Okay, so you’ve found the perfect used car. You’ve looked at it, test-driven it, had your mechanic look it over, the price is right, and you’ve agreed to buy it.

You’re not done yet.

There are still some things you need to do to protect yourself, and your purchase, before you finally drive it away. These apply whether you’re buying privately or from a dealer.

First things first: document the car. Once you’ve decided to purchase a vehicle, take several photos of it, making sure the pictures are date-stamped. You want clear, close-up pictures of each side of the vehicle in case there’s any damage when you return to take possession of it. Otherwise, the seller could say it was already there, and that you agreed to buy it like that.


Photograph the interior, as well. You want to shoot pictures of anything that could potentially go missing or be replaced with something cheaper when you take delivery, such as alloy wheels, a premium stereo, or even the floor mats. When you pick the car up, go over it with the seller, making sure there’s no damage and that all the parts are there. If you only check it out later, the seller could successfully argue that you were the one who dented the fender on the way home.

The car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) is the 17-digit number stamped into a plate on the dash, visible through the driver’s side of the windshield. Make sure it matches the ownership, the bill of sale, and any safety or emissions test paperwork.

We’re assuming you’ve already done a background check on the car’s history, either through CarProof or Carfax, or through the licensing bureau if it’s required in your province. You still need to double-check that the car you’ve researched is the one you’re actually getting. You’re not necessarily suspecting fraud, either. It’s rare but not unheard-of for a clerk at a dealership to grab the wrong paperwork if there are two similar cars on the lot.


When you take delivery, get everything that goes with the car. This includes all spare keys, the owner’s manual, past service records, the spare tire and jack, and if it has wheel locks, the key wrench for them.

Change the ownership right away. The seller will probably insist on this anyway (and a dealer will do it for you), but you don’t want to be driving around with someone else’s name on the car.

In some cases, you may want to get the vehicle appraised. You might think this is only for antique cars, but it’s a good idea if your car is worth more than its usual book value, such as an older model in extraordinarily good condition, or with modifications. If something happens and it’s not appraised, you may not get the full value for it. Check with your insurer about coverage, and if an appraisal is appropriate, use an appraiser that the insurer recommends.

Finally, call the car’s manufacturer and have the vehicle registered to your name and address in the company’s records. Even if the car is well out of warranty, this will ensure that if the car is subject to a recall, the notice will be mailed directly to you.

Now that everything’s in place, get out there, and enjoy your new ride.