If you don’t have any mechanical or automotive knowledge, the car you buy could have hidden defects or problems that could cause expensive trouble down the road. This is where a prepurchase vehicle inspection can help, providing peace of mind that any car you plan on buying is in good condition.
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A prepurchase inspection is when an independent mechanic inspects a vehicle for any potential problems that could affect its safety or require maintenance or new parts in the future.
Once an inspection has been completed, you’ll be provided with a detailed report explaining the results, including any defects or problems that may have been detected. You can then use this information to decide whether the vehicle is roadworthy and in good condition or whether the price the seller is asking represents good value for your money.
How much does it cost?
You’ll typically pay between $100 and $200 for a prepurchase vehicle inspection. However, the actual cost will vary depending on where you live, the mechanic you choose, the type of car you’re having inspected and how comprehensive you want your inspection to be.
Who can benefit from prepurchase vehicle inspections?
Used car prepurchase inspections can be hugely beneficial for both car buyers and sellers:
Car buyers. If you’re buying a used car, it’s vital that you know the vehicle’s current condition. A prepurchase inspection gives you a complete rundown of a car’s quality and safety. This is especially important if you’re buying a car after a natural disaster. It allows you to work out whether you’re getting a good deal or about to buy a lemon. Car buyers can also use the results of a prepurchase vehicle inspection to negotiate a better price with the seller.
Car sellers. If you’re selling a used vehicle, you can use a prepurchase vehicle inspection to increase your negotiating power. With a positive inspection report to back you up, you can prove to potential buyers that your car is in excellent condition and has been well looked after. And because buyers know they’ll be getting a quality vehicle, you’ll be able to negotiate a higher sales price.
What does a prepurchase vehicle inspection include?
The exact list of items checked during a prepurchase vehicle inspection will vary depending on the mechanic or independent inspection service you use. However, it will usually include an inspection of the following items:
Engine and transmission
Tires, wheels and brakes
Steering and suspension
Interior — including door locks and hinges, seat belts, seat trim and more
Exterior — including detection of rust and previous body repairs
Some inspections will also include a road test to check engine performance and noise as well as the exhaust, steering, suspension and brakes.
What are the benefits of a prepurchase vehicle inspection?
Having your vehicle inspected by an independent mechanic can help you make the best decision when buying or selling a car.
It will identify any issues. Many potential issues with a used car are not immediately obvious to the untrained eye. By getting an expert to conduct an inspection, you’ll be able to unearth any problems that may affect your decision about whether to buy a particular vehicle.
You could save money. Buying a car with hidden defects could end up costing you thousands of dollars in repairs. This is especially true if you’re buying a car that’s no longer covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.
You can buy with confidence. Buying a used car is risky. Unless you know about cars, you run the risk of purchasing a vehicle with hidden defects. A prepurchase vehicle inspection can give you the peace of mind that you’re buying a quality vehicle for a fair price.
You can buy from afar. If you’ve found a vehicle you want to buy, but you can’t check it out yourself because it’s a long way from home, arranging an inspection can help you make an informed purchasing decision without seeing the vehicle in person.
You can sell for more. If you’re selling a used car, a prepurchase vehicle inspection is a very effective sales tool. If you can demonstrate to buyers that your car’s in excellent condition, you’ll be in a strong position when the time comes to negotiate a price.
Where are prepurchase vehicle inspections performed?
Prepurchase inspections can be performed at a wide range of locations. Most often, you’ll drive the car to a mechanic or service center.
However, there are many companies that also offer a mobile inspection service, allowing you to get your car inspected at the following places:
The seller’s home
Your own home
The buyer or seller’s workplace
A used car dealership
How can I book a prepurchase vehicle inspection?
Inspections are offered by most mechanics and automotive service businesses around the country. You might want to compare a few providers in your area to find one that offers the most comprehensive services at a price point that fits your budget. Whichever business you choose, make sure the inspection will be carried out by a licensed mechanic.
You’ll typically need to call ahead to book an appointment before bringing the vehicle in, though some mechanics might let you schedule one online.
Compare used car loans once you’re ready to buy
A prepurchase vehicle inspection is a vital step in buying any used car — whether you’re shopping at a dealership or through a private seller. Having a licensed mechanic give your car a once-over can help ensure you’re not throwing your money away on a lemon. And once you’ve found the perfect car, you can compare your car loan options to help you bring it home.
Frequently asked questions
It’s a good idea to have the car inspected by an independent mechanic you trust — especially if you’re not 100% sure you trust that the seller or dealer would be up front and honest about any potential issues.
Yes, you should always call ahead and make an appointment. While some mechanics will take walk-ins, not all will. And even if walk-in appointments are available, you’ll generally be seen quicker if you call ahead.
It depends on the mechanic and the car. Sometimes a mechanic will spot a major issue right away, and you’ll be out the door in under 30 minutes. But thorough inspections can take up to an hour or more.
Tim Falk is a freelance writer for Finder, writing across a diverse range of topics. Over the course of his 15-year writing career, Tim has reported on everything from travel and personal finance to pets and TV soap operas. When he’s not staring at his computer, you can usually find him exploring the great outdoors.
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