What is a pre-purchase inspection?

September 10, 2020
Written by: Ray Shefska
Categories: Car Buying , Used Cars

Some things in life are worth checking twice. For example when you leave your house or apartment it isn’t a bad idea to double check that you locked the door. Or, when you cook your oatmeal in the morning, you might as well take an extra second to confirm you turned off the stove. Checking twice can save you a lot of headache, right? The same principle applies when purchasing a used car, and it’s exactly why you need to consider getting a pre-purchase inspection on any used car you’re thinking of buying.

We’ve recorded countless videos for our YouTube channel talking about pre-purchase inspections and their importance. The long and short of it is that pre-purchase inspections are 100% necessary for used car purchases. If you’re buying a used car, you need to get a pre-purchase inspection on it first, no ifs, ands, buts, or maybes. That’s our two cents at least.

That being said, we thought it would be helpful to outline exactly what a pre-purchase inspection includes, where you can get one, how much it will cost, and more.

Without further ado, let’s dive in!

What is a pre-purchase inspection?

Simply put, a pre-purchase inspection is a vehicle inspection that occurs in advance of a vehicle sale. There are no set parameters for what constitutes a pre-purchase inspection (that is to say there isn’t a universally accepted “checklist” of things that a mechanic needs to review to complete the inspection).

Pre-purchase inspections (commonly referred to as PPIs) are simply a mechanical review of a vehicle in advance of a sale. 

When should I get a PPI?

As the name suggests, you should get a PPI conducted in advance of purchasing a vehicle. Specifically you should have a PPI conducted the same day, or within a few days of taking delivery of a vehicle.

The last thing you want to do is have a pre-purchase inspection conducted only to have an issue crop up a few days later unexpectedly. Taking ownership as quickly as possible after your PPI is conducted is a best practice.

Where can I get a pre-purchase inspection?

There are a few options for where you can get a pre-purchase inspection completed. First and foremost, if you have family or friends who are auto mechanics, ask them to help. If not, fallback to your trusted local mechanic. If you don’t have a local mechanic who can help (or if you’re buying the vehicle from out of state), consider using a national service like Lemon Squad.

lemon-squad-auto-inspections-2017.v3

We recommend Lemon Squad because they have been in business for a decade and have an “A” rating with the Better Business Bureau. We don’t get compensated for saying that, we simply think they’re a viable option if you don’t have a trusted family member, friend, or local mechanic.

What should be inspected?

It’s important to keep in mind that there is no universally accepted “checklist” for what is inspected during a PPI. That being said, there are a few things your mechanic will absolutely pay attention to. Specifically they’ll inspect:

  • The vehicle dashboard
  • Tires and suspension
  • Fluids
  • Brakes
  • Engine
  • Transmission
  • Exhaust
  • The body and frame of the vehicle
  • Lights
  • HVAC

At the end of the day each mechanic will have a slightly different pre-purchase inspection process. Bear in mind that most mechanics will find at least one thing that should be done on the car. Remember, it’s their job to find things and make you aware of them!

A PPI is similar to a home inspection on a house. You want your mechanic to be thorough (just like you want the home inspector to be thorough), and so you’d almost be disappointed if there wasn’t anything wrong with the car (or the house). Keep this in mind when you receive the pre-purchase inspection report. Your mechanic will make you aware of what is really important, and what is lower priority.

How much does a pre-purchase inspection cost, and who pays?

If your mechanic charges you more than a couple hundred dollars for the pre-purchase inspection, you may want to ask them a few questions. Depending on the vehicle, a PPI should range anywhere from $100 to $300.

Considering the vehicle you’re thinking of purchasing is most likely worth tens of thousands of dollars, the investment upfront in a PPI is well worth it. The headache you save, and the peace of mind you gain makes a pre-purchase inspection a worthy investment.

Do you have other questions about pre-purchase inspections? If so, let us know in the comments down below.

Not sure where to begin?

Take a look at our curated 'Start Here' resources or explore and ask questions in the community forum

8 Comments

  1. Paul

    Trusted Sale also offers a mobile inspection service called Trusted Inspectors that allows sellers and/or buyers to have a pre-purchase inspection completed at a location of their choosing – or – they can visit Trusted Inspectors locations at local service and repair centers we partner with.

    Reply
  2. George Braue

    So, should I get a CPO car inspected before purchase? How about a non-CPO low mileage car that still has original factory warranty?
    How can I keep the selling dealer from selling the car to someone else pending the outcome of the PPI? Can I expect the selling dealer to get the car to the inspecting shop, assuming it’s local to the dealer? Should I negotiate a price, contingent on the outcome of the inspection and the dealer’s promise to hold the car for me?

    Reply
  3. Martin A Kuo

    You probably also need to check for previous accidents, if car was flooded, or repainted.

    Reply
  4. Kristy McCoy

    I hired Lemon Squad to inspect an RV. No one should use them. RV inspection was $329. Drove 5hrs to pick RV up. It took 2 days to get home because we had TWO tire blowouts. In their report they said the tires had no issues. Well, ALL the tires had cracks all around them. They were dry rotted. Someone could have been killed!

    Reply
    • Zach Shefska

      Kristy, thank you for sharing this experience! Have you contacted Lemon Squad? What was their response? Thanks in advance.

      Reply
      • Nick Moran

        Would also like to know what happened with this one. Just from checking reviews on Yelp and Moneycrashers, the service they’re providing seems to be pretty off, a good 3/4 of the time. The main responder to the reviews (from Lemon Squad) seemed apologetic, but looked to shift the blame most of the time (“we try to get the jump on some dealers by arriving unannounced”, and “could have been anything that happened between our inspection and the time you bought the car.”, etc.). Buyer beware.

        Reply
        • Zach Shefska

          Nick, thanks for this comment. If you have a local mechanic you know and trust, certainly work with them for the PPI. If you don’t, then a service like Lemon Squad can be a good option. Buyer beware is unfortunately the name of the game when it comes to used cars, even with PPIs.

          Reply
  5. cynthia french

    Great info here. I guess my only other questions are: Is there ever a deposit that the dealer charges the customer to hold while the ppi is being done? Something that is refunded once the ppi is done and I sign papers to purchase the car? If so, what is a fair price of the deposit? What’s to stop the dealer from saying that they reserve the right to sell the car to someone else who is willing to pay more for the car while I have a ppi in progress unless I sign off on the car before the ppi is complete? If the mechanic finds issues that require attention but says the car is still worth buying, can I renegotiate the OTD price if we already agreed to a number prior to the ppi inspection being done? Thanks again so much for all the info. You guys rock!!!

    Reply

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