What is a pre-purchase car inspection?

A pre-purchase car inspection involves hiring a qualified and licensed mechanic to examine a car you are considering purchasing. The mechanic will look at all aspects of the interior and exterior of the vehicle before delivering a report.
Typically, a mechanic will perform a 150-point inspection examining some of the following:
  • Fluids
  • Brakes
  • Exterior body
  • Suspension
  • Engine/exhaust
  • Cooling system
  • Tires
  • HVAC
  • Batteries
  • Electrical systems
  • Other components
The vehicle's computers will be scanned for problems or trouble codes. If the vehicle is safe, it is a good idea to test-drive it to see how it performs and if the brakes are working properly.

How to get a pre-purchase inspection

To get a pre-purchase inspection, you’ll first want to find a licensed, qualified, and reputable mechanic—someone who is Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)-certified—to perform it. 
Ask people you trust for recommendations. You want a mechanic who will be absolutely honest with you about the vehicle you’re about to purchase.

How do I know if I need a pre-purchase inspection?

If you’re looking into buying a used vehicle, it is a very good idea to have a mechanic do a pre-purchase inspection, especially if you are not well-versed in automobiles.
Check online with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration for any recall notices on the make and model of the vehicle that you’re considering buying.

Tips for a pre-purchase inspection

Even if you are not an expert, research the vehicle before your pre-purchase inspection. Look into its history and value and ask the seller if you can test drive the car before buying it.
Use Carfax to look into the vehicle’s history. This tool contains data on vehicles from insurers, body shops, and other sources. Among the information you’ll be able to find are:
  • A vehicle’s accident history
  • A vehicle’s smog check history
  • Any other issues that have been noted on this particular car
Check out Edmunds as well—it’s a great resource to help determine the car’s worth, and how much is fair to pay for it.

Give the vehicle a once over

While your mechanic does the inspection, take a close look at the car’s exterior and interior. Be sure to ask the seller about any issues or abnormalities.
You have every right to ask questions about the vehicle before buying it. Feel free to ask for the vehicle’s service records as well.

Drive the car

Before you buy it, drive the car. Get a feel for it, especially if it is used. Pay special attention to:
  • How it drives
  • How the brakes perform
  • How well it gets up to highway speeds
  • The warning lights 
  • Heating and air conditioning work

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