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Prepurchase vehicle inspections for buying a used car

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Use an independent mechanic to ensure you don’t bring home a lemon.

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.

What is a prepurchase vehicle inspection?

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, allowing you to work out whether you’re getting a good deal or whether you’re 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
      • Drivetrain
      • Steering and suspension
      • Interior — including door locks and hinges, seat belts, seat trim and more
      • Electrical components
      • Undercarriage
      • 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

Updated August 25th, 2019
Name Product Filter Values Minimum Credit Score Loan Term Requirements
300
Varies by lender
Must be a US citizen with a current US address and employed full-time or have guaranteed fixed income.
Apply with a simple online application to get paired with a local auto lender. No credit and bad credit accepted.
600
Varies by lender
Fair to excellent credit, an income source, US citizen or permanent resident, 18+ years old
Find an offer and get rates from competing lenders without affecting your credit score.
300
Varies by lender
Must be employed full-time or have guaranteed fixed income of at least $1,500/month and be a current resident of the US or Canada.
Get connected with an auto lender near you, even if you have bad credit.
Good to excellent credit
2 to 7 years
Good or excellent credit, enough income or assets to afford a new loan, US citizen or permanent resident, 18+ years old
Quick car loans from $5,000 to $100,000 with competitive rates for borrowers with strong credit.
Fair or better credit
From 2 years
Car must be less than 10 years old with fewer than 120,000 miles. Current loan must have a balance between $5,000 and $55,000 and at least 24 months left in its term.
Lower your monthly car payments and save on interest through a fast and easy online application process.
510
Varies
Income of $2,000+/month, vehicle has less than 150,000 miles and is no older than 8 years, loan balance is between $10,000 and $100,000, debt-to-income ratio is less than 50%
Connect with a network of over 150 lenders to refinance your car loan.
Good to excellent credit
Varies by lender
18+ years old, good to excellent credit, US citizen
Compare multiple financing options for auto refinance, new car purchase, used car purchase and lease buy out.

Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

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

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