How much does a pre-purchase vehicle inspection cost, and is it really worth it?

For many of us, the idea of buying a used car, whether from a dealer or through a private sale, is a daunting experience.

Unless your best friend or partner is a qualified mechanic, you’ll be taking a leap of faith—or an outright gamble—into whether you’re getting good value for your hard-earned cash or buying into someone else problems.

A pre-purchase car inspection is a service designed to take some of that worry out of any such purchase; but are they worth the money?

It’s estimated that at any given time, one in six cars needs over £500 in repairs. When you’re looking for a new car (or a new-to-you car at least), do you really want to add that—or worse—on to the price you’re already paying?

Is a pre-purchase inspection right for me?

Depending on the cost of the car, and the sale type, you might be qualified enough to make up your own mind given the risk. Most dealers will offer a warranty that helps with peace of mind, but a warranty doesn’t cover every eventuality.

A pre purchase inspection might be right for you if:

  • You’re no expert and haven’t got a friend you can lean on who is
  • You’d like an educated second opinion
  • It’s a bigger investment than you’re typically used to making
  • The model of car is renowned for a specific problem
  • The vehicle is much further away than you’d like to travel

What does a pre-purchase inspection consist of?

Depending on who you choose to carry out the pre purchase inspection, and the level of service you’re willing to pay for, the checks range from pretty basic to almost anything.

The critical factor when choosing someone to carry out an inspection is to be sure of precisely what you’re getting.

If you go ahead with an inspection, then after you’ve bought the car you find several issues that weren’t detectable at the time, you’re going to feel pretty disappointed.

Basic inspections

A basic inspection should cover the roadworthiness of the car. This will include your mechanic investigating hundreds of items for satisfactory mechanical and structural operation. Most will consist of a short road test.

In general, a basic inspection is likely to investigate the condition and performance of:

  • Wheels
  • Engine
  • Exhaust
  • Fuel compartment and delivery
  • Electrics and wiring
  • Steering
  • Suspension

Advanced inspections

If you’re willing to pay for it, an advanced inspection will get you almost anything you like. Some agencies or mechanics offer video or verbal feedback, fluid testing, telephone consultations, as well as lengthier road tests.

Some services may look deeper into the paperwork and vehicle history to gather clues into the current condition of the vehicle.

Advanced checks may include:

  • Bodywork exploration for possible previous damage
  • Hinge operation
  • Heating
  • Air conditioning
  • Steering wheel adjustment
  • Wheel trim and other accessory condition

What you won’t get from your vehicle inspection

Sadly, there are no guarantees.

Although compression and oil checks will give a good idea of a car’s engine condition, there are no guarantees without inspecting the internals. Even an engine in seemingly good condition could still be vulnerable to a timing chain issue or a failing head gasket.

It’s unlikely any company will recommend buying a car. They consider it their job solely to provide a summary of the state of the car.

How should I go about choosing a pre-purchase car inspection near me?

Picking a trusted provider for the vehicle inspection is a good place to start. Fixter can help with that. Our reliable and efficient mechanics are all vetted by our team and are guaranteed to provide excellent results.

  1. Decide how much the inspection is worth
    If you’re investing in a classic car or luxury sports model, then spending a few hundred pounds unveiling any hidden issues will be a godsend. It gives you bargaining power with the seller, and also a warning of how much your new investment might cost on top of the price tag.
  2. If you can join the tester for the inspection—do
    Many inspectors are quite comfortable chatting over possible issues at the time of discovery, which can help you gather a clearer picture than a simple written report. You’ll also gather some valuable pointers of what to look for in future purchases.
  3. Ask to see the full checklist
    If you can see a formatted and all-inclusive list of the checks to be carried out, you’ll get a feel for the professionalism of the company you choose. An operative carrying out a test without one could be liable to miss or forget valuable checks that make all the difference.
  4. Opt for a garage inspection as opposed to an on-site inspection wherever possible
    Your mechanic will have greater access to specialist tools, ramps and equipment. You’ll get a more in-depth scrutiny if your inspector has all the correct equipment available.

How much does a pre-purchase inspection cost?