Calgary Legal Guidance

Buying a Vehicle

The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide only general information on legal issues within the province of Alberta. This service is provided by Calgary Legal Guidance funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation. The purpose is to make you aware of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.

This topic discusses some of the factors to consider when purchasing a vehicle.

Make your offer to purchase a used vehicle conditional to a satisfactory mechanical check of the vehicle. The vehicle should undergo a complete inspection that should be done by a garage mechanic, and you should take the vehicle for a test drive. If you made the offer conditional and the mechanical check is not satisfactory, you are under no obligation to purchase the vehicle.

Do a search on the vehicle at any Motor Vehicle Registry Office to find out if the vehicle has been written off by an insurance company, it could be stolen or has liens or encumbrances (any due charges to be payable) on it. Ensure that the search includes a Vehicle Information Report from the vehicle registry, and a Personal Property lien search on the Vehicle Identification Number from the Personal Property Registry. You should obtain the owner’s name, the license plate number and serial number of the vehicle you want to purchase to perform the search.

Insurance companies provide the serial numbers of written-off vehicles to the Motor Vehicle Registry Office for easy detection. A used vehicle that has been “written off” by an insurance company means it was not worth repairing. These vehicles cannot be driven on the highways unless they pass a safety inspection by Alberta Transportation. Once the vehicle passes inspection, a Safety Check Certificate will be issued by Alberta Transportation for that vehicle. You will need to present that Safety Check Certificate along with your Bill of Sale for registration.

If you are not sure about the owner of the vehicle, then you can find out under whose name the vehicle is registered. This can be done by providing a license plate number or serial number to your local Registry office. If you have any concerns that the car might be stolen, check online at the Canadian Police Information Centre, or call your police department or local RCMP department.

The search will also show any liens or encumbrances that are registered against the vehicle.  Ensure that all the liens and encumbrances are cleared on the title before making the purchase. Otherwise, these due charges will pass on to you with the purchase and your vehicle could be seized for non-payment. You could lose all money you paid for the vehicle.

Additional vehicle searches can be conducted through CARFAX or CarProof.

“Curbsiders”, or “curbers”, are unlicensed sellers who appear to be private sellers but are in the business of car sales. A licensed dealership will be registered with the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council, and individual private sellers will usually not be selling more than one vehicle at a time.

Once the mechanical check of the vehicle and search of title is done, carefully read the terms of the Purchase Contract so that it reflects your understanding of the purchase. For example, does the Contract state the warranty, the delivery date and the method of the payment you agreed to? All changes to the Contract must be agreed to by both, the seller and the buyer. The changes must be indicated by both parties putting their initials by the changed terms.

Discuss the warranty term with the seller before you sign the Purchase Contract so that you understand what the warranty is on the vehicle you are purchasing. Where the Contract states that the vehicle is purchased “as is,” it means that the dealer does not guarantee the quality of the vehicle.  In most sale and purchase agreements, there is an implied or unstated representation that the goods are quality goods. The exception is where the Contract expressly states that there are no representations of quality or it is written, “as is.” The express statements of the Contract will apply.

If you find that the odometer has been tampered with, you may seek a complete refund from the seller. Tampering with an odometer is illegal in Alberta, and an “as is” clause in the contract will not apply. You may keep the vehicle and demand the seller refund the difference between what you paid and the value of the vehicle with a higher odometer reading. If the purchase is from a dealership, you can contact the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council at 780.466.1140 or 403.301.2744, or If the purchase is from a private seller, you can file a police report and begin a Court claim.

Also check the terms of the Contract for the delivery date. Consider adding a term to the Contract for a penalty against the seller if the vehicle is not delivered on time. If you are trading in your old vehicle, add a Contract term that states who will own the trade-in until the new vehicle is delivered. Often the Purchase Contract will include a term that states you must pay the higher price if the price of the vehicle increases before it is delivered to you. If you see such a term, discuss this with the seller before you sign the Contract. Always obtain a receipt for a cash deposit on a vehicle purchase.

There are several methods of payment that you may use in your purchase. Carefully read to understand the types and terms of the finance agreement. Where you fail to make the necessary payments as promised, the Contract will provide certain remedies for the seller to take. Find out whether the seller can seize your vehicle or sue you for the balance of the loan or do both.

Where you finance your vehicle through the car dealership and sign a Conditional Sales Contract, the dealer can either seize the vehicle or sue on the debt. They cannot do both. You may take possession of the vehicle after you promise to make payments over a certain period of time. The dealer will not give you the ownership of the vehicle until you make the last payment.

The lender can both seize the vehicle and sue you for the outstanding balance if you finance your purchase through a bank and sign a Chattel Mortgage Contract. In this case, you are given the ownership of the vehicle but the bank takes the vehicle as security against the loan. This gives the lender the remedy to both seize and sue.

If you purchase a new vehicle and the vehicle has manufacturing defects, contact both the dealer and manufacturer. If you are unable to resolve the issue with the manufacturer, you may wish to contact the Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan at 1.800.207.0685.

Once the purchase of your vehicle is complete, you must obtain the necessary insurance before you can register it at the Motor Vehicles Registry Office. The Registry office will not register your vehicle without proof of insurance.                                        

Dial‑A‑Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.

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