Would you purchase a house without having it inspected? No!

What if the owner told you he checked it out and everything was great?  Still no!

Why not?  Perhaps because it is a big purchase and there are a number of things that could be wrong with the house that could cost you big money to fix in the future?  Bingo!

For most people, purchasing a vehicle is the second-largest purchase they make in their lives.  Just like a home, a vehicle is an expensive purchase and it is complicated.  There are so many parts of the car that could be in need of repair.  Some of those things could impact the safety of the car, too.  And since most of us are not car experts, it makes sense to hire an ASE-certified automotive technician to thoroughly check out a used car BEFORE you buy it.

A pre-purchase inspection involves a lot more than just “kicking the tires.”  An automotive technician should examine the vehicle thoroughly.  This process can take from 45 to 90 minutes and should include all of the following and more:

  • Test drive
  • Monitor checks
    • Computer system readiness monitors
    • Dash warning light and bulbs
  • System checks
    • Battery and charging
    • Electrical
    • Exhaust
    • Exterior and interior lights
    • HVAC
    • Ignition
    • Radiator and cooling
  • Mechanical checks
    • Steering linkage
    • Suspension components
    • Hoses & belts
    • Inspection for any fluid leaks
  • Maintenance checks
    • Tires & brakes
    • Glass and windshield wipers/washers
    • Fluid levels and condition

If this seems like a lot, you’re right!  It is!  In fact, a thorough inspection should probably include over 200 checkpoints!  When you are searching for a car, you are likely looking for the things that matter most to you:  color, make, model, number of doors, stereo, price, etc.  The tangible things are what first attracted you to the vehicle.  However, the unknown and hidden things are what can make your purchase a disaster. After all, what is under the hood and under the vehicle’s body are actually more important than how it looks on the outside when it comes to safely get you from point A to point B. 

Scheduling a pre-purchase vehicle inspection should not be difficult. Most sellers will let you take the vehicle for an inspection. If the seller hesitates or declines, this is not a good sign and you should probably walk away.  It’s best if you are able to borrow the vehicle from the dealer or the private seller, schedule an inspection, and drive it there. If the dealer won’t let you drive the vehicle off the lot, ask if they would be willing to accompany you to the shop. A mobile inspection could also be an option, but those are often not as thorough of inspection because most will not lift the vehicle to check the ball bearings, components under the vehicle, and search for leaks.

When choosing an inspector, make sure he or she is an independent third-party.  Dealers have a bias toward not reporting issues on their vehicles. Repairing vehicles takes money out of their pockets, and they’d rather that money comes out of yours!  No matter what, don’t take the dealer’s word for it.  Get an independent inspection.  Your best bet is to find an inspector who inspects vehicles for a living.  Many repair shops focus on repairs, not inspections.  Mechanics at those shops typically don’t even like doing inspections, so they will often rush through the process.  You want your inspector to have a trained eye, focused on the task at hand.  That’s what vehicle inspectors do!  Also, make sure they take the vehicle on a test drive and lift it to thoroughly inspect the vehicle.  When it comes to inspecting a vehicle, there are no short cuts.

Finally, make sure the inspection report is thorough and well-documented.  A report that is available online with photos is best.  A piece of paper with a bunch of check marks on it used to be all you could hope for from an inspection.  Not anymore!  Transparency has become the standard in most industries these days, and the automotive world is starting to catch up.  Make sure you get a high-quality report from a high-quality inspector.

While no inspection is guaranteed to find every flaw in a used vehicle, a trained eye will help you avoid serious problems. Given the fact that thousands of dollars are at stake, an hour of your time and the relatively low cost of inspection are good investments.  If you can find an inspector that offers a warranty on what they inspect, even better!  Let an independent expert focus on the mechanical aspects of the vehicle so you can focus on the fun parts of the car and have the peace of mind you deserve when you purchase your next used vehicle!