Pre-Purchase Inspections: What You Need To Know

Jalopnik is one of my favorite websites for car-related news; I especially enjoy their car buying articles.  Being a huge car nerd, however, I always find myself wanting to add on to their articles.

Last Friday, Jalopnik posted an article titled: “What Do I Do If An Inspection Reveals Issues On a Used Car?”  The article itself is very short, but it also covers two other important subjects, namely, if aftermarket modifications will void a warranty and if a dealer can locate a specific vehicle they don’t currently have in stock.

Let’s start with pre-purchase inspections (PPIs). 

Any dealer who gives their customers pushback on having a PPI performed probably isn’t a dealer you want to work with.  Buying a car is a big investment and you should feel comfortable with the vehicle you are considering. That said, there are some important factors you might want to consider.

If you are looking at a four-five year old BMW at an independent dealer, you’re first thought might be to have a BMW dealership perform and inspection.  And why not? They would know BMWs better than anyone, right? While it might seem that way, it’s not always the case.

New car dealers mainly work on in-warranty vehicles–ones that are less than four years old.  And since manufacturers typically do major overhauls to their vehicles every four-ish years, the mechanics at a new car dealer probably aren’t seeing as many of the older models come through their bays.  It’s not that they can’t do the job, but like any craft, the longer you go without practicing, the less proficient you are going to be.

And since diagnosing an issue with a vehicle already showing symptoms of something wrong isn’t as simple as plugging it into a code reader and getting a “replace X part.”  Rather, the diagnostic equipment tells you which sensors have detected some sort of fault or anomaly, leaving it up to the mechanic to narrow down what the issue most likely is.  Mechanics who focus on multiple versions of the same vehicle have the experience to narrow down a problem much more efficiently.

Another issue you should consider is the potential for a biased report if the company performing the inspection also sells the same car which they are inspecting.  This one is a little more self-explanatory, but still worth discussing. While, yes, a BMW dealership is going to have all of the available tools to perform an inspection, it’s hard not to think that if you are at their shop inspecting a vehicle which they also have, they are probably inclined to seize the opportunity to make a sale–something easy to do since they already know you trust them enough to inspect a car.

Who should I have perform a PPI?

For me, this answer is simple: find a specialty shop.  Plenty of certified master technicians eventually go on to open their own service centers specializing in the cars they know and love, and because of this there are specialist for even the most niche vehicles.  Places like this aren’t there to flip you into one of their cars. But, most importantly, they typically know the vehicle you want inspected better than most, because they deal with similar models all day long, and know what components typically begin to fail and around what time, so they know exactly what to check for, giving you a much more thorough evaluation.

Thanks for reading this.  Next week, I’ll dive deeper into the other two parts of this article.