What Is a Pre-Purchase Car Inspection?

An illustration of a mechanic talking to customers illustration by Paul Dolan

A pre-purchase car inspection is an important step when buying a used car. It involves taking the vehicle you’re interested in purchasing to — ideally — a trusted mechanic for an inspection to determine what, if any, issues the vehicle has that you may not have discovered in your walkaround or test drive.

Related: What Does It Mean to Lease a Car?

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Photos, in-person walkarounds and test drives can only reveal so much information about a vehicle. So if you’re not a mechanic or an expert in a particular vehicle, a second opinion from an expert, trusted mechanic can be invaluable when it comes to negotiating a fair price or avoiding buying a used car with hidden issues.

Depending on where the car is located or the particular car you’re investigating, it may not be possible to use your preferred mechanic. In that case, online research can help you turn to a nearby expert or locate a mobile inspector who can come to the car.

Expect to pay around $100 for these services; that’s the estimate of the Federal Trade Commission, while Repair Pal pegs the estimated average pre-purchase inspection cost at $136-$173. And if you’re involving a specialist in a particularly unique or rare vehicle, expect to pay even more. That may seem daunting, but it could save you thousands in future repairs or lower the price to a point where fixing any issues isn’t financially burdensome.

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Also remember that if the seller seems resistant or refuses to agree to a pre-purchase inspection, it may be time to find a different vehicle for sale. It’s also important, whenever possible, to find an independent inspector, not one associated with the private seller or dealership selling the vehicle, to ensure that the inspection is honest and aboveboard.’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

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Road Test Editor Brian Normile joined the automotive industry and in 2013, and he became part of the Editorial staff in 2014. Brian spent his childhood devouring every car magazine he got his hands on — not literally, eventually — and now reviews and tests vehicles to help consumers make informed choices. Someday, Brian hopes to learn what to do with his hands when he’s reviewing a car on camera. He would daily-drive an Alfa Romeo 4C if he could. Email Brian Normile

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