Do You Need a Pre-Purchase Vehicle Inspection When Buying a Used Car?

Do You Need a Pre-Purchase Vehicle Inspection When Buying a Used Car?

Written by Veronica Ott
Fact-checked by Caitlin Wood
Last Updated December 13, 2019

Are you thinking of purchasing a used vehicle? If so, you’re likely aware of how big the commitment is to buy a car. Before finalizing the purchase, it’s worth your while to do some due diligence to ensure you don’t end up with a faulty or unsafe car. Car purchases are typically irreversible meaning that if you buy a car with an issue, it’ll become entirely your responsibility to handle, which is a hassle. 

Having the car you want to buy undergo a pre-purchase vehicle inspection is a great way to uncover any issues before you complete the purchase. Not only can a pre-purchase vehicle inspection uncover issues with the car, but it can also provide some leverage when bargaining the purchase price with the seller. To learn more about what a pre-purchase vehicle inspection is and how you can benefit, continue reading below. 

What is a Pre-Purchase Vehicle Inspection?

A pre-purchase vehicle inspection is a thorough assessment of a used car by a licensed mechanic or auto technician with the goal of revealing any cosmetic, safety or mechanical problems (click here to learn more about buying a used vehicle). The individual performing the inspection will identify potential issues that could come up in the future and ensure that past problems were adequately repaired. Knowing this kind of information is very useful because it will reassure your purchase and could give you a bargaining chip for price negotiations if an issue was identified. 

The cost of a pre-purchase vehicle inspection is typically between $100 and $200. The price could be lower or higher than this range depending on the level of detail the inspection has and the vehicle itself. More often than not, the buyer is responsible for paying the fee, but this could be something you negotiate with the seller. Lastly, a pre-purchase vehicle inspection usually takes about an hour.

Why buying a used vehicle from a private party could be a good option for you. Click here.

What Happens During a Pre-Purchase Vehicle Inspection?

When you bring the car in question to a pre-purchase vehicle inspection, the mechanic or technician will perform a safety inspection to ensure that it’s safe to drive. They will also look for any cosmetic issues that would impact the car’s appearance or cause problems down the road. Finally, they should look for technical problems by inspecting the mechanical system and the engine. Not all pre-purchase inspections include the last part, be sure to ask the inspector to look into the mechanical system and engine before the inspection starts. 

In addition, you should provide the mechanic or technician with the CARFAX report of the car in question so they know what areas of the car to hone in on. Some inspectors might test drive the car on their own to assess the car’s performance. More specifically, they’re considering things like steering, braking and loud noises. At the end of the inspection, you’ll be provided with a detailed report that outlines any identified issues. 

New vs. Used Cars
Trying to decide between a new car and a used one? This infographic is for you. 

When is a Pre-Purchase Vehicle Inspection a Good Choice?

For any used car purchase, a pre-purchase vehicle inspection is a good idea. This is because you’ll want to get a sense of the car’s history and condition before making the commitment. If you don’t, you could end up paying expensive repairs and maintenance costs in the future or have a car that is faulty and unsafe to drive. If the pre-purchase vehicle inspection uncovers some issues that the seller did not notify you of, it doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t purchase the car. In fact, so long as the issues aren’t severe, you can negotiate the price with the seller to get a bargain.

As for new car purchases, getting a pre-purchase vehicle inspection is not necessary. The car may still have some issues as it ages, but brand new cars are in tip-top shape. 

Getting a pre-purchase vehicle inspection is good for the buyer, but it is also good for the seller. Sellers who provide their customers with a vehicle inspection report will obtain more bargaining power with customers and become more reputable. If you know the condition of the car, you can use that to sell the car at a higher price while disclosing the identified issues. Also, doing the work for the buyer will help your reputation and provide customers with more satisfaction. 

Where Can I Get a Pre-Purchase Vehicle Inspection? 

Pre-purchase vehicle inspections are not difficult to find, thankfully. Usually a local mechanic or service center could perform the inspection for you. If you don’t want to make the trip to a mechanic or service center, there are mobile inspection services that can come to your home, the dealership, the seller’s home or wherever the car is parked while it’s waiting to be bought. 

Before selecting a vendor to perform the service, make sure that the inspector is reliable. If you’re going through the trouble of getting a pre-purchase vehicle inspection, you’ll want to ensure that their services are legitimate. 

Everything you need to know about what lenders are looking for when financing a used car sale. 

What Should I Do If My Inspection Reveals an Issue?

First of all, be happy that you found out now, not after the purchase. Next, you’ll need to use some judgement to assess the situation. If the damage was disclosed by the seller prior to the inspection, the car is likely still a great buy and you’ll be able to trust the seller. You might even be able to negotiate a repair with the seller to fix the damage before the purchase is complete or buy the car at a lower price. Regardless, ensure that any identified damage is handled and the car is in a condition that is suitable to drive after you received the inspection results.

Should you pay to repair a vehicle or choose a new one? Check out this article.

If the damage was not disclosed by the seller prior to the inspection, you might want to reconsider doing business with the seller. This is especially true if the seller was not willing to provide a CARFAX report. If they didn’t disclose damage to the car, they might not be disclosing other information and be unreliable to the point where you don’t trust them to close the deal. 

Knowing What You’re Getting Yourself Into

Ultimately, the point of a pre-purchase vehicle inspection is to determine the overall condition of the car you’d like to buy before you make the commitment. In addition to knowing the condition, you can use the results from the inspection report to negotiate the price and assess how reliable the seller is. Considering the amount you’re spending to buy a car, an extra couple hundred dollars is worth it for the inspection.

Looking to Purchase A New or Used Vehicle?

If you’re in the market for a new or new to you car, we can help find you the right financing to meet your needs. 

Rating of 5/5 based on 3 votes.

Veronica is a writer who specializes in creating unique and educational personal finance content. She has extensive experience writing blog posts for companies in the financial sector. Veronica's background is in accounting as she graduated from Western University in 2017 with a degree in accounting. She is passionate about using her accounting expertise to help others with their personal finance questions and issues and enjoys using her writing to educate Canadian readers. When Veronica is not writing, she enjoys film, reading, travelling, going to the gym, and listening to music.

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