Car Buying

Buying a Used Car: What If the Seller Won't Let You Get a Mechanical Inspection?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro April 2015

If you're thinking about buying a used car, we generally recommend getting a full mechanical inspection from a trusted mechanic before signing the paperwork. After all, when a car has miles on the odometer, it's hard to know what issues might be lurking under the skin. But what if the seller won't let you get a mechanical inspection? If you find yourself in this situation, we have some suggestions about what to do.

Why Not?

One important thing to think about when you're dealing with a seller who won't let you get a mechanical inspection: What reason does the seller have for denying an inspection?

In some cases, the seller may not want someone to drive the vehicle off their property alone, which isn't an unreasonable viewpoint. In other cases, the seller may not want unknown mechanics looking inside the vehicle and potentially causing damage. Or a seller might be actively trying to hide a defect that a mechanical inspection would uncover.

Be Flexible

In the case of a seller who doesn't want to allow a potential buyer to drive away in the vehicle, or if the seller doesn't want an unknown mechanic working on the car, you must be flexible. Offer to allow the seller to come with you to the mechanic's shop, eliminating any possibility that you might steal the car. Or let the seller meet the mechanic so that they become comfortable and consider them trustworthy.

If that doesn't work, consider bringing the car to the seller's mechanic. This could represent a conflict of interest, so you'll have to use your judgment to decide whether the seller's mechanic will give the car a fair inspection. But it could also help the seller feel more comfortable about allowing an inspection.

Here's another idea: Some searching online should reveal companies in your area that offer mobile pre-purchase inspections. This will save you from the hassle of bringing the car to a mechanic at all, because the inspection can be done right at the seller's home.

Be Skeptical

If a seller denies you the opportunity to mechanically inspect a vehicle, the above reasons may indeed be valid ones. But you also have to be skeptical. A seller who refuses all possible mechanical inspections may be hiding a defect that will only reveal itself in a thorough mechanical inspection, such as a leaking engine or a severely worn clutch.

If the seller refuses our suggestions for bringing the car to their own mechanic or having a mobile mechanic come to their home, it's likely that the seller has no interest in getting the car inspected at all. Although this doesn't necessarily mean that the car has defects, it should immediately indicate a red flag for anyone interested in buying a used car.

If this is the case, you'll have to use your judgment on whether you should take the gamble and buy the car anyway or walk away. Sadly, we'd probably walk away, with the knowledge that there will likely be similar car available nearby sometime soon.

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.
Buying a Used Car: What If the Seller Won't Let You Get a Mechanical Inspection? - Autotrader