Get Used Cars Inspected Before Buying

This month’s USAA member newsletter has twelve Car-Buying Secrets from a former car salesman who got out after 6 months in the biz. One of the things he advocated was when shopping for a used car…

…take your potential purchase to your mechanic for an independent inspection. A good tech will spot hidden problems. Independent inspections usually run $75to$100. It’s the best 100 bucks you’ll ever spend on a car.

That shiny apple may contain a lemon inside. Have an expert peel back the skin so you’re not stuck with unexpected and costly repairs down the line.

(Photo: DCvision2006)

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  1. moosetoga says:

    I guess you’d have to tell the salesman that you’d like to take the car to a shop to have it looked over; would most dealerships allow this?

  2. no, his buddy who owns a shop is not an independent inspector

  3. meeksthegeeks says:

    Go Certified. You spend more, but the dealer takes care of you as well (replacing everything that needs it). I got my Honda Civic as a preowned cert and I requested the checklist and verified everything they said they replaced. Mine only needed oil and 2 new tires.

  4. airhed13 says:

    Every time that I’ve tried to get a used car inspected by an independent mechanic before buying it off the lot, the used car dealer has refused to let me. About a dozen different dealers over the years.

  5. Toof_75_75 says:

    Anytime I’ve asked it has always been ok. I have a feeling there would be something to be worried about if they don’t want you to get it looked at.

  6. Ahoatam says:

    No, don’t take it to your mechanic. Your mechanic has a vested interest in having you buy a crappy car. Take it to a mechanic who doesn’t know you, tell him you’re from out of town and considering buying said car, and give him $100 or so to look at it and give you his opinion. Now you’ve eliminated any possibility for ulterior motives on the mechanic’s part.

    Everyone always spouts this tip and forgets that maybe their own mechanic might want them to buy a lemon.

  7. freshwater says:

    As to certified, I have to agree. My certified used car came with
    four new tires (because Toyotas have to have four tires of the same
    brand), and there’s nothing like a warranty. Peace of mind is worth a
    little more money to me.

  8. azntg says:

    @Ahoatam: That depends on your relationship with the mechanic. My dad has gone to the same mechanic for about 20 years because he knows he can be trusted to do the job right, charge a reasonable price and not find ways to rip the bejesus out of you.

    Obviously, if your mechanic has that attitude with you, it’s time for you to find a new mechanic.

  9. meeksthegeeks says:

    I have a good relationship with my mechanic, I have no worries that he would rip me off.

  10. xl22k says:

    @Ahoatam: If that’s how you view your mechanic, maybe you should consider looking for a new one.

    I would trust our mechanic with just about anything…hell I don’t even worry about taking my electronics out of the car anymore. Years ago, we had a probelm with our car that three other mechanics couldn’t figure out. We heard about him from someone else, brought it to him and he fixed it in less than an hour…and all he did was replace some obscure sensor. Since then, he’s always thrown in discounts or if we have something that takes less than 10 minutes to do (such as replacing a mini-speaker in my car) he did it for nothing – wouldn’t even take a tip.

    So point of the story, if you can’t trust your mechanic, find a new one. When you do find that good one, make sure you treat him well (holiday card & gift, maybe even a b-day one if you find out when it is) and he’ll treat you well.

  11. KingPsyz says:

    Certified is the way to go, as has come to light I work for a Toyota/Scion dealer and I have access to some screaming deals. Still bought a certified used for not much more than any internet customer would. But I know it’s covered because Toyota takes this Certification thing seriously.

    To give you an idea, something as simple as missing the valet key voids a car from being certified used. Toyota aslo requires that a vehicle not need any body work or extensive painting other than scratches. So you know it’s never been wrecked as well.

  12. forgottenpassword says:

    I refuse to buy a car from a dealer (used or otherwise). I always buy from an individual & always have my mechanic expect it thoroughly beforehand.

    IMO car salesmen are just pure scum!

  13. nataku8_e30 says:

    Certified isn’t always a guarantee. [www.nytimes.com]
    You should always perform a reasonable inspection whenever purchasing used, and if you don’t know what to look for, bring someone who does.

  14. Pylon83 says:

    @forgottenpassword:
    I love people like this who limit their options so much because of closed-minded, irrational beliefs like this.

  15. KingPsyz says:

    @forgottenpassword:

    cause annonymous individuals who don’t have to answer to the department of transportation or corporate higher ups are much more reliable…

    you’re probablly the same guy that wastes my time asking for retail vales on used cars just so you can get a good deal from some private party.

  16. kingoftheroad40 says:

    @meeksthegeeks: Same here good advice i have a o5odyssey

  17. Scuba Steve says:

    I’m lucky enough to have a mechanic come with me and look over the car before we even take it out. Sure, it’s not as good as putting it up and walking under it, but we could check problem spots and make sure no glaring problems existed.

  18. Sucko-T says:

    Certified used cars are a joke. Buy a new one.

    [portland.craigslist.org]
    2004 Toyota Corolla LE Asking Price: $15495

    [www.edmunds.com]
    2008 Toyota Corolla LE
    MSRP: $16,415 – 1000 Rebate= $15,415
    Invoice:$14,855

    Trust me I can find many more examples.

  19. StevieD says:

    A honest mechanic is a good find.

    I took two cars to my mechanic. The staff went through the cars with a fine tooth comb while the shop owner warned me of commom problems that the shop had found while they made repairs … Car A takes 30 minutes to install a new alternator which costs $, while Car B takes 1 hour 15 minutes and costs 20% more. Brake jobs take the same amount of time, but Car B uses more expensive brake pads that will cost you $60 more. Car B’s car battery is a difficult access. Etc Etc.

    Like I said, a honest mechanic is a good find, especially one that gives the consumer long term costs of buying Car A over Car B.

  20. StevieD says:

    @forgottenpassword:

    Pure scum? Scum would be acceptable, but I don’t think “pure scum” a correct term.

  21. StevieD says:

    @xl22k:

    Right on !!!

    My mechanic sent one of his boys to make a house call to save my Dad from having to the car towed for a bad battery cable. The best part … no house call fee.

  22. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    All I can say is….the last time I bought a used truck (’97 Chevy) without getting it checked out (last spring), it cost me $3000 in repairs to put it on the road (bad wheel bearings, ball joints, ABS sensor, leaking gas tank, bad gas sender, leaking heater core).

    Yes, I got royally boned by not having it checked out first.

    Granted, this only works if you have a mechanic that you can trust, which I do. Otherwise, a used car is a shake of the dice…you might get lucky and it might need nothing, or you might get royally screwed.

    I’ve told my friends and family NEVER to let me pick out a used car or a television (another story for another time).

  23. morganlh85 says:

    I watch enough People’s Court to know that already :)

  24. veronykah says:

    I have to admit, I acutally LOVE buying used cars. The last car I bought I went to a used car dealer, found a car that seemed great and told him I was going to take it to the Toyota dealership. Bringing it to the dealership, I made it clear that this was a car I was considering buying. I did NOT own the car so they would have no interest in lying to me.
    After going over the car, they came back with a $5000 fix it bill…the car was listed for $4200. When I went back to the dealer he claimed they were lying.
    I told him if he gave me $5500 I would buy the car…end of transaction.
    I later bought a car from a private party and took the car to the same dealer to look over.
    All they could say was the car needed new tires. I’ve owned the car for 7 years now, bought it with 150,000 miles on it and have had NO problems.
    Yay Toyota and yay used cars!

  25. zolielo says:

    The trick that I have seen is to bring a bunch of car enthusiasts of the car you wish to purchase with you. None know a car better than those who have lived with it.

    I have even seen such enthusiasts hired for relatively low rates.

  26. cosby says:

    I agree with taking the car to a mechanic if you are dealing with a smaller car lot or privite party. Take it to a mechanic you trust though. Yes a good mechanic can be hard to find but they will treat you right over the years. I know where my dad works(he is a mechanic) they reconize people that have been clients for years and always go the extra mile for them. Most of the time it is just knocking some cash of a quote or doing it fast but every little bit helps.

  27. RvLeshrac says:

    @strum40:

    Don’t buy your used car from a jackass. Simple.

    @Ahoatam:

    I’m with the others in this thread. If you feel that your mechanic is interested in your buying a junker, what else is he cheating you on? If you can’t trust your mechanic to tell you what’s wrong with a used car, you shouldn’t even be taking your car to him for an oil change.

    @cosby:

    Exactly.

    @zolielo:

    There are plenty of websites for fans of various cars. [www.bonnevilleclub.com] has been invaluable for me and my two Bonnies.

    (If you want a cheap car, buy a late-80s/early-90s Bonneville in good condition. They’re consistently cheap used for some reason, and get great gas mileage, even with the size. Engines are bullet-proof, repairs don’t break the bank, and I had a four-point crash in my 88, still runs [though it looks like crap!]. )

  28. anatak says:

    @airhed13: So why do you keep going to dealers? Other than to see what you won’t pay for a used car, that is.

    craigslist
    KBB
    carfax

    beyond that, make sure you buy the car cheaply enough to cover your risk. If you buy a $10k car for $8500, then you’ve got some room to cover a few repairs.

  29. wesrubix says:

    Here in Mass, we’re required to get a used car inspected right after you buy it. If anything is seriously wrong, the insurance company will reject it as uninsurable, and the seller (private party or dealership) has to take it back by law.

  30. barty says:

    @meeksthegeeks: Make sure it is a *manufacturer* certification. A dealer’s certification is of course only good at that dealer and could be full of “gotchas.”

    I have to concur with everyone else about passing on buying used cars at dealerships though. What premium you pay on a used car at a dealership vs. a private sale could be more than enough to replace an engine or transmission in many vehicles, particularly if you have to pay sales tax on top of that!

    @strum40: Eh, its not hard to find people who have no pricing sense. Look around eBay, people regularly pay more there for used items than for what an equivalent new product goes for. I imagine that craigslist poster looked at the local dealership for price guidance, who probably marks up everything on the lot about $3000-4000 over what they have in it as a SOP, with the dealer knowing that they’ll be lucky to get half that markup on average.

  31. Eric Lai says:

    I have a few years of experience as a car salesman and managing a small dealership, so I’ll pitch in a few things as well:

    Make sure that you distinguish between types of certification – when you step on a car lot, you’ll see stickers on vehicles proclaiming ‘certified’, but they could be either factory/manufacturer certified or certified by that individual car dealership.

    A factory/manufacturer certified car means that someone authorized by Toyota/Honda/BMW, etc. has actually inspected the car and made sure that it passes their checklist, and more importantly – that it represents a good risk for them, since factory certified cars often come with an automatic extension of the factory bumper-to-bumper warranty up to around 100K miles, usually. You’re usually looking at a $2k+ premium for this, but sometimes it can be worth it if you want peace of mind.

    A guarantee for a car ‘certified’ by a car dealer is only as good as the dealer backing it, and isn’t mcuh, if anything at all. It’s usually independent car dealers that are guilty of this, but I’ve seen some franchises do it as well.

    Getting a car inspected before you buy it is an absolute must. If you have a good mechanic, have him look at it; if not, dealers usually have techs that have worked on enough of the model of car you’re looking at to tell you what might be wrong with it. I’ve had pre-purchase inspections done by the BMW dealer, and even with those cars they’ve never exceeded $120. There’s also a service called carchex.com (not affiliated with them nor used them before) that will send an ASE tech to wherever a used car might be to inspect it, drive it, take photos and generate a comprehensive report for you for about $100. Seems like a good idea – they get paid the same whether you buy the car or not.

    And I’ve already seen a few Toyota/Honda mentions here for good, reliable cars – and while that is usually the case, I feel compelled to point out that some Toyotas and Hondas from the past decade have had some pretty serious issues: the 97-01 Camry in both 4-cyl and V6 form had issues with oil sludge and the repair involved a partial teardown of the engine (Lexus models that have the 3.0L V6 have the same problem). The Honda Accord V6 and Acura CL/TL models from 98-03 with 4-speed automatics are prone to torque converter issues that often necessitate transmission replacement at around 100K miles or less.

    For reliability, aside from Consumer Reports (which isn’t always as unbiased as you might think they are), Michael Karesh’s TrueDelta (no affiliation) at [www.truedelta.com] is worth checking out – they do owner surveys like CR does, but their methodology is quite different and much more specific. The site is still growing, but there might be some useful data for more common models like the Accord or Camry.

  32. rikkus256 says:

    @nataku83: well, that’s a GM. I wouldn’t buy a GM even its brand new.

  33. adamthebad says:

    I have a New 2008 Chevy Silverado 2500 LTZ that has almost $20,000.00 damage to it because Edmonton Motors dropped it off a hoist plus it has under 5000kms on it. This happened Saturday Nov/24/2007/11:30a.m. and the truck was purchased
    on September /15/2007, which make this truck just over 2 months old! They are trying to tell me it is fixable so the following Monday they quickly
    shoveled it to Eastwood Autobody, to bandaid it back together to give it back to me.
    Eastwood Autobody is Edmonton Motors quick fix guy in emergencies…I am told by some of the guys in the back shop.

    After work I go to Eastwood on Monday/26/Nov/5:45p.m. and they told me what they were doing, but thngs did not seem right so I told Edmonton Motors to take it to another body shop for a second opinion, which is Doug’s Place Collision
    and this is where the trouble really begins!

    I was told by Edmonton Motors that Doug’s Place body shop, that I took it to, was too busy but the owner said he was never contacted for anything on this truck! As it turns out the body damage alone is near $13,000.00 in damage and labor! This made me even more suspicious so I told Edmonton Motors about
    getting second opinion on the drivetrain and the General Manager starts to make it seem that this whole incident is my problem!

    Well I have the truck towed to Nicholson Chevrolet (PLEASE NOTE; EDMONTON MOTORS DROVE THIS TRUCK TO EASTWOOD AUTOBODY AND DOUG’S PLACE COLLISION AND
    IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN TOWED!!!) and it also has serious damage to the drivetrain.
    Enough that it should not have been driven! The damage is near $6000.00 for mechanical.

    All this time the G.M. at Edmonton Motors is getting more and more difficult to
    deal with, making this my problem.

    What is going on here…I did not damage this BRAND NEW truck! Edmonton Motors did! Where is the customer service!!!

    Have you read or heard their company slogan;

    “It’s the experience”

    “As Northern Alberta’s largest volume GM dealership, our GM Pro Certified
    staff is very proud to consistently offer our clients knowledgeable and reliable
    service.”

    “This 20 time recipient of the GM President’s Triple Crown Award prides
    itself in offering the very best pricing and customer service anywhere.”

    “With 15 consecutive automotive dealership Consumers Choice Awards, find out

    why we say, “It’s the Experience”. “

    Well I tell you the only “Experience” that has come my way is pain and misery.
    Edmonton Motors is trying to shovel shady repairs back to customers ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY ARE AT FAULT!.

    My only mistake here was getting an oil change at the place I BOUGHT this NEW truck! AND I STILL HAVE TO MAKE PAYMENTS ON SONMETHING I DON”T HAVE!!! This
    so-call customer service dealership of Edmonton Motors wants to fix what should be a write-off and is telling me to take it back. **Plus I am the one that has to disclose the damages when I sell it to someone, whch I did not cause plus take a hit on the lower price because someone will not buy a new DAMAGED truck for what it is worth! THIS SHOULD BE ON THE SHOULDERS OF EDMONTON MOTORS NOT
    ME!!!!

    I have been dealing with them for 20 years and have bought 5 new GM products (not all at Edmonton Motors) including this truck which all have been
    serviced at Edmonton Motors and this is how I am treated. It is pure garbage on how this is being handled….Can you help??
    What they have done in the past to me and other customers! I think this dealership
    needs some exposure …can you help???

    I have tried CAMVAP but they only deal in warranty issues and AMVIC says this is a Civil Matter! A BBB complaint has been filed but since they are not a
    member I do not think it will go anywhere. A lawyer is the last resort that I have and it looks like I may have to play it that way….they are leaving me
    no choice!

    As of December/06/2007/9:00am GM Canada phoned me, saying that Edmonton Motors is now just letting their insurance company handle this situation.
    What the hell have they been doing for the last two weeks, proir??? Jerking me around hoping I will go away as well as making this my problem when they
    caused this situation. This is week three since GM phoned and when I ask Edmonton Motors who the insurance company is I get the answer that they are don east.
    I have asked both the General Manager, Myles MacDonald and the owner Robert
    Wolfe.

    WHERE IS THE CUSTOMER SERVICE???…Is there anything you can do???