December 5, 2023

Answering the internet’s most popular questions about used vehicles to avoid

Article content

As supply chain issues and sketchy dealership ‘market adjustment’ fees dominate the new-car sales landscape, ever more Canadians are looking to used cars to replace aging vehicles and to make a shift away from public transit.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Every day, used car shoppers in Canada throw hundreds of thousands of questions into their favourite web search engines, and many of those deal with trying to avoid making a bad decision. Below, we’ll answer five of the most common of these.

Is it bad to buy a used car with 150,000 kilometres?

Maybe so, maybe no.

Consider two identical, brand-new cars that rolled off their assembly line, one after the next.

One of these vehicles may reach 150,000 kilometres in just a few years. The other may take a decade or more.

By time a used vehicle has done this amount of driving, the way it was cared for by past owners (and not the badge on its hood) is a key predictor of its long-term health and reliability.

One used car with 150,000 kilometres might be in stellar shape, perhaps owned by a single individual or family who took its maintenance and care very seriously for every phase of its life.

Advertisement 3

Article content

An identical used car with 150,000 kilometres may have been owned by multiple individuals or families who neglected ongoing maintenance and inspection requirements, skipped fluid and filter changes, and took no issue in driving for months or years with undiagnosed vibrations, noises, or other issues.

The point is, the odometer reading of a used vehicle is not a good indication of its condition and reliability.

Instead of searching by mileage, shoppers will tend to wind up with the best vehicle for their dollar when seeking out a unit that comes with full servicing records proving it’s been consistently and properly cared for throughout its life, in a timely fashion, and ideally in a dealership setting. A used car familiar to a local dealership or garage that’s been regularly serviced is a great place to start if you’re considering something with higher miles.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Ongoing maintenance, not accumulated mileage, is a much better indicator of the overall health and condition of the used car you’re considering.

Is it bad to buy a used car without warranty?

Buying without warranty depends on your preferences, needs, and desire for purchase confidence.

Let’s say an add-on warranty package costs $1,500.

Many used car shoppers find that cost reasonable in exchange for added confidence, peace of mind, and protection against surprise repair bills if there’s an issue. In exchange for $1,500, this shopper gets additional protection, reduced stress levels, and less to worry about.

Advertisement 5

Article content

Other shoppers will instead choose to put that $1,500 in their bank account. In this case, they’ve got a contingency fund in case a repair is needed. If it’s not needed, the money remains in their bank account, not that of the warranty company. Of course, some repairs will exceed $1,500, meaning this shopper would be on the hook for the remaining balance.

Some shoppers prefer to buy a Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) vehicle in a dealer setting, which would be required to meet a higher standard than used vehicles sold privately. Commonly, CPO used cars are priced at a premium but include perks like roadside assistance and extended warranty coverage built in.

Used sales can be tricky to navigate — but sales of new cars can be just as fraught. PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES
Used sales can be tricky to navigate — but sales of new cars can be just as fraught. PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES

Is it bad to buy a used car with a rebuilt title?

Stay away if possible. Used cars with a rebuilt title have typically been damaged — often seriously — and then repaired.

Advertisement 6

Article content

The main benefit of buying a car with a rebuilt title is the lower purchase cost, though rebuilt cars may have had parts of their body, suspension, structure, electronic systems, driveline, cooling system, climate control, safety systems, and other major components damaged, disturbed, and subsequently rebuilt or reinstalled.

Though this doesn’t necessarily translate directly into reliability issues, buying a rebuilt vehicle can come with more of the uncertainty and questions that most used car shoppers seeking maximum purchase confidence are trying to avoid.

If you’re considering  buying a used car with a rebuilt or salvage title, consider giving this article a read.

Ford Mustang
Ford Mustang Photo by Justin Pritchard

Is it bad to buy a used car with very low mileage?

Advertisement 7

Article content

It depends on why the mileage is so low.

During the pandemic, many Canadians virtually stopped driving their cars. This means many used cars in today’s market may have lower odometer readings than otherwise expected of a vehicle at a given age.

A very low-mileage modern car might seem a great deal, but you’ll want to be on the lookout for common trouble signs when a vehicle has been left to sit for too long. These include flat or damaged tires, rusty brakes, unwanted noises and vibrations while driving, pulsating or scraping sensations from the brakes, and (especially) electronic problems caused by a weak or dying battery.

Older low-mileage cars may have additional risks. Perhaps you’re considering a 2005 Ford Fusion with exceptionally low mileage. Perhaps its owner was an airline pilot, snowbird, or professional working abroad, and the car commonly spent most of its years sitting unused in a garage or driveway.

Advertisement 8

Article content

This opens up the possibility of age-related decay of components like belts, hoses, wiring and the vehicle’s battery. Over time in storage, gasoline, brake fluid, and even engine oil can absorb moisture or acidify, cause collateral damage, and otherwise go ‘bad’, leading to other longevity and performance issues.

Extended storage time also increases the risks of animal or insect infestation, rust, paint and finish problems, and suspension component decay which can result in an uncomfortable ride and poor handling.

While one very low-mileage car may be a great deal, another could be a headache waiting to happen. If in doubt, have an expert check the specific vehicle you’re considering before you buy.

Justin Pritchard picture

Justin Pritchard

Justin Pritchard is a Sudbury, Ontario based automotive journalist and award-winning presenter, photographer, videographer and technical writer. Every week, Justin uses his keyboard, voice and cameras to share his latest automotive reviews and discoveries with his audience, via multiple Canadian television programs, print and online publications.


Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *