’t hesitate or jerk during acceleration or deceleration.

Overall, taking the time to thoroughly inspect a used car before purchasing can save you time and money in the long run. By identifying potential issues early on, you can negotiate a fair price or decide to walk away from a bad deal. Always remember to trust your instincts and if something feels off, don’t hesitate to seek a professional opinion.

Buying a used car in Alberta can save you money while you still get a reliable vehicle. However, before you make your purchase, you must understand the legal requirements that you’ll need to follow.

One of the first steps you’ll need to take is to register the vehicle. This involves filling out paperwork and paying $93 for 1 year (or $173 for two years) to the Alberta government. You’ll also need to buy car insurance for the vehicle, which is required by law. 

If you buy a car from out of province or via a salvage company, it will need to undergo a safety inspection. These inspections ensure that the vehicle is safe to drive. If the vehicle fails the inspection, you must make repairs before you can register and legally drive it.

Before you can complete the purchase, you’ll also need to ensure that you have all the appropriate paperwork. This includes a bill of sale, which outlines the terms of the sale and the price paid for the vehicle. You’ll also need to complete a transfer of ownership document, which officially transfers the title of the vehicle to you. It’s easy to find a registry near you.

Overall, buying a used car in Alberta can land you a reliable vehicle at an affordable price. Just follow all of the legal requirements and obtain the necessary paperwork to ensure a smooth and stress-free transaction.

Negotiating the Best Deal For A Used Car

So far, you’ve navigated some major hurdles. However, finding the right car is only half the battle. Next, negotiating the best deal can save you a significant amount of money in the long run.

When negotiating with private sellers, do your research beforehand. Look up the value of the car that interests you and prepare to walk away if the seller won’t meet your price. Remember, Alberta has plenty of other used cars and trucks out there. So, don’t feel pressured to make a deal if it’s not in your best interest.

On the other hand, when negotiating with dealerships, you may have more room to negotiate. Dealerships often have a markup on their used cars, so don’t be afraid to ask for a lower price. Additionally, they may offer alternative options, such as financing or trade-ins, to sweeten the deal.

Naturally, keep in mind that the negotiation process can take time. Above all, take a break and come back later if you feel overwhelmed or if the dealer won’t budge. Remember, you can control the situation.

When closing the deal, make sure to finalize all paperwork and ensure that you understand the terms of the purchase. This includes any warranties or guarantees included with the car. Feel free to ask questions or clarify any details if you’re unsure.

In summary, negotiating the best deal for used cars requires research, patience and a willingness to walk away if necessary. By following these tips, you can save money and drive away in a car that meets your needs.

After Your Used Car Purchase

After you’ve made your used car purchase in Alberta, focus on taking care of your new vehicle. This includes regular maintenance and upkeep, such as oil changes, tire rotations, and brake inspections. Not only do these tasks keep your car running smoothly, but they can also help prevent more costly repairs down the line.

In addition to regular maintenance, you may also want to explore warranty options for used cars. While they may come with an additional cost, they can provide peace of mind and protection against unexpected repairs or breakdowns. Be sure to carefully read and understand the terms of any warranty before making a purchase.

Of course, you must have the proper insurance coverage to protect yourself and your new investment. Certainly, shop around and compare rates from different Alberta car insurance providers to find the best coverage for your needs and budget.

Finally, prepare for potential issues and repairs, as even the most well-maintained used car can still experience problems. Consider setting aside a small emergency fund specifically for car repairs, so you have it handy if something unexpected happens.

Buying a used car in Alberta can provide you with wheels without breaking the bank. By reading the market, understanding the buying process, and carefully inspecting your potential purchases, you can make the best decision for you. With these tips and tricks in mind, you’ll hit the road in your new-to-you car or truck in no time!

Arthur Dubois is a personal finance writer at Hardbacon. Since relocating to Canada, he has successfully built his credit score from scratch and begun investing in the stock market. In addition to his work at Hardbacon, Arthur has contributed to Metro newspaper and several other publications