A Mechanic's Answers To All Your FAQs About Pre-Purchase Car Inspections.

A Mechanic's Answers To All Your FAQs About Pre-Purchase Car Inspections.



I am big advocate of pre-purchase inspections (PPIs) for used and pre-owned cars. Just last week I had a new customer come to me. He had just purchased a 2017 BMW with 68,000 miles that he had purchased from a local dealer the week before. He didn’t have a pre-purchase inspection done prior to purchasing the car, and it turned out (after he took it to me for a repair) that there were a lot of uncovered issues with his “new” car. I discovered that his car needed an engine, transmission mounts, rear brake pads and rotors, valve cover and a transmission oil pan replacement. This was going to amount to approximately $3900 in repairs.


Unfortunately, this is not the only time something like this has happened, and this is exactly why I have always recommend to potential buyers to get a PPI done before they drive off  the so-to-say lot. The onus is on you as the buyer to do your due diligence. There are rare times a seller will provide you with pre-purchase inspection report, but more often they will not.


I have preformed over 200 pre-purchase inspections in my career as a mechanic, and there are a few things I go through with the potential buyer. I ask the potential buyer to what depth do they want me to inspect the vehicle. Often times, I make my own suggestions of the scope of depth based on what I can see visibly with the condition of the vehicle. I’ll start with inspecting potential high cost items first. For example, if a car is misfiring when it is cold, I tell the potential buyer that it could be a display intake valve issue. That is an issue that could lead to a significant costs. If  the individual doesn’t want to fix it immediately after buying the vehicle, I usually let them know that it’s not  worth inspecting the remainder of the car. Thus in my professional opinion, it is also not advisable to move forward with the sale.


A pre-purchase inspection is an invaluable report that can ultimately make it or break it when it comes to a pre-owned car sale. It is wise for any potential buyer to consider initiating one, because it can end up saving lots of headaches and potential costs. Here I have compiled a list of frequently asked questions about pre-purchase inspections that can help you get a better understanding of what they are, what they entail, how they are done and what to look out for. Ultimately, it comes down to gathering accurate information to make the most informed choice. A pre-purchase inspection report is a big factor in the information gathering stage.






What is a pre-purchase inspection?

Just as  the name implies, its a vehicle inspection done prior to purchasing to find out any current or potential service or repair issues that may need to be done in the near future. The information revealed during a PPI usually gives the potential buyer leverage to negotiate a better price from the seller. 



When should I get a PPI? 


I recommend that every single person buying a pre-owned vehicle get one completed by a professional unless of course they qualify to do their own. For instance, I am a car mechanic, so I can confidently perform it myself. Typically pre-purchase inspections are done on vehicles that have a higher value, but this also not always the case. On average a good pre-purchase inspection will usually cost $200 to $300 so fiscally it may not be necessary to perform one when buying a $500 or $1000 car. It can however be more useful when buying a much more expensive vehicle that has expensive service and repair parts. 


What are some red flags that can help you make a decision without a PPI?


Number one flag to me, is when a seller won’t allow you take the vehicle to a mechanic or repair shop of your choice. I have seen this happen a few times, and this usually happens because the seller knows something about the vehicle that they do not want you to discover prior to purchasing it. If a seller will not allow an off-site third-party inspection of the vehicle at a facility of you choice don’t buy that car there’s a reason. 


Have sellers ever misrepresented a car?


Yes. About five years ago I had a local used car dealer advertising a vehicle that had one previous owner, it was low mileage and in really nice condition. The selling dealer would not allow the customer to bring the vehicle to the shop so I went out to the car dealer to do a on-site inspection for the potential customer. Upon inspection, within 10 minutes, I could tell the car had been in at least one or two accidents. The car had extremely poor body and paint work to cover the damage, and it also had a concerning internal engine noise in conjunction to being over 2 quarts low on engine oil. I immediately advised the customer not to buy the car to help them avoid the headaches that would come with owning it. They heeded my advise and a month later they bought a beautiful M3 in Tampa. They have enjoyed it ever since.


Has a PPI ever uncovered something positive about a car?


Actually yes. A few years ago I was purchasing a 911 Porsche to use and build as a track car. The seller in Tampa had a repair shop look at the vehicle. The car was not starting. The repair shop came back and told the owner (seller) that it needed $4000 worth which included an engine harness. I still purchased the  vehicle with this knowledge because the seller had it priced at an extremely good value. I intended to do the work myself. Upon inspection of the vehicle and diagnosing for about 25 minutes, I realized that the vehicle was just simply out of gas. I put 5 gallons worth of gas in the car, and it started up and has not needed any of the suggested repairs. The moral of the story, double check the information your are given; purchasing your own PPI is a good way to do this. Plus, make sure you are going to a shop that knows how to work on the brand you are bringing to them — I will explain more later.


What should be inspected during a PPI?


Your pre-purchase inspection checklist will vary depending on the depth of the PPI. A pre-purchase inspection can take as little as 30 minutes if it is a visual-only inspection. An extremely in-depth pre-purchase inspection can take hours. For instance, a compression test and a leak down on an air cooled 911s is very common practice to do during a PPI as the engine wears and lose compression overtime. This takes about 4 hours.


At minimum a PPI should include a visual inspection of tires, brakes, suspension components, any leaking fluids or other visible items of concern such as body damage or interior damage. It should also include a complete vehicle scan with a scanner to check diagnostic fault codes and all vehicle control modules. 


How does a pre-purchase inspection cost?


Most of the time the potential buyer is the one paying for the inspection of the vehicle. However, I have made the suggestion to selling customers that they have a pre-purchase inspection done to provide to potential buyers. This helps enhance a seller’s car listing especially if the vehicle is in good shape. Cost for this inspection can vary greatly depending upon the depth of the inspection. For instance, a visual-only can cost as little as $100 or $150 where as on certain a visual scan and leak down with compression test PPIs can cost $1000.


Where can I get a reliable pre-purchase inspection near me?


In my experience, most all repair shops are willing to do pre-purchase inspections, but you do want to make sure that you find a shop that is very knowledgeable with the vehicle you want them to inspect. You want the repair shop to know what common issues to look for. A more general repair shop such as Fire Stone or Tires Plus may not have this knowledge. Also, some common issues like worn breaks and engine oil leaks are not always obvious, and finding a shop that specializes in a specific car brand will be more beneficial even if you find yourself paying a little more for it. These specialized car repair shops will be more knowledgeable and will know what to look for to find potential problems.



How can I identify a reputable shop or dealership to do my pre-purchase inspection?


I would recommend going to an enthusiast bulletin board on the Web. This is where enthusiast for particular brands gather, and they can make suggestions based on where they take their vehicles to have service and repairs done. As I mentioned, a more specialized repair shop for the brand you are considering will be more knowledgeable as to what to look for when uncovering potential issues.


Always ask a  repair shop you are considering for a pre-purchase inspection if they are familiar with your exact model and the engine in the vehicle. For instance, you don’t want to take your Mercedes to Firestone Auto repair;  that is a repair shop that has general knowledge. They are willing to work on everything, but specializing in nothing. Take your Mercedes to a Mercedes specialized  independent repair shop or the Mercedes dealer.


Many people bring me a car after they purchased it only to discover it needs hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of service and repairs. There is a reason it is called a pre-purchase inspection, and all of these inspections should be done prior to purchasing the vehicle by someone very familiar with the specific car you are considering.


How can you execute a successful PPI and car buying experience when purchasing a car from a distance (ie different state)?


I would first contact a repair shop that is close to the seller. You can ask the seller if they would be open to having a pre-purchase inspection done of the vehicle, and if they are willing to drop it off at the suggested repair shop or dealer for the inspection. If the seller does not want to participate in having a pre-purchase inspection done there’s usually a reason, and I would avoid buying that car.




Is there anything a buyer shouldn't expect from a PPI? 


Don’t expect the repair shop to predict the future for an item that is currently working. There are times, your car will have all of its parts working upon inspection, but something fails soon after. Here is what I mean. I recently had a customer buy a BMW X.3. During the inspection, the BMW started and ran just perfectly during the  test drive. There was nothing that pointed to a cause for concern. Three weeks later though, the alternator failed on the vehicle and it need to be replaced. The customer was upset that they would need to repair and replace the part only three weeks after purchasing the car. Unfortunately, like with many things in life, certain malfunction, just can't be predicted, and this is an example of one of these instances.


What are the most crucial parts of the vehicle that need to be inspected during a PPI?


Typically transmission and engine related repairs will always be some of the most expensive, so you will definitely want to have these two items inspected. However, there is some good news;  in modern vehicles engine and transmission issues with low mileage or relatively rare. Electronic control modules and other failed components such as window regulators can also be very expensive, but also keep in mind that lots of small cost items on one vehicle can snowball into a very large repair bill very quickly. In general, it is a good idea to have an in-depth inspection so that you avoid unplanned surprises.


If things are uncovered during a PPI, when is it worth negotiating with the seller?


The answer to this question typically depends on the customer’s level of commitment to repairs and maintenance. For example, if you can buy a $10,000 car (market value) for $2000 you may be much more willing to spend $3000 to $4000 to even $5000 making necessary repairs. On the flip-side, buying a $10,000 car for $10,000 that came with $2000 or $3000 worth of problems may be something to walk away from. Again pre-purchase inspections are beneficial because they provide information and thus power when it comes in negotiating with the seller.


You can use a pre-purchase inspection report as a tool to help you negotiate the a price for a used car. It is helpful in reducing the price of the car because very rarely does somebody sell a perfectly good used car. From what I have seen, cars end up needing brakes, tire suspension work or some other repair that motivates the seller to sell the car rather than repair it. Finding these issues before buying can help the seller and buyer find a good middle ground to negotiate.



Is the mechanic or dealer performing the PPI involved in negotiations?


When I take a look at a car that needs work, whether it’s repairs or service, I simply provide the customer with an estimated cost of repairs. This gives them a tool to negotiate a better price with the seller if the car needs work. This is where my part in the process ends.


If something is missed during a PPI, who is responsible?


Usually there is no legal backing to having a pre-purchased inspection done. It is given as a “opinion quote” of the vehicle. Of course, if clear negligence is shown, there might be a potential refund of a portion or all of the pre-purchased inspection cost to the buyer. 





These FAQ questions cover a lot of information, but there are four takeaways that will always help you with making an informed and successful purchase of a pre-owned vehicle.


  1. Get a pre-purchase inspection done if it makes fiscal sense (consider value of the car and the cost of repairs and parts for that particular brand), and consider going in depth with it especially if it is recommended by a trusted party (independent repair shop or dealer).
  2. You are the one in charge of collecting all the information pertinent to your purchase, don’t rely on the seller to tell you the whole story. Remember, their goal is to sell the car and sometimes that means you are getting only some of the information.
  3. Find a reliable shop or dealer to do your inspection, and when you do, make sure they have worked on your potential car’s brand, model and engine.
  4. Use your pre-purchase car inspection report as a tool to negotiate the price. Everyone has the right to set a price that they think is fair, but it is really only fair if both the seller and buyer are happy when the deal is made. A PPI report will help give you clarity as to if the seller’s price is fair to you.


If you have any further questions about pre-purchase inspections feel free to reach out to me at hello@carvoreclub.com.

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