Why You Need a Pre-Purchase Inspection Before You Buy (or Sell) a Car

For most people, shopping for a car can stir up excitement, anxiety, frustration, and a mishmash of other strong emotions. Yet it should never be an emotional purchase, especially when you’re shopping for a used car. If you let your emotions take over when you find what you think is the right car (or even your right-now car), you’re apt to skip one of the most important steps—the pre-purchase inspection.

More than a test drive

A simple test drive and visual inspection aren’t enough. Without pairing them with a professional pre-purchase inspection, you run the risk of buying a car that has hidden mechanical or safety issues or telltale cosmetic issues. Conducted by a certified mechanic or automotive technician, the inspection gives you a detailed assessment of the cosmetic, mechanical, and safety condition of a vehicle before you trade your cash for the keys to drive it. It normally takes between 60 and 90 minutes and carries very moderate price tag, especially considering what it provides—assurance that you’re not buying a lemon, a money pit, or an accident waiting to happen.

Distance is no obstacle

You can and should still have a pre-purchase inspection done when buying a vehicle located in another city. (What? You’ve never bought a car off Ebay?) Long-distance sales of cars have been around for a long time now, but popular as they’re becoming, they typically mean the buyer can’t do a test drive. If you’re buying from afar, call a qualified inspector near the car, and you can usually have an inspection report faxed or emailed to you within a few hours.

Not all created alike

The most basic pre-purchase inspections may save you a few dollars but are mostly visual, with the car raised up on a hydraulic lift and checked for leaks or broken components. More thorough inspections are advisable, as they’ll include a detailed road test—one that includes some variations in terrain—so that major components such as the steering and brakes can be assessed. Even more thorough are inspections that include a computer engine analysis. You can get any of the above at a price most people poised to buy a car can easily afford.

Insurance against the unknown

Skipping a pre-purchase inspection on a used vehicle, especially one not backed by a watertight warranty, is never a good idea. It’s such a small sum of money for such a big protection of your investment. If the report comes back clean, you can buy with confidence. If it’s spotty, you can walk away from the sale or negotiate a lower price. Emotions move over: Only a pre-purchase inspection can tell you if that car is worth buying!

Add a background check

You can’t run a background checker on a seller, but you can run one on the car using the extensive nationwide database maintained by CARFAX. Any repair work done on a vehicle in a professional shop shows up on the vehicle’s CARFAX report, so you should request a report when buying a car. It will help you determine whether the car has been well-maintained.

Good for sellers, too

Want to give buyers peace of mind and improve the salability of your vehicle? Have a pre-purchase inspection done on your dime and on your time, before you put the car up for sale. One, it will give you an opportunity to repair issues that could impede your sale or profit. Two, it will boost buyer confidence if you can hand over a condition report when your buyer comes to visit. Also, getting a pre-sale inspection at a professional shop would show up on the CARFAX, giving you extra clout in the sale.