Finding a used car can be a long and stressful process. When you finally come across what appears to be the perfect car, it can be tempting to take the test drive and sign the paperwork. But there’s one more step you need to complete – the independent inspection.

Whether you’re purchasing a used car from a dealership, auction house, or private seller, there are risks involved – especially if you’re buying sight unseen. You can’t necessarily rely on the seller to be transparent about the vehicle’s history or problems.

An inspection from an independent third-party inspector can help you determine the exact condition of the vehicle to make an informed decision.

What Is an Independent Car Inspection?

An independent car inspection, or a pre-purchase car inspection, is an inspection performed by a licensed mechanic or auto technician to determine if there are any cosmetic, mechanical, or safety problems.

Manufacturers, dealers, or private sellers may offer inspections or guarantees regarding the condition of a vehicle, but they aren’t objective. They have an interest in not disclosing any problems with the vehicle that may impact your purchasing decision. An independent inspection from a third party will be evaluated objectively.

Why You Need an Independent Car Inspection

Buying a used car, whether from a dealership or a private seller, has inherent risks. Getting an independent car inspection ensures that you have all the information necessary to make your decision.

Here are some benefits of an independent car inspection:

  • Peace of mind: An inspection tells you about the cosmetic and mechanical condition of your vehicle, so you’re not surprised by major repairs down the line. Knowing your car has been thoroughly inspected can give you peace of mind that you’re making a sound financial investment.

  • Cost savings: Identifying potential issues with your car now can save you money in the future. Depending on the repairs, you may be able to negotiate a lower price or walk away from the deal.

  • Negotiating power: An inspection report gives you negotiating power to get a fair price based on the vehicle’s actual condition, not the seller’s word. You may be able to negotiate a lower price or get the repairs covered before finalizing the purchase.

  • Deeper than a test drive: Test drives are important, but they don’t necessarily reveal every issue a car may have, such as safety concerns or mechanical issues.

  • Verification of vehicle history: An inspection verifies the vehicle’s history, including whether it’s been in an accident or a disaster like a flood, so you can make an informed purchasing decision.

When to Get an Independent Car Inspection

An independent car inspection should be a condition of purchase, but you shouldn’t jump the gun by paying for an inspection too early. Test drives can reveal some problems and allow you to get a feel for a car. If something isn’t right during the test drive and makes you question the purchase, there’s no reason to pay for an inspection.

However, you should have an inspection before finalizing the purchase. Your inspection report ensures that you don’t end up with a lemon and may give you the power to negotiate the price or other conditions of purchase, such as the seller covering repairs.

What Does an Independent Car Inspection Cover?

Independent car inspections are thorough evaluations of a vehicle and cover all the components. Here’s what’s covered during an inspection:

  • Engine: An inspection will involve a detailed check of the engine for possible leaks, the condition of the belts and hoses, and overall performance.

  • Transmission: The transmission will be inspected for any signs of damage or wear, including checking the individual components and checking the fluid levels.

  • Brakes: The brake system will be inspected to ensure it is operating properly, including checking the brake pads, rotors, calipers, and brake fluid levels.

  • Suspension and steering: An inspection includes the suspension and steering components to check for wear or damage, including the struts, steering linkage, and shocks.

  • Tires: The condition of the tires is evaluated during an inspection, both for tread depth and signs of uneven wear or damage.

  • Electrical systems: The battery, alternator, starter, and other components of the electrical systems will be inspected to ensure they’re functional.

  • Exterior bodywork: The exterior of the vehicle will be inspected for signs of damage, including dents, rust, or scratches.

  • Interior: The interior of the vehicle will be inspected for signs of wear or damage, including checking the condition of the dashboard, seats, and other interior components.

  • Undercarriage: The undercarriage will be inspected for signs of damage or rust, including checking the exhaust system and frame.

  • Fluid levels: The oil, coolant, and brake fluid, as well as other fluids, will be checked and topped off as needed as part of the inspection.

Some inspection services may include additional checks or services like a road test, accompanying photographs, or a vehicle history report. To make sure you’re getting everything you need, grab our Pre-Purchase Car Inspection Checklist.

How to Choose an Independent Car Inspector

The independent car inspection will factor into your decision, so it’s important to choose a reputable and qualified car inspector. Here’s what to look for:

  • Certifications and qualifications: Inspectors should be certified by reputable organizations like the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) or the International Automotive Technicians’ Network (IATN). These certifications indicate that inspectors have completed extensive training and have the skills to perform a thorough, objective inspection.

  • Experience: Choose an inspector with a proven track record of conducting inspections. If possible, look for mechanics who specialize in the type of vehicle you’re interested in, such as the vehicle make or classic cars.

  • Insured and bonded: Make sure the inspector carries liability insurance and is bonded, which protects you if there are any errors or omissions in the inspection report that may influence your purchase.

  • References or reviews: Ask for references from past customers or search reviews online to asses their reputation and work quality.

  • Cost: Compare quotes from different inspectors to get a rough estimate, but don’t choose the cheapest option.

If you already have a relationship with a mechanic, that may be your best choice for an inspection. You could also rely on national retailers or look for a local inspector through the Automotive Service Association (ASA) database.

Understanding Your Inspection Report

Your car inspection will provide a detailed assessment of the vehicle’s condition, including any issues that came up during the inspection. The report should include the basic information about the vehicle, including the make, model, year, and vehicle identification number (VIN).

The rest of the report should include sections that describe the exterior condition of the vehicle, including any damage like dents or rust, and sections that describe the interior condition of the vehicle, including the condition of the interior components.

Next will be the mechanical inspection, which will cover the details about the condition of the engine, transmission, brakes, suspension, and steering, and the electrical inspection, which includes the battery, alternator, and wiring.

You should also see sections describing the condition of the tires and wheels, fluid levels and condition, and any issues that were discovered during the inspection. If you had a road test, the report may have observations about the vehicle’s performance.

Finally, there should be a summary of the inspection’s findings and any recommendations for repairs or maintenance.

How you interpret the findings is important for making an informed decision about your purchase. If the inspection report reveals no major issues or only reveals the issues that were disclosed to you by the seller already, you can feel confident in your purchase.

Whether there are major or minor issues, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should walk away from the car. You may be able to use the contents of the inspection report to negotiate a lower price or get the seller to cover the repairs before finalizing the purchase.

Keep in mind that some issues may be worth ending the deal. For example, older vehicles that have significant rust may not be structurally sound and may not be worth the cost to restore. Flood or water damage, poor maintenance records, poorly repaired accident damage, or an unclean title may warrant reconsidering as well.

Independent Car Inspection Costs

The cost of an independent car inspection can vary based on the type of vehicle, the location, and how extensive the service is. Basic inspections are typically $100 to $200, but a comprehensive inspection that involves additional services may be several hundred dollars.

Though this is an added expense, it’s worth including an independent car inspection in your car-buying budget. This is a small price to pay compared to the costs of post-purchase repairs, or worse, a car that has safety problems.

Depending on the market and how motivated the seller is, you can split the cost of the independent inspection or get it covered as a condition of purchase.

Don’t Skip the Inspection

Buying a car from a dealership or a private seller comes with risk. If you don’t do your due diligence – which includes an inspection from an independent third-party inspector, you could end up with a lemon. Taking this step before finalizing your purchase can save you a lot of money and headaches down the line.

If you’re shopping for a used car out of state or at auction and need to ship, Nexus Auto Transport can help. Contact us today to get more information or request a quote!