The regulations around vehicle inspection vary greatly from one province to the next. If you’re thinking of buying a used vehicle, or if you’re moving and want to know what you’ll need to do to take your car with you, here’s a quick reference guide that can help.
Before we start, though, we need to clarify that we absolutely don’t advocate skipping thorough mechanical inspections, even in places where they’re not required.
This list covers the legal minimums, but it’s always money well spent to have a vehicle thoroughly inspected when you’re buying it from someone else. In fact, you might consider following this more complete list of steps to ensure you don’t end up with a bad deal.
1. Find a good checklist of things to look for during your own visual inspections and test drives.
2. Ensure you’re reviewing the car’s original registration form, not a copy, and that all information on it matches up to the vehicle, including the VIN.
3. Ask to see a car’s service records. A responsible seller should have a record of service that’s been performed on a car and be prepared to produce it.
4. Ensure the vehicle has not been damaged in a flood, which renders it un-insurable anywhere in Canada. The ICBC has a helpful list here of things to look for if you suspect a vehicle may be flood-damaged.
5. Perform a lien search to ensure there’s no outstanding debt owing on a vehicle.
6. Order a vehicle history report to check on whether the vehicle has ever been in an accident that the seller may not be disclosing.
7. Don’t assume that a safety inspection, even if it’s legally required in your province, will catch every issue. Safety inspections cover basic road-worthiness, but they don’t look at things like whether the air conditioning is busted when the current owner says it’s working, for example. View inspection reports provided by sellers with a healthy dose of skepticism.
That said, here’s the legality around vehicle inspections across Canada.
USED CAR INSPECTIONS BY PROVINCE
Once a passenger vehicle is three years old, it requires an inspection every two years in Nova Scotia. If a used car is bought from a dealer, it’s the dealer’s responsibility to ensure that an inspection has been passed within 30 days before the sale date, or else the buyer must agree in writing to purchase the vehicle as-is. In a private sale, the inspection can be completed by either the buyer or seller, but it must take place before the ownership is transferred unless the buyer and seller agree in writing to transfer the vehicle as-is, in which case it needs to pass inspection before it can be registered.
A vehicle entering Nova Scotia from another jurisdiction must pass inspection within 30 days of entering the province and before registration is completed. An exemption exists for vehicle ownership transferred between immediate family members. Certificates issued by New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island are valid in Nova Scotia until expiry.
As of January 1, 2020, vehicles registered in New Brunswick are required to pass inspection every two years whether they change hands or not, and they can’t change hands unless the inspection certificate is valid. Vehicles imported from outside the province must pass inspection with 14 days of being registered in New Brunswick. However, certificates acquired in Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island are considered valid until their expiry date.
Prince Edward Island
With New Brunswick’s shift to biannual inspections, P.E.I. is the last province in Canada that requires vehicle inspections to take place annually. The most recent vehicle inspection form needs to be submitted along with the rest of the required documentation at the time of the ownership transfer request. Inspections completed in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia are valid until they expire or after 12 months, whichever is sooner. Proof of inspection is required to register a vehicle being imported from other jurisdictions.
Newfoundland and Labrador
A passed safety inspection completed at an official inspection station is required for a vehicle to change ownership in Newfoundland and Labrador. An inspection is not required if a vehicle changes hands to an immediate family member as a gift. Inspection isn’t needed to register vehicles imported from elsewhere in Canada, but it is required for vehicles from the United States or elsewhere.
A vehicle that’s having ownership transferred from one B.C. resident to another does not legally require an inspection beforehand. Vehicles imported into B.C. from another country or province must be inspected at a designated inspection facility before they can be registered and insured.
Certain vehicles from Alberta and Saskatchewan that are four years old or less; being transferred by the current owner; and that don’t carry the status of salvage, non-repairable, unsafe, rebuilt, right-hand-drive, custom or homebuilt, kit car, or lifted or lowered may be exempt from this requirement under the New West Partnership.
Legally, ownership can transfer between Alberta residents without an inspection. If you buy from a licensed used car dealer, that dealer is required to provide a mechanical fitness assessment. Vehicles last registered in any jurisdiction outside of Alberta must pass inspection at a licensed facility before they can be registered. Exceptions apply on vehicles from British Columbia or Saskatchewan under the New West Partnership as noted in the B.C. section above.
An inspection is not legally required by default “[t]o register a used vehicle that has been registered in Saskatchewan before,” according to the SGI website. However, SGI and enforcement officers have the authority to subject any vehicle to a test or inspection at any time, which can include at the time of registering a used vehicle if it’s deemed necessary.
Registering a used vehicle coming in from outside Saskatchewan does require a passed inspection at a certified vehicle inspection station. The same exceptions apply on vehicles from British Columbia or Alberta under the New West Partnership as noted in the B.C. section above.
A used vehicle can be purchased privately in Manitoba without a valid Certificate of Inspection from an approved inspection station, but it can’t be registered without one, so it’s extremely prudent to acquire one before the sale is finalized. A COI is needed for registration regardless of whether that vehicle changes ownership within the province or is imported from another jurisdiction.
The situation in Ontario is the same as in Manitoba: you can buy a used vehicle privately without getting a safety standards certificate from a licensed inspection station, but you’re going to need one to register the car anyway, so it’s wise to get it done before you put your money down. The inspection is required for every transfer of ownership, whether the car originates from outside or inside the province, with the only exception being transfer of ownership between spouses.
(And this has nothing to do with inspections, but it’s worth noting that in a private sale in Ontario, it’s the seller’s responsibility to buy a used vehicle information package and have it available for review by potential buyers.)
The SAAQ maintains a list of vehicles that require inspection, whether to be registered or on an ongoing basis. However, a passenger vehicle that’s already registered in Quebec and has been driven within the last 12 months can have ownership transferred without inspection if none of the other listed conditions exist. Vehicles imported from any jurisdiction outside Quebec require a mechanical inspection certificate from an inspection centre before they can be registered.
Inspection is not required to register a car in Yukon when ownership is being transferred or when a vehicle is imported.
As in the Yukon, inspection is not a requirement to register a vehicle in the Northwest Territories, whether its ownership is changing, or it’s being imported.
For passenger vehicles, inspection is not required to register a vehicle changing ownership in Nunavut.
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