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Typically, dealers have to tell you if a car had been put to work as a taxi or police car – but not if it was used to haul passengers as an Uber or Lyft.halbergman

We’re looking for a used hatchback. We already know exactly what we want. But I’m leery of getting stuck with a former rental car. Does the dealership have to tell me if it was a rental? – Faisal, Calgary

Right now in Alberta, it’s basically dealer’s choice to tell you if a car was a rental – unless you ask.

“Vehicle history is not addressed specifically in the current legislation but a registered salesperson should take reasonable steps to determine and disclose vehicle history to a consumer,” said Laura Meador, spokeswoman for the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council (AMVC), which regulates car dealers in the province. “If a consumer asked if a vehicle was a rental, the salesperson would have to answer honestly to the best of their knowledge as not to reasonably deceive or mislead the consumer.”

But on Oct. 31, that rule will change. Alberta will join most other provinces – including British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec – in requiring dealers to tell you if a car had been a rental.

“Under the new legislation, the dealer must specifically disclose and attach to the bill of sale whether the vehicle has been previously owned by a rental business or used as a rental vehicle,” Meador said.

Typically, dealers also have to tell you if a car had been put to work as a taxi or police car – but not if it was used to haul passengers as an Uber or Lyft.

Still, just because they’re supposed to tell you, it doesn’t mean they will.

“Some retailers fail to disclose that a vehicle is a former daily rental in their advertising or at their location,” said George Iny, president of the Automobile Protection Association (APA), in an e-mail. “Or, they use euphemisms like: ‘It's a former fleet or executive-driven vehicle’ or ‘I'm not sure, we picked it up at auction.’ That’s code for saying it belonged to a rental fleet.”

Typically, private sellers – that guy selling his car on Kijiji – aren’t required by law to tell you about a car’s rental past.

Renting and raving?

So, once you know it was a rental, should you steer clear?

“My perspective is a personal one – I’ve bought three previous rentals now and every one was a problem-free vehicle,” said Shawn Vording, vice president of automotive sales at CarProof. “You will, in theory, pay less money because there’s a stigma attached.”

Plus, rental companies do scheduled maintenance, something a private owner might have avoided, Vording said.

“Do you know who drove the car and if they drove it harder than you would have?” he said. “No, but you don’t really know that anyway.”

But there’s definitely a chance that it was driven like a rental, the APA’s Iny said.

“A rental may be used a bit more roughly than a standard vehicle, and the interior of minivans may show more wear than normal,” Iny said. “Maintenance is usually limited to oil changes performed at the absolute limit of the manufacturer's service interval.”

And, if that rental had been in a crash, you might not find out about it.

“The major drawback with former daily rentals is that the daily rental companies to not report collision damage to CarProof and CarFax,” Iny said.

That’s because the rental company might repair the vehicle themselves and not go through an insurance company, said CarProof’s Vording.

“That’s like anyone who fixes a car on their own without going through an insurance claim – it may never show up on paper,” Vording said.

But if there’s more than cosmetic damage on a car, the company would likely want it out of its fleet. It would likely get sent to a salvage auction – and a buyer would fix it and sell it, Vording said.

“The vehicle wouldn’t actually be considered salvage, but the second it touches the salvage auction, there’s a record,” Vording said. “So the frequency of vehicles with significant damage not getting disclosed on a vehicle history report would be low.”

To be safe, Vording suggests buying from a licensed dealer to give you some protection in case there’s trouble.

“If you’re going to buy a car privately, or even if you’re buying through a dealer, find an independent third party to inspect the vehicle,” Vording said. “Bring it to a body shop and have them put a paint meter on it to see if there’s been previous paintwork.”

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