The Ultimate Guide to How Vehicle Inspections Work

February 28, 2020 Rear view of trailer of new cars and trucks speeding to market.

It’s exciting to go shopping for a new vehicle, but it can be intimidating at the same time. Shopping for a pre-owned vehicle can be downright scary, especially if you don’t know how vehicle inspections work. What looks like a dream could actually turn into a nightmare of repairs that you did not anticipate or want.

We want to assist you in making an educated buying decision. Whether you are buying online or from an one of those auto auction sites, one of the most important things you can do before purchasing any used car is the pre-purchase car inspection.

To avoid buying a dreaded “lemon,” you should educate yourself as much as possible on the vehicles you are considering. One way to do that is through the pre-purchase car inspection. Ask lots of questions. A reputable dealer or seller will not have a problem providing the answers to your questions:

  • Has the vehicle ever been wrecked?
  • What’s the vehicle’s mileage?
  • Why is the car being sold?
  • How many owners has the vehicle had?
  • Has it been in flooded waters?
  • Has it ever had electrical damage?
  • Is it rusted anywhere?
  • Has it ever had body repairs?

Ask for the VIN. Once you have the 17-digit VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), you can go online to get a complete history report from Carfax or Autocheck. This report will give you more information:

  • Vehicle registration
  • Recall information
  • Title information, including salvaged or junked titles
  • Vehicle usage (taxi, rental, lease, etc.)
  • Service and repair information
  • Airbag safety
  • Frame or structural damage
  • Reported accidents
  • Total loss accident history
  • Flood damage
  • Odometer rollbacks

If I buy a used car at a dealership, do I need to pay for a certified pre purchase car inspection?

Well, that would depend on whether the dealership is reputable or not (honestly, why would you go to anyone other than a reputable dealership?)

Reputable dealerships usually perform a free car inspection before putting it up for sale. However, for some dealerships, all that means is that the vehicle is safe to drive off the lot. You would do best to get a certified inspection.

Dealers with good reputations have proven their trustworthiness by offering pre-owned certified vehicle packages. This program involves a thorough inspection before certifying that the used cars are up to standard and are ready to be sold. Ask for a copy of the report to see what was inspected, as well as a copy of the warranty to see what it covers.

The FTC (Federal Trades Commission) requires all dealers to display a buyer’s guide in each car the dealer sells. This guide informs the buyer whether the vehicle is for sale “as is” or if it has a warranty.

If you are buying a vehicle that is for sale “as is,” have that vehicle inspected before purchasing, especially if you are buying from an individual or private party. You want to make sure that you get the most for your money, and you are purchasing a vehicle that is in good, working condition and is safe.

Who do I call for a used car inspection?

You have searched the entire internet and finally found the car you want for the price you want to pay, but it’s across the country. You can easily hire a reputable auto transport company, such as Nexus Auto Transport, to have your dream car shipped to you, but what do you do about inspecting the vehicle?

Once you have gotten all your questions answered and you have read the vehicle history report, you want a car inspection before you buy a used vehicle.

Next, you will need to find out if the seller will let you have it inspected by a third party. Once you get approval, you will need to determine who you want to use for the third party inspection.

There are companies in most major cities that provide mobile car inspection services. They will go to the car you are considering buying and inspect it for you. You can contact one of these companies and request a car inspection from them. Or you can contact a local mechanic to do a comprehensive car inspection.

If you found a classic, rare, or high-performance vehicle, you would do best to hire an inspection service or repair shop that specializes in those kinds of cars.

How much is a car inspection?

Now you’re wondering how much a car inspection is. When you pay for a car inspection before buying a used car, you are purchasing a little personal security. The people who do vehicle inspections are usually qualified specialists with experience in evaluating vehicles.

They also have specialized technology that ensures consistent and accurate results. Mechanics generally tend to charge a lower price for a standard used car inspection. However, a car inspection company can charge around $130 – $299 for a rigorous pre-purchase vehicle inspection that usually covers over 150-points. Some even do test drives and provide you with photos. Here are a few of the main things they look at during their inspection:

    • Exterior
    • Tires
    • Engine
    • Brakes
    • Hoses
    • Belts
    • Radiator
    • Fluids

How long does the pre-purchase inspection take?

Each case is different. The length of time depends on the expertise of the inspector and how old the vehicle is. Normally, for a newer vehicle, the inspection should only take about fifteen minutes. For an older vehicle, it could take up to an hour to inspect thoroughly. Exotics, classics, and commercial vehicles might take even longer and should only be performed by a specialist.

Where to get your car inspected?

Now you need to know where to take a used car for inspection before buying. Chances are, any major city that is close to you will have a pre-purchase car inspection company. You can also call on a reputable mechanic to see if they do used-car inspections. You can Google the following keywords when searching for a prepurchase inspection car service:

    • car inspection near me
    • car inspection places near me
    • car inspection stations near me
    • car inspection locations near me
    • car inspection centers near me
    • who does car inspections near me?

Or, if you are in any of the following areas, you might consider contacting one of these car inspection services:

For a pre-purchase car inspection in San Francisco, you can call:

San Francisco Automotive Solutions

For a pre-purchase car inspection in Salt Lake City, you can call:

On-Site Inspections

For a pre-purchase car inspection in Fort Lauderdale, you can call:

Auto Check of South Florida

For a pre-purchase car inspection in San Jose, you can call:

B&C Auto Center

For a pre-purchase car inspection in Sacramento, you can call:

Sacramento Auto Repair

Are there pre-purchase inspection companies that will come to me?

Yes, there are third party car inspection services out there that are willing to come to you. Not only will they come to you, but they will go inspect the vehicle even if you aren’t there. This means that when you find your dream car, even if it’s across the country, you can still get a certified inspection done on it prior to purchasing it. Talk about peace of mind!

The inspector should look at the electrical system, wheels, suspension, transmission, and the engine. They should also check to see if the car has been maintained well, and also check the body’s structural integrity. You should receive a comprehensive report once they finish the inspection.

If you are buying from a distance and cannot look at the vehicle yourself, or take the vehicle to an inspection service, a mobile inspector is a great option for you. They can take up-close photos of damages on the car, advise you on the reliability and condition, and let you know if it is a good buy or not.

The LemonSquad is a nationwide 3rd party vehicle inspection service that will go to the vehicle you want to buy and perform a thorough inspection that includes:

  • More than 25 pictures
  • Computer diagnosis of engine, airbag, ABS, and transmission
  • Comprehensive mechanical inspection of complete drivetrain
  • Inspection of the brakes, suspension, and steering
  • Check for previous accident damage and flood damage
  • Road test
  • Fluid levels check
  • Experian Autocheck (add-on)
  • True Market Value Assessment (add-on)
  •  Verbal Vehicle Assessment Report (add-on)

An ASE certified inspector will either go to you or go wherever the car you wish to buy is located. Their prices are reasonable:

  • $169 for Standard Vehicles
  • $229 for Exotic Vehicles
  • $269 for Classic Vehicles
  • $169 for Motorcycles
  • $249 for Commercial Vehicles
  • $329 for RVs

The AiM Certify team also offers coverage across the country with 1,200+ inspectors that travel to you or the car you want to be inspected. They have four comprehensive packages for pre-purchase vehicle inspections that you can choose from:

  • Aim Preferred – $129 for standard cars, $199 for classic cars
  • Aim Plus – $149
  • Aim Premier – $349
  • Aim Commercial – $199

The comprehensive car inspections include:

  • 150 Point Car Inspections
  • Bumper-to-bumper, Interior and Exterior Inspection
  • Vehicle Inspection Test Drive
  • Friendly Employee-based Professional Inspector
  • 15 + Photos Documenting Condition
  • Quick Online Report Access
  • Nationwide Coverage
  • Visual Inspection of all Fluids
  • Inspection for Damages, Repairs & Collision Damages
  • Photo Documentation of VIN & Mileage
  • Inspection of Tire Condition and Wear
  • Title, Problem, Odometer & Accident Check
  • Autocheck Report (Plus, Premier, Commercial packages only)
  • Engine and Transmission Oil Sampling Analysis (Premier package only)
  • Engine/Transmission Limited Guarantee (Premier package only)

Once you receive your report, now what do you do?

Once the inspection has been completed, you should receive a report that outlines everything the inspection covered, any issues the vehicle has, and the severity of those issues. It will also include any repairs that will need to be made after you buy the vehicle and an estimated cost of those repairs.

If the vehicle is in excellent condition, the inspector might include a purchase recommendation. If the vehicle only has a couple of cosmetic issues, with no other issues, you can buy with confidence.

Most used cars will have a minor issue or two that are usually easy to fix. Instead of getting hung up on the minor issues, you can use them to renegotiate the asking price of the vehicle. Having a detailed inspection report with estimates of any repair costs is an excellent bargaining tool.

If the inspection found a few red flags, you have a couple of choices. You could look for a different vehicle, or you could make a lower offer on the vehicle needing repairs. If the car is with a dealer, they might offer to do the repairs for free as long as you agree to pay the original asking price. Once the repairs have been done, you can ask for evidence of the repairs.

Don’t try to renegotiate if the vehicle inspection report shows more than five serious issues, such as dented chassis, fluid leaks, rust spots, or the vehicle accelerates in fits and starts. Also, look for a different car if there is rust everywhere or metallic particles in the engine’s oil.

What happens if you get a negative report?

If the certified inspectors find any kind of issue, minor and major, they will include it in your report. When you have your heart set on a particular used vehicle, you might find it emotionally difficult to back out of the deal if you get a negative report on it.

If it’s a major issue, you have several options available to you:

  1. You could decide to buy the vehicle and have the issue repaired out of your own pocket.
  2. You could decide to walk away and not buy the vehicle altogether.
  3. You could ask the seller of the vehicle to repair the issue before you buy it.
  4. You could use the issue to renegotiate a lower price.

Try not to let emotions cloud your judgment. When you are too excited about purchasing a vehicle you found, it could cause you to be in a vulnerable position. Your excitement may cause you to settle for a sub-par vehicle, or it could cause you to take an offer you will later regret.

That’s one of the main reasons a pre purchase vehicle inspection is so important when buying a used car. When you hire a professional, you are getting a certified report from which you can make an informed and wise decision about purchasing that vehicle.

One thing to always keep in mind when looking at used cars is that there is are reasons why the current owner is deciding to sell the vehicle. Getting a comprehensive prepurchase auto inspection will go a long way in giving you peace of mind about buying a particular used car.

Final thoughts on how vehicle inspections work

When you are buying a used car, you always need to have a pre-purchase vehicle inspection done. Doing could potentially save you a lot of money, heartache, and stress. When you buy a vehicle that has passed the certified pre-purchase inspection process, you are buying yourself peace of mind.