Purchasing a used vehicle can be risky. When excited buyers get emotionally caught up in the vehicle purchase, they often miss mechanical, cosmetic, and safety issues during visual inspections and test drives. These problems are compounded if the vehicle being purchased is located in another city and is purchased prior to being seen in person. To eliminate much of the anxiety and get an accurate picture of the condition of the vehicle, many buyers choose to have a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) done before the sale is final.
What is a pre-purchase inspection?
A pre-purchase inspection is a detailed assessment by a qualified individual to determine the cosmetic, mechanical, and safety condition of a vehicle before completing the purchase. Most pre-purchase inspections are done by a certified mechanic or automotive technician who is knowledgeable in the make and model of the vehicle being inspected. The intent of the PPI is to uncover existing conditions or to reveal maintenance shortcomings that may become potential safety or financial issues for the buyer in the future.
When should I get a PPI?
A pre-purchase inspection is highly recommended when purchasing a vehicle without a warranty, or when the vehicle is located in another city. When there is no warranty, the buyer is immediately assuming all the risk in the event of a breakdown or major mechanical issue. For this reason, a qualified PPI makes financial sense. Vehicles in other cities present additional challenges when the purchaser is unable to take a test drive. With just a few phone calls, you can often arrange a PPI with a local shop where the seller can drop the vehicle off for a few hours. The resulting PPI report gives the buyer added security during a long-distance transaction.
Where can I get a PPI?
A pre-purchase inspection can be done by any competent mechanic or automotive technician who understands the vehicle you are purchasing. Automobile dealerships and independent specialty shops are excellent resources for a thorough PPI, and they will be familiar with the process. In addition to the traditional automotive shops, there are now national specialized mobile PPI operations that will inspect vehicles almost anywhere in the country. You can conduct an online search for "Pre-Purchase Inspection" to find larger operations.
What should be inspected?
Unfortunately, there isn't an industry-wide accepted standard or schedule for a PPI. The cost of the inspection generally determines the depth and detail of the inspection. A basic inspection will be mostly visual, which includes putting the car on a hydraulic lift and checking for leaks or broken components. A more involved inspection will include a detailed road test where components such as steering and brakes can be assessed. A thorough inspection will include checking engine compression and a computer engine analysis.
How much should it cost, and who pays?
The buyer typically pays for the pre-purchase inspection. A basic PPI will cost $100 to $200. For that price, you can expect a good overall mechanical and safety inspection (including a test drive) of the vehicle. A detailed inspection of a complex luxury automobile, with extensive engine tests, could cost several hundred dollars or more.
The pre-purchase inspection is usually completed before the sale; however, in some negotiations, the sale is contingent on the completion of a satisfactory PPI. A clean report is an excellent sales tool, while a questionable PPI can end the deal. To be fair to both parties, both the buyer and the seller should agree on the terms of the PPI before the inspection takes place.