Internet, rising loonie transformed used-car market

Unless you have an affection for polyester suits, tinsel streamers and mouldy office trailers, you’re probably not missing the 1980s very much. Back then, searching for a used car often meant kicking tires on small lots up and down Danforth Ave. and other Toronto thoroughfares that had been overrun by motley clusters of used-car dealers hawking their wares with grease pencils and sagging balloons. Nothing says fly-by-night quite like a sales office on wheels. “We’ve come a long, long way from the Danforth, which was the street that typified the business then,” says Bob Pierce, director of member services for the Used Car Dealers Association of Ontario (UCDA). While small, independent used-car lots may be hanging on, the used-vehicle business has changed dramatically over the past 25 years — and much of it for the better. LONGER-LASTING VEHICLES Automobiles are lasting much longer today, a benefit every one of our industry observers mentioned right off the top. A used vehicle can have a lengthy second life and a third one, too. “Cars have improved dramatically both in terms of corrosion resistance and mechanically,” says George Iny, president of the Automobile Protection Association. “Today, a five-year-old used car can offer many years of good service and can easily make it to 12 years and 250,000 kilometres. In the early 1980s, it was likely ready for the scrap heap at 160,000 kilometres, mainly due to corrosion.” BETTER DISCLOSURE Mohamed Bouchama, of CarHelpCanada.com and host of CP24’s Auto Shop, says dealers today largely sell decent vehicles because the disclosure rules have shone a bright light on the bad practices of the past. “It was a jungle back then. Dealers used to sell junk and there was no protection for the consumer,” Bouchama maintains. He rhymes off a litany of complaints of the time: rolled-back odometers, undeclared vehicle writeoffs, cross-province trade of wrecks, and the usual deceitful tactics, such as plugging leaky radiators with temporary sealant. “There’s far better consumer protection today with disclosure,” Pierce agrees. “Some 75 per cent of cars at the wholesale auctions come with histories.” IMPROVED REGULATION Pierce cites the formation of the self-regulating Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council (OMVIC) in 1997 as a key step in the development of a more ethical and transparent dealer industry. It overhauled the Motor Vehicle Dealers Act, which came into effect in 2010, further strengthening disclosure obligations for both retailers and trade-in...
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