Personal finance expert Clark Howard is known to be an advocate of buying used cars; this is a topic he often covers on his nationally syndicated radio show and on his popular website. Howard recently cited a market research study that evaluated the prices of six million new and used cars sold in 2019, and he called attention to the deep discounts that smart buyers can realize when they shop for certain luxury models that are very popular. A BMW Series 7, for example, can be purchased with a price difference of 43% just one year after first coming on the market, but Howard also warns about the importance of conducting a pre purchase inspection before driving away with a used car.
Other used models that offer great savings for smart buyers include the Audi A6 and the Volvo S90. The national average in terms of price difference is 20%, which in many cases will translate to thousands of dollars saved. Let’s say you find a 2018 Toyota Camry listed in North Hills for less than $18,000; since this is one of the most popular cars in North Carolina, you can expect a certain level of reliability, but this should not be a reason to skip the pre purchase inspection. If the seller balks at the idea of transporting the car to our shop in Raleigh, which is located about 10 miles from North Hills, you may want to look at other listings.
The Etiquette of Pre Purchase Inspections
Some motivated sellers will offer as much information on their cars as possible. They will pay for CarFax reports and show you maintenance records; these are the sellers who are more likely to agree to pre purchase inspections, and they will agree to drive to the shop. Within this cohort of motivated sellers you will also find the smartest; the ones who will pay for extreme detailing that leaves the car smelling like roses, and their initial price will often be much higher than the average just so they can concede at the negotiation level and make buyers happy.
Buyers are expected to cover all the costs of pre purchase inspections, which may include not only the service fees but also towing the vehicle from the seller’s location to the shop and back. Buyers can be picky, but sellers can be finicky, and this is the norm in a large market like the Raleigh metropolitan area. Getting sellers to agree to pre purchase inspections is not always easy, and this is more likely to happen with luxury cars because the sellers are already listing their models at sharply reduced prices, and they may feel like they cannot be bothered any further.
A pre purchase inspection is a perfectly reasonable request…
Unless the seller shows you a service shop report from just a few days ago, you should insist on an inspection. And the pre purchase inspection should most certainly take place PRIOR to agreeing on a price. The only exceptions would be something like a 1985 Pontiac Fiero that you intend to purchase as a project car. In this case, you already know this is a rare classic with a potential of catching on fire. Additionally you are knowledgeable that bringing it to daily-driver shape will cost you a few thousands more. In this case, the inspection can come after the purchase.
What Takes Place During a Pre Purchase Inspection
Be weary of a used car dealer that insists on the technician driving to the lot for an inspection. It’s highly unlikely that the mechanic will be allowed to use the lift and equipment at the dealership. And of course, there is only so much that can be gleaned from looking under the hood. Or even from taking the vehicle for a test drive. An inspection will not only inform you about what is wrong, but also what is right about the purchase. Keep in mind that many auto service technicians are also car enthusiasts. Which likely means they will be truly happy to let you know whether your potential used car purchase is worthy.
The three major points of a pre purchase inspection that could dissuade you from buying a car include:
- Flood Damage
- The technician could detect that the car has been previously submerged in water. It’s possible the title for the vehicle does not reflect this damage. In which case, the seller may be trying to pull a fast one. This is more likely to happen in Central America. Many previously flooded American cars are often shipped by unscrupulous dealers.
- Frame Damage
- This can be attributed to a major accident. Damage such as this requires significant frame work to ensure that the car can be safely taken on the road.
- Previous Maintenance
- There are dozens of inspection points that correspond to the level of maintenance that the car has been through. Older models maintained by DIY mechanics will not have CarFax or repair records kept on electronic databases. However, but experienced auto repair technicians can spot the frequency and quality of the vehicle’s care during the inspection.