By Grant Yoxon
If you are in the market for a new car, the resources available online to assist you are simply staggering. Good Canadian pricing information aside, there are hundreds of web sites, both U.S.-based and Canadian, that offer car reviews and specifications, best-buy recommendations, safety and recall data and advice to buyers.
But it’s not everyone who can afford to buy or lease a new car. And there are many who believe a used car is better value for money. For these buyers the Internet has less to offer – a lot less.
Even though the Internet has blossomed as a used car market place, with hundreds of web sites posting hundreds of thousands of private seller ads and dealer inventories, good information on older vehicles is still hard to find.
Vehicle specifications and driving impressions for vehicles built before 1995 – about the time when automotive information became available on the World Wide Web – are rare, as is recall and crash test information earlier than 1990. And in Canada at least, used car values, are almost non-existant.
Used car reviews
Even so, there are a few sites the used car shopper can look to for help. Cars.com has test drives of most vehicles manufactured over the past 15 years and some that go back even further. Most of the reviews were written at the time the car was manufactured – that is, fifteen year old new car test drives.
Smartpages auto guide has true used car reviews, provided by Consumer Guide. The reviews cover years of production for similar models, such as the 1990-94 Pontiac Sunbird or the 1993-98 Mercury Villager. The reviews are brief with an emphasis on identifying best buys and year to year changes.
Crash test data is usually only available for late model cars. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has crash test data for vehicles built since 1990, but does not test every model in every year. Vehicles tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, for the most part, have been manufactured since 1995.
Crashtest.com has assembled crash test data on vehicles dating back to the mid-seventies. The information has been collected from a wide variety of sources, correlated into a simple rating scheme for comparability and published in chart form. Models from two different manufacturers can be viewed at the same time to see how their safety statistics measure up to one another.
For recall information, visit Transport Canada’s Vehicle Recalls Online Database. Recall information is available for some models dating back to 1970, although I found 1980 was the practical cutoff. Searching the database is not easy as vehicle manufacturers are lumped in with RV, trailer, transport and car seat manufacturers and you have to know the exact model you are looking for.
Used car values
Even with good information, establishing a fair value for a used car is not straight forward. Age, mileage, vehicle condition and local market factors all play a role. Unlike in the US, there are no Canadian sites that publish complete used car values.
Cars on CD does come close with used car values based on three levels of condition for a variety of models and years. Not all models and not all years are included and chances are you won’t find the model and year you are looking for, but Cars on CD’s used car prices is worth a try.
Another way of establishing value is through careful study of the Auto Trader and other used vehicle sales publications. Over time, you get a good idea of what cars in your local market are worth. Trader.ca has a “vehicle value finder” which automates the process.
Plug in the model of car you are looking at and the search engine will return the high and low asking price for that model from the more than 25,000 Ontario cars and light trucks contained in the database. A click will take you to the high and low ads, so you can see for yourself why there is a difference.
Grant Yoxon is an automotive writer and editor of Autos. This article first appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, October 1, 1999.