Anxious About Buying a Used Car? Get a Mechanical Inspection

A used car may look like a gem from the outside, but you never know what's underneath. Always get a mechanical inspection before finalizing your purchase.

Anxious About Buying a Used Car? Get a Mechanical Inspection

Most of us make large purchases—especially car purchases—the same way. Online research, target the right car, test drive, and then purchase and drive off into the sunset. This pattern holds true whether you’re in the market for a new or used car. There’s one step, however that most of us never consider—and it’s crucial to ensure that you are getting a good deal particularly on a used car. Meet the mechanical inspection.

Why is a mechanical inspection so crucial?

For one it can highlight any hidden problems. A used car may look like a gem from the outside—all shiny, new, and clean—but underneath the skin things could be very wrong. While a test drive is certainly necessary before signing on the dotted line, it wont shake out all the problems that could be potentially lurking under the hood. The process itself is relatively simple—and though it can cost you a bit of money out of pocket, it’s worth taking a new-to-you used car to a certified mechanic before plopping down beaucoup bucks.

First there’s the cost—a thorough inspection can run around $200 but it’s well worth it if something is terribly wrong with the car. You can choose to use a mobile inspection or see about taking the car to a shop. At a shop, the mechanic will likely put the car on a lift and take a look underneath. They’ll look for fluid leaks and check for anything like rust that could hurt the value and function of the car down the road. They’ll also take a look at the tire wear and brake pads—two pricey things to replace. You’ll know right off the bat if your new-used car will need something costly to make it purr. A mobile inspection can be a little less thorough (since you can’t get the car on a lift), but is still good insurance. The best part about a mobile inspection is that if you coordinate with the seller, you don’t necessarily have to be there for it—or take the car to a shop. However, if you are buying a specialized car or a sports car, you may want to opt for the brick-and-mortar shop just to be totally sure that things check out all right.

Once your inspection is done, you’ll have a better idea of what potential issues might be for that particular used car, and how much wiggle room there might be in the price. Take the mechanical inspection report back to the seller and see what kind of deal you can work out. If the repairs are too pricey, it’s time to look for a different car. Remember though, getting a mechanical inspection does not guarantee you won't have problems with the car down the road. Nothing is perfect. Think of a mechanical inspection like an insurance policy—it just assures that you are getting a product that is in good shape. While it can be pricey and a bit of a pain getting a mechanical inspection before buying a used car will give you peace of mind about your purchase.

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Abigail BassettAbigail Bassett

Digital media content producer/consultant & former CNN senior producer, now running CN'TRL : Cars, Tech, Real Estate & Luxury.