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How Do You Get a Pre-Purchase Inspection Before Buying a Used Car?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro October 2016

Hello, readers of Oversteer, and welcome to this week's installment of Ask Doug, where you all ask Doug a question, and then Doug attempts to provide a witty, partially correct response while commenters tell you the real answer.

If you'd like to participate in Ask Doug, you can! Just send me an email at OversteerDoug@gmail.com, or write me a question on my Facebook page. Although I can't promise I'll answer your question on the internet, I can promise I will read it and possibly call you a buffoon under my breath.

This week's question comes to us from a reader I've named Sammy, who didn't give his location. I've decided it's Wisconsin. Sammy writes:

Hey Doug (and Marvin):

I've noticed that in many of your stories of purchasing vehicles, you've mentioned having inspections done pre-purchase of vehicles that have been located a distance away. How do you find someone to do those inspections? Can any of those random companies I find when I search "vehicle pre-purchase inspection" with websites filled with stock pictures of cars be trusted?

Sammy from Wisconsin

Sammy, you've asked an excellent question, and it gives me a chance to cover one of the most interesting parts of buying a car, especially one that's located far away. But, before I do, I'd like to draw everyone's attention to the fact that Sammy didn't just address this email to me but also to Marvin, my stuffed anteater. This shows that Sammy is a true fan, although I must announce, in the interests of full disclosure, that Marvin cannot personally respond, because he's a stuffed anteater.

Anyway, onto the question.

If you've never purchased a car from a faraway seller before, you might wonder how you go about setting up a pre-purchase inspection. It's very difficult. In fact, I consider this to be the single most difficult part of purchasing a used car out of state, unless of course, you buy it from one of those sellers who named the vehicle and wants a picture of your garage to make sure it's "going to a good home."

Here's how it usually works, Sammy. First, you call the seller and determine you really like the car in question. Fine. That part's easy. I really like most cars in question, unless they're the original Audi Allroad.

Next, you assess the seller's location and the car's proximity to a mechanic you trust or one who's recommended to you by a local owner of a similar car. For example, if you're buying a Ferrari in Utah and you live in California, go on the Ferrari forums and ask for a mechanic recommendation in Utah. If you're buying an original Audi Allroad in Connecticut and you live in Virginia, go on the Audi Allroad forums and ask for a mechanic recommendation in all the major cities between Connecticut and Virginia. You get the idea.

Next, you begin a game of telephone that doesn't end until your brain becomes so worn out it develops the same consistency as a throw pillow.

Here's what you do: You call the seller and announce you want the car inspected. Then, you call the mechanic and announce you have a car you need inspected. Next, you must attempt to coordinate the schedules of these two entities: a seller, who doesn't want to be bothered to take the car to a mechanic, and a mechanic, who would rather work on cars and make money than talk to some idiot on the phone, located 2,000 miles away, who will never again provide him with repeat business. If you're lucky, they'll talk to each other and figure out a time they can both get together. You're rarely lucky.

Next, you have to convince the seller to actually bring the car to the mechanic. I once tried to buy a Ferrari in Tucson, Arizona, and I got the first part taken care of. The mechanic and the seller set a time, and after 37 back-and-forth phone calls and I thought the whole thing was done, the seller refused to actually transport the car 4 miles to the mechanic's facility. I'm serious. This actually happened. He told me: You want the inspection, you transport the car. Meanwhile, I was sitting in my living room in Atlanta, wondering if I would actually have to fly across the country to drive a car 4 miles.

Hopefully, by some amazing, incredible, insane stroke of luck, you can actually persuade the seller and mechanic to agree on a date and convince the seller to bring the car to the mechanic for an inspection. Finally, you have the mechanic call you when the inspection is over and give you the results. You pay with a credit card over the phone.

Interestingly, even if you do all this legwork, you'll sometimes find that the inspection didn't catch everything. I once had a Porsche 911 Turbo inspected by a well-respected dealership in Florida, which gave it a relatively clean bill of health. I flew down to Florida, bought the car and discovered it needed a new clutch for $5,000. With that said, I've also had the opposite experience. Greenwood Hummer in Youngstown, Ohio, inspected my Hummer before I bought it and easily found all the trouble spots, so I knew exactly what to expect.

However, this is all a lot of work. Here's what I usually do, Sammy. I don't bother with a pre-purchase inspection. I didn't get one on my Viper, I didn't get one on my S-Cargo, I didn't get one on my Skyline and I didn't get one on my Ferrari. Instead, I have a different tactic now: I only buy cars from people I trust. I usually ask the seller an enormous amount of questions to really figure out why the car's being sold, what issues have come up during ownership and how it's been maintained. Ask the right questions, and you'll start to feel better about the whole thing, and my Viper, Ferrari, Skyline and S-Cargo didn't have any unseen issues.

I wish I'd used this strategy with the guy selling that Ferrari in Tucson. Instead of going with my gut (the kind of guy who won't drive his car 4 miles isn't the kind of guy you should buy a car from), I paid for the pre-purchase inspection. The car needed $12,000 in immediate repair work. I passed on the car, and then, the seller had to do the unthinkable: drive it 4 miles back home.

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RELATED INVENTORY
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Used 2015 Audi allroad Premium
Used 2015 Audi allroad
$22,450
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
How Do You Get a Pre-Purchase Inspection Before Buying a Used Car? - Autotrader