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A pre-purchase inspection is one of the most important aspects of car buying. It’s the most surefire way to make sure you’re getting what the seller advertises. A pre-purchase inspection will cost you money upfront, yes. But, it can also save you thousands down the road by helping to identify what issues if any your prospective purchase has. The strategy here is threefold. First, know what shops to look for. Knowing what questions to ask is a great start too. Finally, use the results of your inspection to help you negotiate. Let’s get started.

What kind of shops to look for

A small garage service center in New York
A garage service station | Joe Sohm via Getty Images

Finding a good mechanic is hard. Luckily, the same strategy you’d use there applies rather well to finding a shop to do an inspection. If buying locally, use the shop you trust or ask around to see who’s the best. The second part of that nugget of knowledge applies to out-of-state car buying as well.

Should you be buying outside your local area, check out some reviews for the shops in the area. Enthusiast-oriented Facebook pages are a great place to ask a lot of people for their choice all at once. Once you’ve found your shop, give them a ring. Ask how much they’ll want to charge for the pre-purchase inspection (PPI for short) and what their availability is like. If buying out of your area, see if they’ll be able to pick up the vehicle in question to do the inspection.

What questions to ask during a pre-purchase inspection

A mechanic inspects the transmission of a car, often a point of inspection during a pre-purchase inspection
Mechanics will often show you what they find | Julian Stratenschulte via Getty Images

Now that you have the “who” sorted, it’s time to focus on the what. Do some background research on your potential new ride. Know what issues are common and ask that they be checked for. For example, make sure the VANOS pump on that BMW M3 isn’t about to spew oil and metal all over your engine bay. Now, this next tip is one that some miss when speaking to mechanics.

According to J.D Power, it’s a good idea to find out what upcoming issues the vehicle may have. Does anything look worn? Are there signs of a botched repair? All of these things and more should be revealed by a PPI. This way, should you go through with the purchase of your vehicle, you’ll know right away what has to be done to keep it in good condition. Best of all, it’ll help you keep it in good shape for when the time to sell rolls around.

You can use a pre-purchase inspection to negotiate

A mechanic performs an oil change in a shop
A basic oil change | Joaquin Sarmiento via Getty Images

The results of your pre-purchase inspection and the effect they’ll have on the pricing of your chosen vehicle can drastically affect how this shakes out for you the buyer. If you’re willing to fix an issue found during the inspection, the seller may take into consideration the money you’ll be spending and give you some wiggle room on the price. Just remember to be as kind as possible to help your chances. With these things in mind, a few hundred bucks can give you a great deal of peace of mind. Car ownership can get expensive quick, and this small act of due diligence can save thousands.


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