Yrene lives in the Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada, and is the founder of BackcountryCanadaTravel.com. She was born in Switzerland, lived and worked on different continents and has travelled the world. Yes, that's me, an Entrepreneur, wilderness nut and animal lover who prefers off-the-beaten-track places. I write about things I love. Mostely.
Car Buying Tips For Tourists In Canada
Have you ever thought of buying a car instead of renting one? If this is the case, I have some valuable car buying tips for you.
Why buy a car as a tourist?
You don’t want to find out after arriving in Toronto, that you can’t insure a car in Ontario unless you have an Ontario driver’s licence. Planning is the key and knowing the different laws between provinces is important.
There is no better way to travel in Canada than having your own wheels. Owning a vehicle lets you explore places off the beaten track. You save money on tour operators, buses, and domestic flights. Cheap accommodation is guaranteed if you camp on the way.
If you travel solo, bus, train and plane travel might work out better for you. Hitchhiking is another option if you really want to rough it and your travel budget is minimal. And don’t forget about Ride Share in Canada., another option to consider.
Buying a car in Canada instead of renting a car makes sense if you come to Canada for a longer period of time, like on a working holiday visa. In my opinion, you have to stay at least two months to make it worthwhile. For a shorter time than that, you are probably better off to chose some other options. Make sure to read all the car buying tips for tourists and also check out the official provincial websites for current information.
Car rental prices can be reasonable if you just want to rent a vehicle for a couple of weeks. Look out for private car rental places where you pick up and drop off the car at the same place. Of course, this doesn’t work if you want to drive across the whole country.
I hope the following car buying tips will help you with your car purchase.
Buying A Car In Canada As A Tourist
First, decide how much time you have for your Canada road trip and which provinces you would like to see. How easy it will be to buy a car, get insurance and resell it before leaving the country will depend on the location.
It is important to know that each province has its own regulations and they vary tremendously.
It is totally legal for a foreigner to purchase a vehicle in Canada, even as a tourist. Getting car insurance is another matter. Some provinces let you drive with a foreign driver’s license for three months, and other provinces for a year.
In Ontario and Alberta, you can’t get insurance unless you have a Canadian driver’s license. Make sure to check out the appropriate website for the province of your choice.
What Vehicle Are You Looking For
This is one of the most important car buying tips. Do some research and get an idea of what you want. The type of vehicle to buy will depend on what roads you are planning to travel and whether you want to use it for sleeping. You have many options. Cars, trucks, vans, and RVs, all have their advantages and disadvantages.
- Think about the distances you are planning to drive.
- Will you go off-the-beaten-track and drive dirt roads or drive mostly on paved roads?
- Do you NEED a 4WD? (if you are travelling to the Northern Territories I would suggest you do)
- Are you looking for a campervan or a small SUV, or a truck with a canopy?
- Do you want a vehicle you can sleep in?
- What is your budget?
Tips For Finding A Vehicle
There are lots of resources available to find used vehicles. Many of us drive our cars until the car floors are rusted through and it gets too expensive to repair. Because we are allowed to drive the old wrecks, there are lots of old cars out there for sale.
- Check the local newspaper – in the classified section, you will find lots of vehicles for sale.
- Autotrader.ca – This is Canada’s largest auto classifieds site for new and used cars for sale.
- Kijiji.ca – Free classifieds Marketplace in Canada with a large ‘Vehicles For Sale’ section.
- Craigslist – Canada-wide classifieds
- UsedVancouver.com or UsedToronto.com – or other usedcityname.com – Another great online marketplace.
- Bulletin boards – Backpacker hostels and ski resorts. Somebody might want to sell a car in a hurry and you might find the perfect bargain.
Buying a vehicle privately can save you money. You can try to make a lower offer and some sellers will accept it. It just depends on how desperate the seller wants to sell. With private sales, you won’t get any warranty and you are buying “as is”. If the vehicle breaks down a few days later, the seller can’t be held liable.
Another option is to go to a dealership. This way you might get a limited warranty, and the dealer will assist you with all the paperwork. However, buying a car from a dealership will definitely be more expensive.
How Much Do You Have To Spend
Car buying tips on prices: You might be lucky to pick up an old rig for $1,000. Unless you are mechanically inclined it might not be a good choice. Our towns are far apart and to get a tow truck could be a long wait, and a big expense.
Spending between $3,000 and $6,000 will get you a decent vehicle and probably much fewer headaches. In this price range, you can find reliable cars or vans in good condition.
Transfer Of Ownership
Once you find the perfect vehicle, ownership has to be transferred to your name. Most times the seller has the appropriate form already, otherwise, you can get it from the provincial road registry (ICBC, MTO, SAAQ, etc) or any Autoplan broker. You also will get a bill of sale from the seller.
Both the seller and buyer have to fill out the transfer/tax form and sign it.
You will have to pay tax on the amount you purchased the vehicle for and fill in the purchase amount on the transfer/tax form. It seems to be normal practice to put down a lower purchase price on the transfer form to save some money on the tax. However, this might affect the amount of money you receive from the insurance if you ever have to make a claim.
To complete the transfer, take these documents to an Autoplan broker. I strongly recommend going together with the seller.
In British Columbia, you can get the vehicle registered, licensed and insured by the brokers at the same time. For British Columbia, check out the ICBC website. For other provinces inquire about the steps to take.
Vehicles from different provinces might need to go through a safety inspection before you can register them. The inspection really should be done by the seller before he is trying to sell it. An inspection might also be required for vehicles which haven’t been registered for a while. In this case, you might be required to do some costly repairs to the vehicle before you can drive it. Be sure to check this out before you buy!
In British Columbia’s Lower Mainland (Vancouver) and Fraser Valley, vehicles also need to undergo emissions testing. A very old vehicle may not pass this test. In this case, you may want to go to a rural place to register.
In Canada license plates don’t come with the vehicle and belong to the seller. If you let the car insurance expire, you can keep the old plates and you will get new ones when you get new insurance. That’s why you see all these old license plates pinned to walls and Canadian Outhouses.
This means the seller will take off his license plates and you will get new plates when you go to register the vehicle.
Car Buying Tips on Insurance
Vehicle insurance is mandatory in Canada. Each province has their own insurance providers and prices vary. For the bare minimum, you will need third-party liability insurance. Options for collision and comprehensive can be added to that.
One of my favourite car buying tips I give to tourists is:
Think about starting your trip in British Columbia and buying a car will be nearly hassle-free. Like in all the other provinces, you will need a local address. Consider volunteering as a WWOOfer for a few weeks at the beginning of your trip. I’m sure the hosts will let you use their address in exchange for your hard work.
British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec insurance providers are government agencies.
In British Columbia, you can get car insurance with your home country driving license. If you have the claim history letter from the auto insurance company in your home country, you can get a discount on the insurance. In British Columbia, you can buy a 3-month, 6-month or 12-month insurance policy. You can cancel the policy and you will get a refund minus the cancellation fee.
That is different in Ontario. You might abandon the idea of buying and insuring a car in Ontario when you find out that in order to insure a car in Ontario you need an Ontario driver’s licence and the process is more complicated. For more information check out this Ontario Website.
Alberta has a similar policy; go to the AMA website for detailed information.
Be sure to check out the official website for the province of your choice.
Each province has its own licensing procedures. You can drive a rented car in all of Canada for a certain amount of time if you have an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) issued in your country.
After that, you have to apply for a local driver’s licence from the province you are in (not necessary where the vehicle is registered). In some provinces, you can exchange your foreign driver’s licence for a provincial one, but you won’t get your foreign licence back when you leave Canada.
In British Columbia, you can drive with the driver’s licence of your country as long as it is in English or French and you don’t need to have an IDP. There might be other provinces that accept your home country’s driver’s licence, I didn’t check on that.
Check the vehicle before you buy
Just because you think that you are getting a good deal doesn’t mean the car will survive the road trip you planned. Before you buy, I suggest checking some basics.
- Tire tread – Bald tires are not safe. Good quality tires are a priority on Canada’s roads.
- Spare tire, wheel wrench, and jack – Make sure they come with the vehicle.
- Colour or exhaust fumes – black smoke means it’s burning oil.
- Oil level – Check using the dipstick prior to buying.
- Coolant levels – If the coolant is low, the engine has been running hot, and that’s not good.
- Headlights – Low and high beams – both have to be working, you will need them.
- Breaks – Test how responsive they are and listen to grinding sounds. Bad news!
- Turn signals and hazard lights – Make sure they work.
- Leaks – Check the place where the car was parked for wet spots.
- Kilometres – Old vehicles in Canada have lots. Whether this is a problem depends mostly on the type of engine. My previous Toyota RAV4 had over 250,000 km before I headed out on another road trip adventure, which ended up being long and rough! (I trust my Toyota!)
- Loose belts – Check for tightness and cracks.
If the vehicle passes this checklist, you might have found a good one. It is always a good idea to take your new vehicle to a mechanic for a tune-up and oil change. It will cost some money, but you might save money and headaches down the road.
Driving in Canada
Driving in Canada might be more relaxing than what you are used to in your home country. Make sure you learn about Canadian driving practices before hitting the road.
Be prepared to drive long distances in this huge country of ours. The distance from the east to the west coast is more than 7,000 km. Can you imagine!
The winter climate in Canada can be brutal, road conditions terrible and temperatures freezing cold. I don’t suggest road-tripping and living out of a van during the winter months between November to March. Unless of course, your vehicle is built for it with excellent insulation and a heater to keep you from freezing at night. Winter tires are required and could set you back financially a few hundred dollars.
Time your road trip in Canada to avoid winter. The only road trip I suggest you do in winter is to the Yukon or Northwest Territories to see the Northern lights and travel on ice roads for a once-in-a-lifetime arctic experience.
Wildlife is a common cause of accidents in Canada. Canada is home to large numbers of wild animals and hitting one can be very dangerous. People are killed every year because Moose run into their vehicles. Watch out for wildlife when you drive, slow down and keep safe on your Canada road trip.
Break Downs And Road Assistant
Car buying tips for safety: I recommend signing up with CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) for their roadside assistance program. In British Columbia it is BCAA. The premier membership is what you want. You only have to call them for help once, and your membership is paid for. It is totally worth it.
If you stop by their office you can get free maps. I highly recommend it!
Keep the following numbers handy, you will use them if you ever get stranded.
1 800 CAA HELP / 1 800 222 4357 FREE or *222 on your cell phone (CAA Emergency Roadside Assistance). If you are a member, costs won’t be an issue. CAA will tow your vehicle to the closest shop.
How to find a mechanic
Breaking down in a foreign city can be frustrating. Here are a few tips for you:
- If you are a CAA member, ask them where you can find a mechanic.
- Call ‘0’ on any touch-tone phone to speak to a local operator, or dial ’00’ for a long-distance operator. They should be able to help.
- Check the Yellow Pages. Look under automotive or mechanics, to find businesses willing to help. If it’s a weekend or public holiday you will be out of luck and have to stick around for a few days.
- Try a gas station if you can get there. They sometimes can find someone to help out. Canadians are generally friendly and helpful!
Selling Your Vehicle After The Trip
Your Canadian road trip adventure is coming to an end. You made it and so did your car, and it’s still in reasonable shape. Selling a car is similar to the buying process, only this time you are the seller.
Be fair with the price, especially if you don’t have a lot of time left before your flight out. Don’t expect to get the same amount you paid, be realistic. Selling the car for half of what you paid is still a good deal for you. You have put a few thousand kilometres on it, so the money you lose on the car is your transportation cost.
Give yourself at least a couple of weeks to sell the car.
Important Note: If you bought the vehicle in a different province, it might need a safety inspection before it can be registered again. Make sure you check on that.
Attach a “For Sale” sign to the car window. Make a poster with details and sale price and hang it on bulletin boards in hostels and coffee shops. Post on Facebook and social media. Advertise via autotrader.com and local online websites.
What do you do if you don’t find a buyer?
Well, you have two options:
- Take it to a scrap yard and if you are lucky they will give you some money for it.
- You can offer it to another traveller for FREE (or super cheap). This way I’m sure you will find a taker for your car.
When it’s all done be happy and don’t be a prude about the money you lost on the vehicle. Think about your amazing Canada road trip and how it was totally worth it and that it was money well spent.
Just remember that bus companies and airlines don’t pay any money back, there are no refunds. Buying a vehicle is kind of nice that way, there is a chance to get some money back.
I hope that my car buying tips will be of some help to you!
More valuable Canada Information
- Cell Phones – What You Need To Know
- RAV4 camper Conversion for Minimalists
- What You Should Know About Car Rental
- 8 Tips for finding a job and working in Canada
- Canada Facts you want to know
Do you have any additional car buying tips to share with tourists? Leave a comment below!
This website contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and companies I use and the income helps keep this website up. Thank you!