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Buying a used car? Check the vehicle’s branding first

Every used car in Canada gets branded by the provincial transportation ministry. Understanding what these brands mean can have a significant impact on your safety, and eligibility for auto insurance.

What are vehicle brands?

In this scenario, the brand isn’t the name of the automaker. It’s a designation on the vehicle’s title or ownership.

If a vehicle is badly damaged or stolen, your province’s transportation ministry adds a brand to its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to indicate the extent of the damage. This branding system helps protect consumers, enhance safety and control vehicle registration fraud or theft.

Check the ownership

A vehicle’s brand is printed on the ownership or registration card. Brands vary by province or territory. If a vehicle has never been involved in a serious claim, the brand would be “None” (or “Normal” in some provinces), meaning it’s safe to drive. If the title has any of the following brands, think twice before you buy:

  • Rebuilt: The vehicle was written off, branded as “Salvage,” and then repaired. The owner must provide photos, documents and receipts of the vehicle damage.
  • Salvage: The vehicle was written off, but it can be repaired or used for parts. Once the repaired vehicle passes an inspection, it would be rebranded as “Rebuilt”.
  • Non-repairable or Irreparable: The vehicle was written off as a total loss because it was too damaged to be repaired; it can only be used for parts or scrap. This brand would also apply to flooded vehicles.
  • Stolen: The vehicle was reported stolen to police. If a stolen vehicle is found, its vehicle brand will usually be changed back to “None” if there is no other damage. While the “Stolen” designation is on the vehicle, it cannot be lawfully sold or operated on the roads.

“None” and “Rebuilt” branded vehicles are the only ones that can legally operate on the road.

You can find more details about branding in your province or territory on your ministry of transportation website.

Buyer beware

Branded cars may seem ideal because they typically cost less, but there are factors you should keep in mind before you buy:

  • Vehicles involved in past claims can have extensive hidden damage to the structure, electrical systems and other parts that a buyer may not always know how to check. Always have a licensed mechanic you trust inspect the vehicle first.
  • In some provinces, the “None” brand could also mean the vehicle had a damage-related brand outside of your province or Canada. It may have also been damaged or rebuilt before the branding system was instituted, or the degree of damage didn’t meet the branding criteria. Check with your local registry office for a vehicle history report, which typically includes information from anywhere in North America. Private reports from suppliers like CARFAX Canada can also provide information about the vehicle’s history that’s well worth the fee. It will reveal any previous accident reports submitted to a collision-reporting centre or insurance company.

Purchasing a branded vehicle is only a deal if you’ve done your homework. Before you decide to buy one, contact us to see how it affects your auto coverage.*

*Not all products are available in all provinces.