How to Buy a Used Car Pt. 3: Due Diligence (The Inspection)




[Ed: Part one of Steve Lang's updated used car buying guide is here, part two is here.]

You can rigorously apply the tests described by previous installments of this series without encountering a single setback. However when it comes to buying a used car, it pays to assume one simple salient fact: you dont know the complete truth.

At least not yet.


When it comes to pursuing the deeper truths about a used car an experienced mechanic will inevitably become your greatest ally and advocate. For most consumers finding a knowledgeable mechanic will be the most important step in the used car buying process.

Before we talk about that, I want to be perfectly clear on this point.

A used car is guilty until proven innocent. Do not buy one without taking the car for a professional inspection.

If the seller doesnt agree to let you do so youre done. Period. No exceptions. Ever.

Now mechanics tend to divide into three categories: the shade-tree, the Nazi and the diligent professional.

Shade-tree mechanics are hobbyists on limited budgets. Due to the lack of equipment (or experience), they may not be familiar with the unique wear issues and maintenance needs for your vehicle. The shade-tree mechanic will look at the cars basics, take it for a short test drive and call it good (or not bad).

The Nazi will attempt to perform every mechanical test known to wrenchkind. Submit the car to a standard of inspection that is rooted in la-la land. Then make you financially fearful of buying anything other than (cough! cough!) one of their vehicles.

Obviously the Nazi is a non-starter.

Often times these party members will work for dealerships (but not always), and are therefore pre-occupied with meeting their service departments monthly quota of service hours and revenue.

Unless your next car has a prancing horse or bull at the front of it, youre usually far better off with a diligent mechanic.

The diligent mechanic will work through a standard check list and then take the car for a test drive in a variety of operating conditions.

Diligent mechanics are experienced independent professionals with established roots in your community. To find one, I strongly recommend visiting the Mechan-X files at Cartalk.com.

I also cant over-emphasize the importance of personal recommendations; especially from people who own the same model of car youre considering buying. Many small to medium-sized repair shops will post testimonials on their ego wall.

Read them carefully.

Before the inspection takes place, write the list of the concerns you created during the test drive. When you deliver the car for inspection, go over them with the mechanic one-by-one. Make sure you both have a clear understanding of all your potential concerns.

This will provide a base line for the inspection to follow.

Some mechanics inspect used cars for a set fee. Others charge an hourly rate. In both cases, the post-list discussion should conclude with a confirmation of the probable inspection cost. Leave some leeway; you dont want the mechanic to stop their investigations for the sake of a few bucks. (Leave your contact number for this possibility.)

The best way to build a healthy relationship with any mechanic is to simply try not to be one of those customers.

Just let them get on with their job. Dont stare at the mechanic while theyre doing the inspection. In fact its best to leave the premises entirely. And dont phone your mechanic two hours later and ask for a status report; wait for their call.

Once the inspection is completed, sit down for a one-on-one debrief with the mechanic who made the inspection (even if you have to come back on another day). I always prefer to speak with the actual mechanic or at least have them in attendance with the service advisor.

Let the mechanic speak without interruption. Some diligent mechanics will go on for quite some time; some will simply say heres my report. Either way review the information and let him explain every issue and potential issue to you.

After theyre finished, dont be afraid to say I dont have a clue what youre talking about or Is this a sign of normal wear or abuse?

Make your own list of trouble spots from this conversation. Note down the potential cost to repair and whether or not the issue is urgent or eventual.

Once youre finished the play-by-play, ask a few general questions. I always ask Did the owner do a good job maintaining this vehicle? and Did the owner use good parts or cheap parts? Either of these inquiries usually invites a deeper insight with the mechanic.

If the used car has survived the inspection process without revealing any critical issues to your diligent mechanic, its time for the final negotiation with the owner.

http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/201...he-inspection/