There are no standardization for pre-purchase inspections or needed qualifications for Technicians performing inspections. Anyone can say they perform a PPI.
A professional used car pre-purchase inspection should consist of two elements:
A) The Inspector should be certified on each mechanical, electrical and frame systems.
B) The Inspector should have inspection criteria and procedures to properly inspect each and every component and system of the vehicle.
There is always a risk when purchasing a used car. The amount of risk you take will depend on your ability to determine the true condition of the vehicle before purchase. You cannot negotiate your best deal until you know the EXACT condition of every component and system. Any problems not discovered BEFORE the purchase will be your responsibility AFTER the purchase
Below are the risks associated with some of the different types of inspections and services used by car buyers instead of a professional PPI.
1) A CARFAX or any vehicle history report
is not an inspection:
A Vehicle History Report is Not a Pre-purchase Inspection. Read all 11 Limitations and Problems with Carfax or any Vehicle History Report:
2) Having a friend or relative inspect the vehicle:
Having a friend or relative inspect today's complex automobiles can be disastrous. Not only can you end up with a lemon costing you hundreds or thousands of dollars in repairs, there's a good chance it will damage your relationship.
Many years ago a person with the basic knowledge of auto mechanics and a timing light could help you when purchasing a used vehicle. However, those types of inspections are obsolete. Today's technically advanced automotive systems need a ASE Certified Master Technician to properly inspect each mechanical and electrical systems and a Frame Specialist to determine previous and existing structural damage.
These shade tree mechanics can perform minor repairs and maintenance items on most vehicles. However, only a Certified Master Technician is qualified to properly inspect every mechanical and electrical systems on today's technically advanced automotive systems.
Remember, all undetected mechanical problems and frame damage could become your financial and safety nightmare.
4) Used car dealer inspections:
A Dealer inspection is not the same as a pre-purchase inspection. Dealer inspections are usually performed by junior technicians and are more a "cosmetic" type inspection. There are a economic reasons why dealers do not have each vehicle thoroughly inspected by a Senior Master Technician and Frame Specialist before they put the vehicle on their lot.
First, a professional inspection cost time and money. Master Technicians and Frame Specialists cost more that a junior technician. If a dealer spends more money inspecting a vehicle than their competitor, they makes less then their competitor.
Second, if the inspections discovers any problems, the dealer, by law, must disclose these problems to the buyer.
Third, the more money the dealer spends fixing or reconditioning the vehicle, the less profit they make.
Forth, Salespeople will sometime show a "clean" Carfax report knowing the vehicle has existing accident damage and/or mechanical problems.
Fifth, "Ignorance is Bliss" is the attitude of many used car salespersons. If they don't know the vehicle has problems, they don't have to tell the buyer.
Remember, after the sale, you are responsible for all repairs and maintenance, and diminished value due to previous accidents.
5) Repair shop inspections:
Today's vehicles are so complex that most repair shops (and mechanics) specialize only a couple of automotive repair areas. Imagine taking a car you want to buy first to a transmission shop to get the transmission inspected, then to a heating/AC repair shop, then to a engine diagnostic shop, then to a brake shop, then to a frame specialist shop, and so on... until you had every component and system checked. Sounds silly, yet people take a car into these specialty repair shops expecting to get full inspection on every component and system.
Full service repair shops and/or dealership repair shops, which have the overall expertise, have no incentive to pull their best mechanic (ASE Master Technician) from a high paying repair job to perform a pre-purchase inspection. You will probably get a junior mechanic to "look" for things he has been trained to repair. Also, most mechanical repair shops do not have technicians certified on structural frame systems to inspect for frame damage or alterations to the frame components.
In addition, there is an inherent conflict of interest for repair shops. Does the component or system need actually need repair or is the shop trying to get you to spend money on unnecessary repairs and services.
A proper pre-purchase inspection should be performed by a Certified Master Technician with and Frame Specialists, and has no conflict of interest.
6) Relying on a "Certified Used Car":
There is no industry standard for Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) programs. Every CPO program is different. Learn more about CPO Programs before you buy.
7) Pre-purchase Inspection Companies:
Once again, the most important factor when getting a used car inspected is the qualifications of the inspector. There are many mobile and fixed facilities that advertise pre-purchase inspections. But only a handful are qualified to inspect every mechanical, electrical, body & frame component.
There is no standardization for pre-purchase inspections, so before you schedule an inspection, ask the following questions:
A) Is the automotive technician inspecting the vehicle an ASE Master Certified Technician? Most automotive technicians are just "ASE Certified". Only an "ASE Certified Master Technician" is qualified to inspect every mechanical and electrical system of the vehicle.
B) Is the automotive technician inspecting the vehicle a Frame Specialists? Remember, an ASE Master Technician is not certified on body & frame.
A pre-purchase inspection should be made by an ASE Master Technician for all mechanical and electrical systems, and a Body & Frame Specialist to determine any accident damage and repairs
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