By on January 18, 2010

Sweat the details (

Michael writes:

Sajeev, you always hear the advice to have a used car inspected before purchase by a reputable mechanic. But how do you implement that advice at your typical car lot? Dealer or independent, I can’t imagine they are excited about having someone drive off for several hours.

How does the B&B make this work? Leave your existing ride? Partially fill out a purchase contract? Leave your kids the showroom? Ideas, please, on how I phrase this “request” and what is reasonable to guarantee my return with their vehicle.

Sajeev replies:

There are several ways to skin this cat, but one phrase clears through the crap, “I’ll buy this car for such-and-such price after my mechanic looks at it.”

If the dealership wants a sale, that conditional statement is a non-issue. Personally, I’ve mentioned third party inspections as possible objections at many used car dealerships. And they’ve never cared. (Probably because they want my money.) And if they don’t budge, go Audi 5000 on their asses.

Remember, the customer is always right.

Then again, there are mobile car inspection services in many large cities. So if a dealership loves their iron more than the lure of cold, hard cash, get the mechanic on wheels and save yourself the drama.

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22 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Threat Of Going Audi 5000...”

  • avatar

    Some great advice… All I can add is that if the dealer says something like
    “You don’t need a mechanic to look at the car… ’cause the Car Fax is clean…”

    RUN away from that dealer and that car.

    • 0 avatar

      Not necessarily, if you like the car on their lot. Salesfolk are trained to make customers feel good by making the person with the wallet comfortable with them. And their sales pitch. 

      Tell the sales person that they are not doing their job because you are not addressing their concerns: that’s an instant wake up call and can get you what you need.

      If not, Audi 5000. Still.

  • avatar

    Recently I was looking at a used GS350 that a local Toyota dealer had.  After making a photo copy of my license and current insurance card they tossed me the keys for an afternoon joyride.  Plenty of time to stop in to my trusted mechanic for a once over.  Granted, they probably treat people differently based on what their perceived income is, aka, the car they are interested in.  For example, I never got day long solo test drives when I was looking at beater cars while in college, but when looking at a used car worth over $30k they treat you pretty nice.

  • avatar

    Good points, and something I’ve often wondered about.  I’ve only bought 4 cars in the 16 years since acquiring my license, two of them being from my father so those don’t really count.  I’ve always bought used and I’ve been lucky but I now have the advantage of having a dealer that I’m well acquainted with (I was his son’s teacher and my girlfriends family has bought EVERY vehicle they’ve owned in the last 20 years there) and an independent mechanic who does high quality work for a reasonable price for many citizens who can least afford high repair bills.  I’m pretty damn sure I’ll be able to take any of his used cars out for an inspection and I know exactly where to take them.
    BTW CamaroKid’s advice is spot on, and when you move to a new city, figure out who your smartest most car knowledgeable colleagues are and find out: Which dealers have the best reputations?  Which mechanics do they trust?

    • 0 avatar

      SO if they don’t agree to your private inspection, you suddenly accelerate on them?

      just kidding of course, but I figured someone would say it. And being the proud owner of a 1998 A8 – which is still better than most cars I drive – I can give them a little dig ;-)

  • avatar

    Make the sale contingent on a satisfactory inspection — in my experience as long as you can get the car into be inspected within a day or two, thats more than a reasonable request.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Make it clear to the seller or dealer that no off-site independent inspection means no sale. If necessary, offer a private seller a refundable deposit and obtain a receipt.

    I have had no difficulty taking a potential used car purchase for an independent mechanical inspection. In my experience dealers readily permit it. Sometimes the dealer will deliver the car to the inspection agency and pick it up on completion.

    If you personally deliver the car to the mechanic commence the evaluation by starting the vehicle from cold. Listen for unusual engine and transmission noises, which warm mechanicals mask. Drive the car long enough to register any diagnostic trouble codes, 20 to 30-minutes. Ask the mechanic to check known trouble issues for that make and model. Used car reviews do a good job of identifying them. Instruct him to confirm at least one hidden VIN, scan for fault codes, look for frame straightener clamp marks, check fender, door and trunk lid fasteners for signs they have moved from their factory positions, examine door, hood and trunk alignments, check the trunk floor for welding marks and body filler, look for paint overspray and bodywork, check for excessive mechanical wear and tear, deferred maintenance and abuse, and road test the car. Reject it if the mechanic’s report contradicts the seller’s statements.

    Usual cost is $50 to $150, and it’s money well spent.

  • avatar

    The more expensive the car, the easier it is to pull this off.  If you are shopping for a sub $5K car…especially from a private owner, you will find people less willing.
    I’ve been around cars enough I know most of the trouble spots to look for.  If you don’t, get someone with experience to go with you…not your Uncle Harry who “knows” cars.  Ask that the car not be warmed up.  You want to start it cold.
    Bring along a flashlight, magnet, paint finish depth gauge (if you can get one) and a code reader (they are cheap nowadays…Costco sells one for $30.  Have the proper adapter for the car you are looking at.)  Some things to look for.
    1.  Repainted panels.  You can often see this by comparing panels but a magnet and better yet, a finish depth gauge works better. Look for overspray. Body crease lines that aren’t sharp.
    2.  Bent panels.  Marks from frame straighteners. Symmetry in panels and joints from one side of car to other. Gapping joints…weld marks…filler.
    3.  General dirtiness and lack of tidiness.  Though dealers are usually smart enough to clean a car good, private owner will often not.  If the interior looks like the guy eats half his meals in it and throws the wrappers in the back seat, it is not a good sign for how well he cares for the engine.
    4.  Tires.  Weird wear patterns suggest alignment issues.  On a sub $2000 car tires are a major investment and should be considered a plus or minus depending on their shape.
    5.  Pull the dipstick and oil cap and shine the light down in both.  The oil might be freshly changed, but there are often tell tale signs of one that hasn’t go regular changes…ie., sludge and black stains.
    6.  Drive over rough and smooth surfaces.  Listen for rattles and clunks.  If you can’t do suspension work yourself it can be expensive.
    7.  Pop off the wheels and inspect the brakes.  Are the rotors badly scored?
    8.  Does the A/C blow cold air?  Does the heater work?
    There are some other things too…but if the list is already looking a bit long and complicated get someone with experience to go with you.

  • avatar

    “go Audi 5000” …
    The linked definition site mentions “Audi 5000 is associated with leaving quickly.”  That’s pretty funny.
    The automatic-transmission cars that had the user error were somewhere around 3800 pounds and had a 2.2L engine featuring 160 HP and turbo lag or plain 110 HP.  The transmission was a 3-speed with fairly high first.  Is there any car currently sold in the USA right now that accelerates as slowly as those Audis?  On the flip side, my stick-shift 5000cs delivered about 32/26 MPG on regular fuel–pretty impressive for a “large” car from the eighties.

    • 0 avatar

      Assuming the numbers posted at and are correct, the 5000 Turbo went from 0 to 60 in approximately 8.5 to 9.5 seconds; the normally aspirated version took approximately 11.5 seconds. Those numbers were fairly impressive for sedans of the day; at the very least, they could be described as competitive.

      Among today’s sedans, it’s mostly inexpensive subcompacts that take over 10 seconds to accelerate to 60, a notable exception being hybrids. The Turbo’s 0 to 60 time is pretty close to being matched by today’s four-cylinder, automatic transmission-equipped Malibu, Fusion, Camry, Accord or Altima (and many others), making the Turbo’s performance level “average” for a typical sedan of today.

  • avatar

    Good points all.

    Our dealership permits mechanical inspections, but we don’t count on that sale until the customer returns with a “pass” from his/her mechanic, because the mechanic typically nitpicks the car (and the deal) to death.

    Of course dealers aren’t willing to let the car go. Duh. But what choice does a dealer have? If we want at least a chance to sell the car, or negotiate on recommended additional repairs or maintenance items as part of the deal, (timing belt, for instance) we may as well allow the inspection. Hey, if nothing else, the car will get a good ride and a free mechanical inspection.  Our dealership does offer  a 30-day mechanical guarantee regardless of mechanic’s inspection, just in case something does go wrong.

    Yes, take it to the mechanic. Then take what he says and make your deal. DO NOT talk price with the dealer until the inspection is done, you may get some nuggets tossed your way by your mechanic that you can use in your price negotiations, plus the dealer will probably not discuss price before the proposed inspection is performed anyway, just because of that reason. I wouldn’t. I also hope you have a fair eye and can somewhat pick out a winner, because $50-$150 a pop per inspection, plus time invested on your part can get costly. So better pick a decent car to start with…

    Good Luck!

  • avatar

    No dealer has ever objected to my taking a used car to my mechanic for an inspection. In two cases, the salesman wanted to go with me.

  • avatar

    Our automobile association uses mostly mobile inspectors.  I’ve had no problem arranging for them to inspect the prospective used cars at dealerships.
    As has been said, this is money very well spent.  And you just make the agreed price subject to your satisfaction with the inspection results.  Unless you’re at the level of a professional car mechanic, it would be foolish not to do this once you’ve narrowed your choice down to 1-2 cars.

  • avatar

    Sorry guys, I have been, and will continue to be insulted when I’m selling my late model, highly optioned,  low mileage,   still under factory warranty car for under “book” (which means wholesale book), and someone says  “I need an inspection before I buy”.
    Go buy somebody else’s ride and don’t bother me if your that insecure about buying used.

    • 0 avatar

      How do I know you haven’t ignored the fluid changes,  have a car that’s been rebuilt after a major accident, had a mechanic do shotty work after breaking something, or the life of wear items like brake pads?

      Buyer beware.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve only bought used a couple of times (yeah, yeah, I know) but as a buyer I’m even more insulted that you would think me stupid enough to hand over a five-figure amount to a complete stranger, without the benefit of knowing what I’m buying.

    • 0 avatar

      @BuzzDog: I second that motion.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s fine. I have walked away from every car that the seller (private or dealer) would not let me get inspected. I live in the south. Flood cars still rear their heads once in awhile.

  • avatar

    I would love to know where you guys find these mechanics who can inspect a car at the drop of a hat?  Any shop around here has at least a 2-3 day waiting period for just about ANY routine work and I don’t see them as being able to fit in another one-hour-plus inspection job without an appointment.  Everyone is just booked solid.

    • 0 avatar

      You make a good point.  But I think you can schedule a mechanic a couple of days out.  They should be able to make time for you, especially if you are looking to buy a used Audi, as they can reasonably expect a $5,000 a year annuity from you for as long as you are solvent.
      – from the guy who bought his wife an A6 off-lease, but not CPO…

  • avatar

    You obviously call your mechanic beforehand to organize the meet before you take the keys from the dealer.  Did we really need to get THAT granular?

    And if you don’t have a mechanic that you’re on a first name basis with, then you schedule the mobile-mechanics to do the testing for you.

  • avatar

    The Hertz Rent to Buy program allows prospective purchasers to lease the car for up to three days.  During this time, one can have it inspected by a mechanic.   There does not appear to be a limit on the number of inspections, or the location of the mechanic, as long as the car it turned back in or purchased at the end of three days.  Hertz charges $50 per day, waived if the car is purchased.  A two hour test drive is available free of charge.
    The obvious disadvantage is that one is limited to Hertz’s selection of used cars.  That virtually rules out a stick shift.   I wonder if used car dealers will adopt a similar program.  It could be a good secondary source of revenue and customer goodwill.

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