How to Have a Used Car Inspected

A visual inspection and a test drive may not be enough when you're buying a used car. Know why a pre-purchase inspection, or PPI, can give you a true evaluation of a car's condition.

Instructions

  • Step 1: Find a qualified inspection professional, preferably a mechanic that you regularly use or one with Automotive Service Excellence certification.
  • Step 2: Ask the technician what the PPI will include, how long it will take, and how much it will cost. Get this in writing, and keep it for your records.
  • Step 3: Get a post-inspection report from the mechanic. The report should include the car's make, model, and VIN, as well as cost estimates for necessary repairs. Now know that the car has been safely inspected.
  • FACT: In 2010, a 1936 Bugatti Atlantic sold for over $30 million, a record price for a used car.
  • Step 4: Know that a PPI should include verifying the car's equipment and options, and should include checks for poor prior repair work, flood damage, and engine and frame damage.
  • TIP: Buyer's Guide and damage history information can help you ask a car inspection professional the right questions.
  • TIP: The U.S. Federal Trade Commission requires that dealers put a Buyer's Guide on each used car for sale.
  • Step 5: Read the buyer's guide. It should state that the car has a warranty or is sold "as is," and should list its major systems and potential service issues.
  • Step 6: Search the car's damage history online via the car's VIN or Vehicle Information Number. Use Justice-Department-approved database services.
  • Step 7: Know that a PPI is necessary, especially before buying a car that's located in another city, or one without a warranty. Get a PPI even if the car is still under warranty.

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