It’s best to have any used car inspected by an independent mechanic before you buy it. For about $100, you’ll get a general indication of the mechanical condition of the vehicle. An inspection is a good idea even if the car has been “certified” and inspected by the dealer and is being sold with a warranty or service contract. A mechanical inspection is different from a safety inspection. Safety inspections usually focus on conditions that make a car unsafe to drive. They are not designed to determine the overall reliability or mechanical condition of a vehicle.
To find a pre-purchase inspection facility, check the phone book under “Automotive Diagnostic Service,” go online, or ask friends, relatives, and co-workers for referrals. Look for facilities that display certifications like an Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) seal. Certification indicates that some or all the technicians meet basic standards of knowledge and competence in specific technical areas. Make sure the certifications are current, but remember that certification alone is no guarantee of good or honest work. Ask to see current licenses if state or local law requires them. Check with your state Attorney General’s office or local consumer protection agency to find out whether there’s a record of complaints about particular facilities. Or search online for comments.
There are no standard operating procedures for pre-purchase inspections. Ask what the inspection includes, how long it takes, and how much it costs. Get this information in writing.
If the dealer won’t let you take the car off the lot, perhaps because of insurance restrictions, you may be able to find a mobile inspection service that will go to the dealer. If that’s not an option, ask the dealer to have the car inspected at a facility you designate. You will have to pay the inspection fee. If a dealer won’t allow an independent inspection, you might want to consider doing business elsewhere.
Once the vehicle has been inspected, ask the mechanic for a written report with a cost estimate for all necessary repairs. Be sure the report includes the vehicle’s make, model, and VIN. If you decide to make a purchase offer to the dealer after considering the inspection’s results, you can use the estimated repair costs to negotiate the price of the vehicle.