By on August 17, 2012

[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 don’t 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.

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

If the seller doesn’t agree to let you do so you’re 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 car’s 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 department’s monthly quota of service hours and revenue.

Unless your next car has a prancing horse or bull at the front of it, you’re 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

I also can’t over-emphasize the importance of personal recommendations; especially from people who own the same model of car you’re 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 don’t 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. Don’t stare at the mechanic while they’re doing the inspection. In fact it’s best to leave the premises entirely. And don’t 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 “here’s my report.” Either way review the information and let him explain every issue and potential issue to you.

After they’re finished, don’t be afraid to say “I don’t have a clue what you’re 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 you’re 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, it’s time for the final negotiation with the owner.


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55 Comments on “How to Buy a Used Car – Pt. 3: Due Diligence (The Inspection)...”

  • avatar

    Just watch some episodes of Wheeler Dealers on Velocity channel to find out what you can get yourself into. Or Fast & Loud if you can ignore the loudmouth on it.

    • 0 avatar

      Love that show. Wondering when the History Channel will savage the idea to have ‘American Wheeler Dealers’.

    • 0 avatar

      I love that show.

      “This Saab 9-3 Convertible loses a little power at the top end sometimes, but it’s probably nothing.”

      As it turns out, the turbo was about to explode.

      Or the Triumph Spitfire that took leaded fuel but the previous owner had been putting unleaded in it, which destroyed the valve seats.

      It seems like every time they’re playing that show, they’re playing 8 episodes in a row. I’ll be channel surfing, turn it on, and 3 hours of my day will be gone.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      True, but consider the vehicles that Mike and Edd buy on that show. The Bentley that needed a full dismantle and respray? The VW that was only useful because it got turned into a dune buggy? The Morgan that had to have its entire wooden chassis replaced? There were a few easy ones, like the Jaguar that needed a new throttle-position sensor and the AC Cobra replica that had to be modified to meet emissions-regulations, but most of the Wheeler Dealers cars are complete basket cases, and no buyer with half a brain would ever go near them without expecting tons of expensive labor to get them right again.

  • avatar

    Another great article with excellent advice — thanks!

    I’ve owned about a dozen used cars over the past 15 years and every one got a PPI before I bought it. Each one was a great reliable car.

    Second to a PPI, is service record history. A PPI is a snapshot of the car’s current condition; a documented service history is like watching the car’s life story. I would not buy a used car without one.

    Lastly, all my used cars came from previous owners, not dealers (no offense Steve). I buy the owner as much as I buy the car. Do they look like (and live like) they took good care of their car? If someone’s home is a wreck, their car may be as well.

    I’ve walked away from many “good deals” because they did not pass all three of the above tests. I have yet to get burned (well, except for that Subaru Outback that sucked a valve).

    • 0 avatar

      Very good point twotone about buying the owner. I agree 100%.

      This is a very timely article for me, thanks Steve. I have been shopping used cars for 3 months to replace my 2002 Buick I sold in May. Just today I looked at a 2005 Caddy DTS, 63,000 miles, original owner(woman), not a puff but in above average shape, and it drove out well. She is asking $10,200 which I thought was a very fair if not low price and she indicated she had some room. She agreed to let my mechanic look at it and I called him and made an appointment to bring it in Monday morning.

      BTW, while I was at her house, I asked if she had all of her service records and she said yes. After the test drive and some small talk I asked her if I could see the service records. She went in the house for 5 minutes came out and said she couldn’t find them.

      I left and went home expecting to see her Monday morning for the mechanics appointment. A few hours later I get a call from her saying she had a “funny feeling” about letting a “strange mechanic” poke around at her car and didn’t want to bring it to my mechanic, but I could take it to her mechanic…….I said thanks, I’ll keep looking.

    • 0 avatar
      Rick Caser

      Yea you know how you can tell a car is about to quite? You can’t. One minute it’s fine and the next minute it’s not. To spite what the moron who wrote this would have you believe mechanics arn’t fortune tellers. And PPIs are a wast of time and money. It’s like the one owner myth. What one owner? Charlie Manson? and what three owners? Two nuns, and a school teacher?

    • 0 avatar
      Rick Caser

      It was a lousy article with no helpful advice but lucky for the author there are people like you who no nothing about cars and will believe any kind of garbage he writes.

  • avatar

    Is an inspection as necessary for a late model CPO vehicle. Or would you walk from that as well, if you were not able to have it inspected?

    • 0 avatar
      Nicholas Weaver

      Having bought my S2000 as such, I didn’t bother with an independent inspection: because of the warranty.

      Since I did spring the extra for both CPO (vs private party) and the extended warranty, it meant I had an only slightly-worse-than-new bumper to bumper warranty (20K+ miles remaining, 2 years), and almost hyundai level powertrain warranty (60K+ miles remaining, 5 years).

      Basically, any costs that the inspection would have picked up would be covered anyway, so why bother?

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t speak for all makes or dealers, but at the Mercedes dealer I work at the car that get’s CPOed is very thoroughly inspected end any issues repaired. The guidelines for an MB CPO are very strict and you are getting very close to a new car when you buy one. All of us techs also make very good money on these cars so you can be sure we won’t miss anything. One CPO inspection usually can turn a bad week into a good week. I would imagine that the CPO programs of most manufacturers are similar, especially the luxury lines. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t dealers that cheat this though.

      • 0 avatar
        Nicholas Weaver

        Since the manufacturer ends up being on the hook for a bad inspection since they also have a nearly new car level of warranty, any dealer which does too many bad CPO inspections would quickly find itself in deep trouble with the mothership.

  • avatar
    Polar Bear

    A good condition used car of a popular model will often sell the first day it is advertised – when the price is right. Which can mean there is no time to arrange an inspection. Then what? Should I let someone else have it or trust my amateur nose for cars and buy it on the spot?

    • 0 avatar

      That’s a tough one. Do you feel lucky? I bought a used Civic this way – it was priced low (for several reasons as I found out later) but there was a line of people behind me with cash in hand waiting for it.

      The car turned out to need the 100K mile service (almost $1K), had a bad clutch (that was only apparent with vehicle cold), drank oil (not easy to tell even with an inspection), and had a few other issues that didn’t show up until later.

      And I know better . . . it worked out OK, as even with all of its problems, it gave me five years of reliable service (added a quart of oil every other tank of gas; I kept a full bottle next to the battery) before the engine died due to apparent carbon buildup on the intake valves. I have a low-mile engine and transaxle sitting on the garage floor waiting to be installed.

    • 0 avatar

      That is a tough one and an excellent point Polar Bear. I have lost two cars recently because I didn’t move fast enough on them. And I have looked at three others that my “gut” didn’t feel right about without a mechanics inspection……..TBS, I do think sometimes you have to go with your gut instinct on a used car buy after your own thorough inspection and thorough test drive.

      Also, a mechanics inspection is far from infallible.

  • avatar

    I can’t imagine the average guy would have access to the kind(s) of mechanics mentioned in the article. I think we would all kill to have the third guy described live down the street or in your own home town. Except for this community I also can’t imagine that even 10% of people would bother to go through the kind of steps Steven is describing. Car buying, new or used, is just beyond the grasp of consumers who don’t have the wherewithall to deal one on one with a guy that sells cars for a living.

    Why then do you imagine so many people trade in their vehicles rather than go through the hassle of trying to deal with a professional? And that’s just for new cars. Now used cars are even harder and I believe that is the point Steven is addressing. This is a totally different animal and here, unless you go through all the steps Steven mentions, most consumers should be prepared to take it in the shorts. My point is that despite all the education we get here, we are a relatively fanatical group that tends to pay attention, most others don’t.

  • avatar

    The key here is finding the “diligent mechanic.” I’ve started helping my neighbors work on their own cars because they were being taken so badly by several different shops (including dealers) in my area.

    One major American brand tire store that also works on cars told my neighbor that he needed $1200 worth of new hoses & a radiator, and his problem was that the radiator cap (GM car, it’s on the plastic reservoir) was loose.

    Again, find your diligent mechanic and establish a good relationship with him/her now. Then when you need an inspection later, you will know that you are getting trustworthy information.

  • avatar

    I’m in the process of selling a car and would be extremely hesitant to let some random person from Craigslist take it to a mechanic before buying it. In a perfect world, taking it to a mechanic first is the way to go. If you’re spending >$20,000 on a used car, definitely try to get a mechanic involved, but most used car transactions are in the <$10,000 range.

    • 0 avatar
      Polar Bear

      The irony with that is that the under 10k car is usually more in need of an inspection than the 20k+ car.

      Actually a newish 1-7 year old car of a good brand such as Toyota, having been used privately and with the correct fluid changes, usually has nothing major wrong with it. The main risk is fraud; hidden collision damage poorly repaired, floood cars, worn out police or taxi cars repainted and with a rolled back milage, cut and shut jobs, and so on.

    • 0 avatar

      Are you concerned about the random guy from Craigslist, or his mechanic? If it’s the former, offer to drive it to the mechanic yourself. If it’s the latter, drive it to the mechanic yourself and stay and watch.

    • 0 avatar

      I sold a car through craigslist once and did let the buyer take it to his mechanic, without me present. I took a copy of his license and his current car was left at my place while he had my car out for inspection.

      These are basic precautions that may or may not do any good. You have to get a feel for the potential buyer. In this case, the potential buyer struck me as normal and sane. He was and everything went smoothly.

      I’ve been on the buying end of this with private sellers as well. It was actually an out-of-state purchase where the owner took the car to the mechanic, and I talked to the mechanic over the phone. Not ideal that I couldn’t talk to the mechanic in person, but it was a well known specialist shop that is probably not going to risk their reputation to collude with some guy selling their car for less than $10k. Again, the seller was cooperative and all parties were working toward a fair deal. Everything worked out.

      You’ll get a bad feeling from people you don’t want driving off in your car before money changes hands. If it doesn’t feel right, say no and wait for another buyer.

      To be fair, both transactions were about four years ago. Craigslist seems to get shadier by the day. I don’t look forward to the day when I have to revisit this process.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. The last car I sold, and old Grand Cherokee, was listed at $1600. Mechanical issues disclosed in the ad. I refused two requests for inspections. I didn’t know these people and wanted the Jeep gone, not spending hours at some hole in the wall shop.

      Sold the old tank with no issue in about 3 hours.

      Something else to consider: If a vehicle is someone’s only transportation (they need to sell it to buy their next car) they probably won’t be crazy about letting it be inspected for an undetermined length of time.

      • 0 avatar

        I enjoy Steve’s stories as my family is involved with the used/auctions/rebuilt vehicle processes but yeah that’s the biggest disservice an article like this does… so now every craigslist knucklehead wants a PPI and UOA history on that $2200 nine year old Cobalt.

        No thanks, next customer please.

        I guess it gives some folks confidence and there’s probably a time and a place …. maybe sight unseen enthusiast car in another market before flying out to see it?…..but having used it once on a Porsche there was nothing particularly earth-shattering found. And it still didn’t detect the RMS that started leaking 9000 miles later, no biggie though.

        Plus the vehicles that are priced right get snatched up before the PPI guy even finishes dialing. If some level of the potential risk is factored into the price (and it ALWAYS should be) it’s hard to go wrong.

  • avatar

    In an ideal world you’d have 1. The personal connections to diligent mechanic as described above; 2. The extra money to pay him to do a 50 point inspection + a thorough road test (on multiple vehicles, if necessary); 3. The free time to take the car (or cars) to him, leave it for a day or more, and then go back to him for a mission debrief later; 4. A seller willing to let you and your mechanic run around and put extra miles on his car for hours or even days at a time. Not gonna happen.

    In the real world, you need to Google the make and model and year of the vehicle you are wanting to buy to find out about any recalls or “lemon” problems. Once you find out what the issue(s) is (and every model ever built has some idiosyncracy that eventually shows up) you need to learn what the signs are for that particular problem so that you can spot it yourself during your test drive and inspection of the car. Get the vehicle history report. Learn to recognize for yourself what basic issues that can affect any poorly maintained vehicle, such as bad tires, pre- rust issues, transmission slips, worn belts and hoses, etc., look, sound, and smell like. Even if you have a good mechanic that you trust completely, you should still learn to recognize and diagnose basic automotive maladies for yourself.

    • 0 avatar

      If you can smell anything other than a vague oily odor, and the seller can’t explain it, walk.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I could go for this. If you can find out what the service recommendations are for a vehicle and the buyer can prove that he/she had them performed on time, that mostly leaves accident damage as a disqualifier. And accident damage is a lot easier for the average person to spot than engine bay components that should have been replaced but weren’t.

  • avatar

    There are some assumptions about a local used car market built into this guide. In some smaller urban centres, popular car models in good condition typically sell very quickly. Two cars I wanted to go look at — a 2002 Protege ES 2.0 and a 2000 Accord Coupe Ex 4cyl both sold within 72 hours of being listed online. The <$7000 car market in particular is hard because there appears to be insufficient supply of economical, low mileage vehicles, especially in manual.

    There is no reasonable way to go through the steps outlined unless there is insufficient interest from other less prudent buyers, though perhaps this could be helped by looking at less desirable or obscure car models.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Right. If you’re looking at a popular appliance car like an Accord that’s in good condition, you’re going to be competing against people who will jump the gun and buy it with no inspections/service history whatsoever, and the owner will probably want to sell it to those people because they bring minimal fuss to the process. If it’s something that is less-sought-after, you have a better chance of being able to borrow it for an independent inspection. If it’s being sold by a knowledgable enthusiast, you’re likely to be presented with sufficient maintenance information in the first place.

  • avatar
    Polar Bear

    So you take the car to be tested and it comes back with a long standarized report. On an older car everything is B and C. Motor mounts B-. Transmission oil leaks B+. What is that supposed to mean? Do I need to repair it or not? Is this car a good buy or not? Often I found mechanics are reluctant to give clear advice, probably for fear of getting the blame if the buyer is unhappy with the car. Some buyers have unrealistic expectations. They buy a 10 year old car and then they are upset when it needs a new battery six months later. “We had it tested and the battery got a C+!”

  • avatar

    This is very sound advice. You don’t have to take the car to the mechanic, leave it, pick it back up, etc. I had an inspection performed by a mobile PPI service this week on a car I’m thinking about buying for my wife. He set up shop at the seller’s place, put the car up on stands, and spent about two hours going through the car and taking it for a test drive. His report explained whether each of the ~50 components are “Normal”, “Monitor”, or “Service Now”, using a baseline of other cars of similar make/mileage. It cost me $190. We discussed his report and findings for about an hour. Made me feel confident in my purchase and I consider it money well spent.

  • avatar

    I love buying and selling used cars online. I’ve done at least 10 transactions before the age of 25.

    – With more life responsibilities, it’s getting harder to justify the time spent researching and finding quality used cars, especially these days with the crazy prices. We were long in the market for a slightly used car, only to find out months later (but before we bought a used one) that a new one costs only 10% more.

    – When selling, I always look for the ad with a comparable car (quality, mileage, etc.) and lower my price 3%-5% against them. I always sell within days if not hours. My record best was 15 minutes after posting on Craigslist with a 93 Subaru Legacy.

    – Living in an urban area, it’s always amusing when recent immigrants call up and utilize third-world rules for bargaining. They would literally offer me 10% of my asking price for something insanely popular, like a fully-functioning and mint-condition Camry (of course, having spent significant amount of time in the third world as well, I know I’m expected to counter at 95% of the asking price and worth from there). Although having lots of these people call and email even before they’ve seen the car gets frustrating. Then predictably some of these same people would call weeks after I’ve long sold the car to someone else and ask to buy the car at full price.

    – Just like buying a new car – don’t bring a whole family with you. In my case, having a 16-year-old jumping up and down in joy over my Accord and blurting out phrases like “I’ll do anything for this car!”, sort of kills any leverage daddy has over negotiations when he asks me “can you do any better on the price?”

  • avatar

    When i sold an old F-150 the buyer was a contractor and the inspection was done at a small, busy shop in a bad part of town that specialized in light and medium truck fleets. These are shops only known by word-of-mouth. “Don’t stare at the mechanic while they’re doing the inspection. In fact it’s best to leave the premises entirely.” is not how he preferred to do the inspection. He wanted to show the customer each item as he went along. That way, the findings were understood immediately.

    I had informed the buyer and then his mechanic about an intermittent transmission problem that my transmission shop couldn’t diagnose. This inspection found it, a $300 non deal breaker.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Am I the only one who checks to see if all four tires are the same brand? To me, if they’re cheap on tires what else are they cheap on.

    • 0 avatar

      No, I check that too- it’s not too bad if the front tyres are different to the rear but match side to side. If you get three of one type and one of another you can get a few nasty surprises when you are at the extremes, like emergency braking. Learned from experience….

    • 0 avatar

      I always check the tires for age, and whether the wear on the tires matches with the age. Sometimes a blowout means one replacement. And yes, if the tires are cheap or inappropriate for the car the owner may well be a tightwad. It is not at all uncommon to find a car with sporting aspirations to be shod with basic tires to pinch pennies. Another good sign are shocks/struts. If you are looking at a 100K vehicle and they are orginal, look out. They are either tight or delusional in that they think they’re still ok. How many other parts are “still ok”?….check the date codes on the hoses too and see if they are original. None of these are grounds to not buy, but the price should reflect the lack of care..

      • 0 avatar

        Also, having just completed a round of car buying, and finding multiple “curb jobs” (not curbstoners, these cars were all at legit dealers), look for the following…new front end parts..look at the suspension…is one swingarm bright and shiny and another showing signs of road dirt and salt ?

        New nose clip ? Look for the normal dings and such in the paint-if the front looks brandy new….not so good. Likewise, a full set of fresh wheels on a car with 30k….makes you go hmmmm……

        Oh, and I can’t tell you how many times I saw a BMW with Kumho tires. Clearly a sign of the enthusiast owner.

        • 0 avatar

          Not sure if you’re being sarcastic re the Kumhos. I’ve actually used them on my Miata and found them to be quite comparable to the Pirellis it had previously despite the significantly lower price.

          When they wore out I put Michelins on but I got a good deal on them. Again, some improvement but not a dramatic one, and I was comparing them to worn-out tires.

          Kumho, Hankook, Falken, Nitto, etc come in cheaper than Michelin, Pirelli, Conti, etc but are not necessarily inferior tires, nor would they be inappropriate to an older BMW. I’ve actually found some of the higher-ended brands particularly vulnerable to NYC potholes.

  • avatar

    I can understand though a seller being reluctant to let a prospective customer take it to a service shop and pay for an inspection, even if they’re being completely honest and not hiding anything.

    Often times mechanics for these inspections go into “CYA” mode and basically just say everything is wrong with the car so the customer can’t come back and say “but you said it was a good car!”. They also can just be fishing for business.

    Several times over the years I’ve sold cars myself and have agreed to let them be inspected at their shop because I’m not trying to pull one over on anyone. Nearly every time I’ve regretted it because the technician goes overboard and the buyer wants the car made new. Nevermind it’s a $3,000 car with 180,000 miles on it.

    I can understand a prospective buyer walking when an inspection isn’t granted, but I wouldn’t automatically assume the seller is trying to cheat them. And that’s to say nothing of just the time it takes to take a car to a dealer, wait for them to inspect it, get a report, etc. You could be talking about 3-4 hours.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree for the most part. Professional PPIs are only worthwhile if you have a trusted mechanic to perform them. I sold a terrible used car 25 years ago to a mother and son that took it to their mechanic who told them it was a great car, knowing that he’d be able to put his own kids through college by the time it was sorted. When they wanted their money back, I told them that I didn’t hide anything and had let them take it to their mechanic, which was true. The car had obvious needs. Next they came back and gloated that they had taken me, since I sold them the car for $575 and it was actually worth $1,250. Sure it was, once the leaking waterpump and completely shot front brakes were repaired. That’s why I asked $650 and took $575.

      More recently we were selling our last BMW. One potential customer took it to the BMW dealer. The salesman we bought five cars from through the years tried convincing us to get another BMW while their service department totaled an estimate for about $3,000 for a 90K mile car that made most of its recent trips to have work done. The only thing on their list that wasn’t completely superficial was collapsed rear bump stops. Had they been at all reasonable, the customer would have bought the car and probably had whatever they asked done. Instead, he just tried to use it as a bargaining point. Had he bought the car, which he didn’t, there is no freaking way he’d have paid for the dealer’s christmas wish list anyway.

      • 0 avatar

        I saw a neighbor get this treatment. She had a decent e46 with a few wear issues, but by the time they got done, she was scared off by a $4k repair bill (about $1k at normal prices, and all normal wear items) and into a new car. Smart, well off, but not a car person…I bet this one works very well very often.

  • avatar

    I blindly purchased a 10-year-old last year by looking at four pictures and a clean CarFax report. After doing some due-diligence on the car, I had determined how/why/when it was purchased and know all of this, pieced together a history of the car. I had the car shipped 600 miles to me from the dealer without so much as a test drive, inpsection, or setting foot in the dealer’s facility. I have never been more pleased with my purchase. Moral – buying a car based on not even seeing/touching the car is possible, but due-diligence is ALWAYS required. As they also say, every used car has a story. Getting the story is the hard part.

  • avatar

    Good article.

    One thing that caught my attention was your mention of the dealer experience in the U.S. I would be interested in seeing a future article comparing the car buying experience here and in the UK. Is this a possibility perhaps?

    I wish that one day the auto industry can move to a sort of “Apple” buying experience where you deal directly with the manufacturing. I bet that would easily boost sales for companies with poor dealers.

  • avatar

    I’ve usually bought used cars, and until the last one, made my satisfaction with an independent inspection, by the provincial auto association, a condition of purchase. I broke the rule this time.

    The subject car was at a Ford dealership. The test drive and cosmetic condition were as perfect as could be imagined for a 3-year old car with 60,000miles. I skipped the independent inspection for 8 reasons:

    1. The make and model have an excellent reliability record,
    2. The test drive and cosmetic condition were so good,
    3. Dealerships keep the better trade-ins for resale,
    4. The CarProof was 100% clean and I got a copy of it,
    5. I got a copy of the dealership’s own inspection of the car. If I later found something seriously wrong with it, I could fall back on this, and sue if necessary,
    6. They offered me an extended warranty. Though I didn’t buy it, it suggested to me they were confident the car was basically ok,
    7. The car was out-of-town and a ferry ride away from home,
    8. The auto association won’t inspect hybrids.

    And a couple of months later, the 2009 Escape Hybrid Limited awd, other than a few trifling defects, has been like new:

    – $30 blend door actuator
    – $25 external temp sensor
    – $free rear hatch weatherstripping
    – one line on hatch defrost grid is dead

    But other than rare cases, I agree the independent inspection is mandatory.

  • avatar

    Please do not buy the old VW Rabbit.

  • avatar

    I’ve bought Toyotas off 3-year leases on ebay twice; once a ’99 Avalon XLS in Richmond VA, triple black beauty which would have cost $5k more locally in NY. Took Amtrak one-way, gave it the eyeball review, drove it home and it was my limo of cherce until 2 years ago and 120,000 miles later, when my daughter wrapped it around the trunk of a Crown Vic taxi. Other was an 05 Highlander; flew to Cleveland, drove it home, and its got 160,000 miles now, my son’s daily, and still hauls the boat.
    AND the boat – bought a 20 year old Mastercraft in Atlanta w/ trailer, did a weekender w/ my daughter. Got it home safely, had my mech check it out; he called later said “Come on over – got something to show you”. Jacked up right corner of trailer, and wheel fell off. No lube. OOPS. Glad it was raining that weekend; kept hub cool instead of fiery.

  • avatar

    I work in the “rich persons world” mega yachts. In South Florida the rich drive all sorts of exotics. here in the northeast it’s an SUV every time usually a Lang Cruiser, Grand Cherokee, or a Suburban LTZ.

  • avatar

    always have them check the fuel filter and fuel pump. May indicate lousy maintenance. Last car we looked at, everything but the fuel pump was covered in paperwork. Bought it and had to replace the fuel pump.

  • avatar
    Rick Caser

    Wow another writer parroting bad advice what a shocker.If you took the author plus everyone who has commented hear and gathered up all of there knowledge about cars they collectively might have a tenth of my knowledge on the subject of cars. I started working on cars when I was 14 by the time I was 18 I was able to pass every mechanic cetificatiion test ASE offered I went to work at a dealership and within a few years I became a Service manger a few years later I decided to go into sales and quickly became a used car manager where I spent my days siting my ass in the seat of 8 or ten cars a day driving them around the block testing all the options and deciding the value of each one. Although it wasn’t my money including what I bought at auction I bought about a half a million dollars worth of used cars every month for about ten years. These kind of people wake up to an alarm clock and from that point on the media takes over telling them exactly what to say, what to think and how to act. Without the alarm clock and the media they would just lay still like the steaming piles of sh** that they are. Oh yea I almost forgot to mention all that time I was dealing with and learning about cars I was also dealing with and learning about people and sheeple. I don’t like the sh** for brains followers who walk around parroting everything they hear on TV or read in a magazine and the one who wrote this article is no different. When I was a mechanic we used to laugh at PPIs we were glad to have them because there easy money but there a waste of money and don’t let some media maggots whose collective knowledge about cars couldn’t fill a thimble convince you otherwise. When you trade a car in does the dealer have a mechanic pull you car in and put it on a lift? No, but I guess your smarter than dealers right? Guys who invest million in car every month and turn a profit doing it? Guys who write articles like this know so little about cars, how to buy them, how to sell them drive them or fix them it’s sicking. They are writers that’s all. And if they loose there job telling you all about cars. Next week they’ll have a job at a bridle magazine telling you what type of dress to wear to your commitment ceremony. The only thing worse than the guys who write this trash are the ones who read it and get a little dumber with each article all the while congratulating themselves on what astute “car guys” they think they are.

    • 0 avatar

      Spoken like a used car salesman. Here’s the thing, when a dealer buys a used car, they are making no committment to that vehicle, they are not driving the vehicle, rather the dealer is hoping the car’s new owner will come along shortly.

      When Joe Consumer buys a vehicle, he is stuck with it. He doesn’t have a service department, mechanics on salary, millions in budget or wholesale parts. He is also not in the business of evaluating used cars and doesn’t have the experience of buying 8 or 10 used cars a day like somebody in your position. So that professional advice is a big deal to him.

      As for the bridle magazine, I don’t think anybody here is going to marry a horse but hey, different strokes…

  • avatar
    spreadsheet monkey

    ^^^ “Guys who write articles like this know so little about cars, how to buy them, how to sell them drive them or fix them it’s sicking. They are writers that’s all.”

    Suggest you search the rest of this site for the other articles that Steven Lang has written. He has extensive experience buying and selling cars.

  • avatar

    I’ve owned roughly 14 different cars since 1983. One was new, and I owned that one for only one year. I’m a shade-tree mechanic, and a reasonably good one. This article’s overall advice is really good. The best single piece of advice here is “always assume the car is guilty unless proved otherwise”. I tell everyone this.

    I would like to add also that you should pay a bodyshop repairman to come with you to inspect the car. My current car, that I’ve had ten years, was wrecked and fixed AND THAT DIDN’T SHOW UP ON THE CARFAX I DID BEFORE I BOUGHT IT! Nor could I personally tell it was wrecked and fixed before I bought it. So I buy this “fixer-upper” from a new car dealer.

    I notice something strange after doing a repair under the hood two months later. I take the car to a bodyshop. After putting it on his frame machine, Bodyguy says “it’s 2 millimeters too much off to the right ahead of the front suspension. It won’t be unsafe or wear your tires out prematurely. And, it’s really not worth it to you to have me pull it back into spec”. 164,000 miles later, I can tell you THAT guy was entirely correct. All my tires have worn evenly and straight across. Take a bodyman with you for your next used car purchase. Buy him dinner. It’s worth it.

  • avatar

    There’s another option to the three Steve mentioned. Have an experienced enthusiast check out the car for you.

    We started a service where you can find someone who has experience with the car you are interested in go check it out for you. If their inspection checks out and you still want a full PPI at least you can write up a contract and get the car off the market while you arrange for a full mechanical PPI.

    Check it out at

  • avatar

    I want to see an article about how lots of people buy salvage cars. You see high end cars all the time that are salvage- how good or bad are they?

    Maybe a pre article may be about how salvage titles are gamed by sellers routing them around various states.

  • avatar

    I’ve always been happier with cars that were broken and non-functional when I bought them than cars that ran fine when purchased.
    I bought broken ones cheaply and immediately dove in and got familiar with the car as I fixed it. When the next problem arose, it was not so big a deal.
    With the cars that were functional when I bought them, The first inevitable failure was always a rude awakening……

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