Always have a used car inspected by a qualified mechanic before buying it.
That’s one bit of advice that almost all car experts agree on.
Why? Because doing so can uncover hidden problems, stop unexpected repairs, enhance your safety, and possibly lower the purchase price.
What It Covers
A thorough check-up examines mechanical, safety, and appearance aspects, such as the vehicle’s:
- Body condition
- Exterior surface
The best inspections include a road test and a computerized engine analysis. Some comprehensive examinations also evaluate the condition of the instrument controls, pedals, seats, and sound system.
Where to Get an Inspection
Take the car to a trusted repair shop, if you have one. Otherwise, most dealer service departments and independent repair shops will be happy to do the inspection. Just look online or through your phone book to find local shops that perform inspections.
If the seller refuses to let you take the car away, suggest that the seller accompany you to the shop. Or, use a shop that provides mobile inspections. While these examinations aren’t as complete as those performed on a lift, they still can be quite helpful.
If you’re not buying from a local seller, you can order a pre-purchase inspection from a certified inspection shop located near the seller, and the shop will mail or fax the report to you.
How Much to Pay
This isn’t a time to skimp, as a quality inspection can end up saving you thousands of dollars―and loads of frustration. Expect to pay at least $100 for the examination.
What to Do With the Report
A glowing report should facilitate the sale of the car, and make both the buyer and seller feel more at ease with the transaction.
A report that uncovers some minor flaws can be used as a bargaining tool to lower the price. Or, you can insist that the seller take care of the issues before you pay the asking price.
A troublesome report, meanwhile, should make you reconsider the purchase, unless the seller is willing to fix all the problems, or you’re adept at car repairs and the seller lowers the price accordingly.
Conducting Your Own Inspection
If you’re can’t spare the inspection fee or you know a decent amount about cars, you can always do your own inspection. While your findings won’t be as comprehensive as those done by a mechanic, they can be of some value and spot potential worries.
Be sure to check for leaks, odd engine noises, smoke, tire wear, misaligned doors, cracked glass, indications of flood or fire damage, shoddy repair work, and unusual smells. Check the fluid levels and conditions. Scour the exterior for dents, rust, and scratches.
And, take the car on a thorough test drive―featuring different speeds and roadway types― and make mental notes on how the car steers, brakes, and handles.