Most car buyers settle for a 60-second test drive when deciding to buy a car. Unfortunately, this short time isn’t enough to know whether the vehicle is free from any mechanical, structural, or even cosmetic damage.

This is where a pre-purchase inspection comes in. While it’s true that it’s an added expense, getting the car checked before ultimately buying it can potentially save you thousands of dollars or keep you from getting a lemon.

What is a pre-purchase inspection?

A pre-purchase inspection (PPI) is a comprehensive inspection that occurs before a car sale. Typically, the inspected areas include the powertrain, fuel system, emissions, steering, security system, and electronics. It also covers the car’s structural integrity. 

Car Pre-purchase Inspection Must Do’s

Getting a vehicle inspected is one of the best ways to ensure that you’re not buying a lemon. Here are the things every car buyer should do when getting a pre-purchase inspection service:

Hire a Qualified Inspector

The PPI can be done by the dealer or an independent service provider or mechanic. Whichever option you choose, it’s going to cost you extra. However, by hiring an independent mechanic, you can be sure that the inspection will be done without any bias.

Get referrals or recommendations from your friends or family to find a trusted mechanic.

Alternatively, you can contact a PPI provider in your area. Some companies specialize in vehicle pre-inspection. The advantage of working with these providers is that you can be sure these people know what they are doing.

While you may have complete faith in your local mechanic, he or she may not be a qualified inspector.

A qualified inspector is trained in gathering and interpreting the specifics of a car inspection. They have a list of the car’s safety, structural, and operational components that must be checked.

Additionally, a qualified inspector knows what to look for and is equipped with the tools to conduct a thorough and reliable assessment of the vehicle.

Know the Cost

PPI inspections can cost anywhere from $100 to $300, depending on the vehicle. 

You can expect a good overall mechanical safety and inspection service at this price range, including a test drive.

If your mechanic charges you more than a couple of hundred dollars, ask them a few questions. Also, check if their PPI service is comprehensive enough to help you make a smart buying decision.

Car Pre-Purchase Inspection

Understand What the PPI Covers

At the end of the day, each mechanic will have a different PPI process as there are no industry-wide standards for it. Therefore, choosing the right person to do the job is important.

Automotive experts agree that a good pre-inspection should serve several functions. In particular, it should:

  • Verify the functioning of equipment on the car,
  • Confirm the condition of the car and pinpoint areas of wear and tear, if there are any,
  • Reveal hidden problems with the vehicle frame, body, or engine,
  • Check trouble codes that can lead to mechanical or electrical problems,
  • Spot major problems such as fire damage, poor previous repair work, and flood or water damage.

Decide Where to Hold the Inspection

In most cases, you will be asked to choose whether you’re getting the vehicle inspected at the dealership or the mechanic’s shop.

While the most important thing is getting a qualified inspection, each method has pros and cons.

If you’re choosing a mobile PPI service where the inspector comes to the seller’s home or office and performs the PPI on-site, you benefit from fast and convenient service.

If the mechanic is taking it to the shop, the process can be a bit daunting. However, the inspection can be done more thoroughly using specialized equipment. For example, they can put the vehicle on a lift to examine the underside for damage.

Make a Checklist

It pays to do a little research before your scheduled PPI. You want to show your inspector that you have an idea about what will happen and tell them your expectations.

Pre-purchase inspection checklists are available online. It’s also a good idea to ask your local inspector beforehand about what the inspection will cover.

Here are the  ten most important areas that PPIs should cover:

  • Tire wear and tear
  • Dashboard components
  • Fluids (oil, brake fluid, coolant, etc.)
  • Brakes
  • Exhaust
  • Transmission
  • Body
  • Lights
  • Heating and cooling systems
  • Engine (including belts, air filter, ignition components, transmission, etc.)

Have Everything Documented

The inspector will take photos of the car at every possible angle. Photos are crucial for making the PPI report. 

If you’re buying a car somewhere else, like in another part of the country, ask to see a lot of close-up pictures. Make sure to obtain a vehicle history report apart from the PPI.

What to Do After a Pre-Purchase Inspection

Once a qualified mechanic completes the PPI, you will likely be left with some information. Typically, it will come in a detailed report that outlines any potential causes of concerns. 

The inspector should then provide you a quote on what auto repair services are needed and how much they would cost you should you decide to purchase the vehicle. 

They can also give you advice on how to improve the performance of your car, such as using custom wheels, repainting it, or changing some components.

In addition, they will provide you with a recommendation about whether or not it’s worth going with that car.

Depending on what you learn from the pre-purchase vehicle inspection, it’s now time to make the final decision. 

If you feel like it’s the right car, go back to the seller and negotiate the price. If you’re buying from a private seller, make sure to finalize the contract and have all the documents completed.

If you uncovered major damage, it could be your chance to get into a more premium model or look for the same model at a different dealership or private seller.

Final Words

If you want to avoid buying a lemon, you must seriously consider getting a pre-purchase car inspection. Again, make sure you hire a qualified inspector to do the job and keep in mind the must-dos we’ve listed above.