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How to buy and insure a car in British Columbia

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In the summer of 2015 we traveled through Canada. We wanted to make our road trip with an own car after we had a rental car in Tasmania and New Zealand. This article deals with the experience which we have gathered when buying a car in Canada (British Columbia), specifically in Vancouver.

Where and how can I find the best used cars in Vancouver?

First of all you can stay calm: The Canadian used car market is huge, you just need to find your personal dream car. In Vancouver many of the used car dealers are located in the district of Surrey. Here you can find many car dealers next to each other. Therefore, you can easily and quickly view many cars in a short time. If the price, the extras of the car or your gut feeling isn’t right, you just need to go 10 meters further to the next dealer. Might sound too good to be true but it was just as we have done it.

Vancouver Blick aus Flugzeug auf Autos
Unglaublich viele Autos in New Westminster

Here we want to describe you how we exactly managed to buy our car:

At the beginning, we obtained as much information as possible from the Internet on trading platforms like Craigslist, Autotrader or Kijiji, which often offer a good selection of campers especially in March and April. During these months the peak season for RVs starts, because summer is close. We recognized over the Internet, that the deals for campervans got less and less at the end of April and also more expensive.

Unfortunately, we wanted to start in mid-May in Canada. Nevertheless, we got with the help of this online research a sense of what you have to pay for the campers or RVs according to their age and equipment.

In order to get a better feeling for the value of a used car in Canada you can check out this list – it is similar to the German Schwaggeliste.

Since it was not easy for us to find a good campervan in May (younger than 25 years and below 7000 CAD), we decided to buy a minivan, where we could easy travel with and sleep in.

If you already traveled in New Zealand you may know, that everyone seems to be on the road with sleepervans like the ones from Spaceship. If you want here in Canada or America a comparable car like the Toyota (Lucia or Estima) Spaceship was using, you should look for a Doge Grand Caravan, Chrysler Town & Country, Toyota Sienna or a Toyota Previa. If you like it a little bit bigger, then looks eg for a Ford Econoline or Chevrolet Astro.

Our decision fell on a Dodge Grand Caravan, as it barely gave campers in the middle of May in our price range or if they were affordable they were way to old. Of course you have much more choices if you have the knowledge of how to repair cars. But we did not have great knowledge of such things and hence such old cars came to us personally not in question.

The Dodge Grand Caravan is a popular car in Canada and it is considered as very durable and reliable! Not seldom used Grand Caravans are offered here, which soon finish there 300000 km. This was exactly the sort of car we were looking for – a long-distance runner who brings us safely through Canada, Alaska and also down to the United States.

Additionally, not only the purchase price is important, but also the maintenance costs of the vehicle and here mainly the fuel consumption – you should keep in mind that you plan to drive thousands of kilometers (… or miles). This was another important reason why we have choosen a minivan instead of a camper or Chevrolet Astro or Ford Econoline.

In addition, we took the advice of a friend to buy an American car. This has the advantage, that in the, hopefully unlikely, event of needed repairs many workshops are familiar with the car and spare parts are most the time readily available. Of course, an old VW bus would be much more iconic, but it needs also much more care! But it quickly becomes expensive, if you are not able to fix smaller issues by yourself and, therefor, you always need a specialized workshop.

So, how did we bought our car in detail? On the first day we checked out 5 Dodge Grand Caravan with Stow’n’Go system (that means the seats can be stowed in the floor) in Surrey / Vancouver, which came into question. We found the cars in the internet and they all cost between 4000 – 6800 CAD.

This survey was all done in one day, thanks to the good public transport system and the high number of used car dealers in this area.

Another little tip on the side: on the homepage of the „Council of Better Business Bureaus“ you can look, how well a company is rated or whether if there exists compaints against the dealer.

Important: Let the car check by an independent mechanic

In Germany you say: „Trust is good, but control is better!“. Our two favorites cars looked from the outside almost flawlessly. However, as we do not have much knowledge of cars, we brought both cars to a workshop for an independent check.

Luckily, this isn’t a big deal in Surrey, too, because there are plenty of workshops here around. An official list of approved workshops can be found here (PDF will open).

The first car (5000 CAD selling price) was a mechanical disaster. Approximately 1500 CAD of repairs would have been necessary in order to ensure alone a safe driving. This was even more unexpected since the car dealer promised us before our check that everything would be fine and showed us his own workshop check as a prove!

Therefore, we can not repeat it often enough: never buy in good faith a car! Although the check in the workshop will cost around 100 CAD, it may saves you from unscheduled repairs for 100 CAD or even 1000 CAD! So it is much better to rather invest 100 CAD for an inspection instead of a horrible surprise afterwards!

With the second Dodge Grand Caravan (selling price 6800 CAD) was luckily almost everything alright. A few repairs were needed, as you would expect for a used car, but nothing tragic! Due to our planed long road trip we renewed the brakes, the air filter and also all fluids were changed (oil, brake, transmission and radiator fluid).

Procure a Vehicle Claims History Report before buying the car

The Vehicle Claims History Report gives you information about whether any companies or individuals have a claim on the car, for example, because of unpaid financing rates etc..

Maybe you can already get a current Vehicle Claims History Report from the seller. If not you can get one by yourself at ICBC or CarProof. The document will cost around 25 – 80 CAD, but again it can save you a lot of trouble and money because also here again the rule is: Do not only trust, verify!

In our eyes, it is an important document, because you can see with the help of this document many additional things:

  • Did the car have an accident
  • Needed the car repairs over 2000 CAD
  • Where was the car already registered
  • When did the inspections were carried out
  • Are there any mortgages on the car

Which additional expenses will incur?

In addition to the selling price you have to pay, of course, taxes. As normal all prices in Canada are indicated without taxes. Thus you have to add 12% taxes to the sales price.

If you buy your car from a dealer you mostly have to pay also additional fees called DOC fees. It is a document handling fee. This is not a fixed number and can be determined by each dealer themselfs. Quick, this can add an extra of 500 CAD to your sales price. Therefore, always ask if there is a DOC fee and how much it is!

Negotiations with the seller

Now after all the above points have been clarified and the car is in an acceptable condition, it goes into the next important round of price negotiations. Hold your nerve, persevere and hold on to your price limits!

Our Dodge Grand Caravan Year 2007 with 160000 km should cost 6800 CAD plus taxes and handling charges. We bought him for 5000 CAD incl. taxes and DOC fees. 5000 CAD tax in, this was our limit. Even if the seller is whining a lot and even if suddenly a relative wants to buy the car … hold on to your limits! This is all part of their show, since, after all, he understandably wants to achieve the maximum profit.

Luckily, you have the advantage on your side, that there are tons of used cars in Vancouver. Therefore, if the price is too high and the dealer does not want to reduce it: turn around and walk slowly to the exit! Normally the seller wants to get rid of his car and wants to earn money with it, so he will start to debate. And if not? Now, as initially mentioned, there are tons of used cars and you will find the perfect car for you and the next time the negotiations might work out better!

Vancouver Blick aus Flugzeug auf Autos
Unglaublich viele Autos in New Westminster

Liability insurance and car registration in British Columbia

So you hopefully bought your perfect car but if you want to drive around with it you need to buy a liability insurance. Without a liability insurance you will not get your licence plates. This was the part we had the most respect for, since we were just tourists and never bought a car here before.

Is this the beginning of the big bureaucratic mess?

Luckily not, since in most cases this point is finished quickly. Often the car dealer is directly calling the Autoplan broker (something like an insurance dealer). The Broker comes along together with all needed documents and brings also the licence plates. So you can drive shortly after signing the contracts and paying for your insurance with your new authorized vehicle.

Of course there are still some important points to note:

1. You need an address in BC

Fortunately friends of friends allowed us to use their address, under which we were able to register the car. If necessary just ask the dealer if you can use his store address or take the adress of your hotel. Everything will work.

2. Factors that may affect the cost of your insurance

You can insure your car only in British Columbia, if you also mainly resides in this province. That is why we said that the car is mainly used for recreational activities and is driven most the time in British Columbia. Even this point is quickly done, since noone actually cares where you now exactly spend your time.

3. Insurance sums

Here everyone must know for himself how well he wants to be assured. In Canada, the liability is, in our eyes, underinsured for personal injury with only 200000 CAD, which is why we additionally increased the coverage to 5 million. We did not book a fire / ice insurance but we took the theft insurance. So we came (including 40% claim free years bonus) to total sum of 1270 CAD for a 1-year Canadian liability insurance in British Columbia.

As I said, the price will naturally vary, depending on how well you want to be personally insured and the actual valid monthly rates.

4. Insurance period

You can negotiate your insurance for different time periods. We decided us against the half-year and for the yearly policy because this – seen per month -was cheaper. Since we did not travel a year through Canada, we got the amount paid in excess refunded minus an administrative fee of 30 CAD.

After we had signed and paid our third party liability insurance, we got your licence plates from the Autoplan Broker. And off we could go with your new car!

Membership of the British Columbia Automobile Association

We wanted to go with a used car through the vastness of Canadas north. In British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, where we were on the road at the beginning of our trip, there is a dense road network. But again, the quality of roads is sometimes worse than in Germany.

And how will it be to drive through the Yukon and Alaska? How reliable would our car be? Since we did not know, we negotiate a 1-year membership by the Automobile Club of British Columbia. The BCAA is comparable to the service of the German ADAC, only that they even bring you spare gasoline. The membership is valid in Canada and the US.

Our road trip through Canada with an Dodge Grand Caravan rebuild as sleepervan

To be able to comfortably travel with our new purchased minivan through Canada, we rebuilt it to a sleepervan with bed, couch and lots of storage space.

The detailed report of our campervan reconstruction can you read in this article.

Summary of our experience for buying a car in Vancouver

This were quite a lot of information at one time. Therefore, to soothe you we want to point out once again, that the purchase of the car claimed only two days: you need one day to look for all the different cars and one day for the inspection and to finally buy the car. So it is much less effort than you might first thought!

Additionally follows here now again a short summary of the key points for a successful car purchase in Canada:

  • in March / April, the market offers many campervans or RVs
  • procure yourself (eg over the Internet) a feeling for the actual prices of your desired car
  • get an independent inspection of your dream car
  • Get yourself a Vehicle Claims History Report
  • be steadfast in your price expectations
  • Ask for additional DOC fees
  • A membership in the Canadian Automobile Association is advicable
  • everything is less complicated than it first think

Was this article helpful for you? If so, please share it. We would be pleased. Do you have any experience with buying a car in Canada and / or do you have further tips? Then write a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Verfolgen Manuela:

Bereits seit früher Kindheit interessieren mich Reise- und Naturdokumentationen. Ich mag es die Welt zu entdecken, in ferne Länder zu reisen und in unsere Natur mit all meinen Sinnen einzutauchen.

6 Responses

  1. Alex
    | Antworten

    Hello there :)

    Thanks for your article which is very helpful as my girlfriend and I have a similar project to yours described above.

    Two questions though :

    1. as a tourist (I mean with a touristic visa), can you get a car insurance coverage in British Columbia for a full year ?

    2. how long have you been travelling out of BC and in the US ? Was there specific lines about that in your car insurance coverage ?
    I mean, when you got your car insurance coverage for your 12 months, did the insurance told you could only spend 6 months out of BC out on your 12 month of insurance ?

    Many thanks in advance for your help :)

    • Thomas
      | Antworten

      Hey Alex,

      we had no problem to get the car insurance and we payed for one year in advance.
      When we resigned the insurance we got the too much payed money back.

      We traveled 10 weeks in the USA. How long we’ve been outside BC all in all … sorry, but I don’t know.
      Nobody told us how long we were allowed to be out of BC.



      • Alex
        | Antworten

        Thanks a lot for your quick answer Thomas, that help us a lot!

        Three last questions :

        – you arrived from Germany to BC with a 6 months tourist visa I suppose?

        – ICBC agreed for you to pay car insurance for one year while you had only a 6 month tourist visa?

        – I guess you’ve been travelling more than 6 months in total, so how did you manage the tourist visa and the foreign driver licence limit of 6 months? I suppose you just crossed the border from Canada to the US?
        After your 10 weeks in the US, did Canadian authorities easily give you back a new 6 months tourist visa?
        I guess that implies also a new countdown of 6 month validity for your driver licence, correct?

        Many thanks in advance for your answers Thomas.

        • Thomas
          | Antworten

          Hey Alex,

          yes we had a 6 months tourist visa.
          Yes ICBC agreed in an insurance contract for one year, which we payed by credit card. We wanted the one year contract because even with the cancellation charge of 30 CAD it was cheaper than a shorter contract.

          In North America (Canada + US) we traveled only for 6 months. We had no extension of our visa (or driver’s license) by crossing the border from the US to Canada (we had no time for an extension so we didn’t ask the authorities). We had no problems with our international driver’s license. Concerning your mentioned “countdown for the driver’s license“ I have no experience and no idea if this would work this way …


  2. Alex
    | Antworten

    Thanks a lot for your answer Thomas :)
    One last question : you only had your German driver’s licence + international driver’s licence?
    You did not exchange it for a B.C. driver’s licence, right?
    Many thanks in advance for your answer,

  3. Vipul
    | Antworten

    Hey I read ur article and found it too good… Thanks for the help mate… best of luck for future…


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