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Another Reminder--get that used car inspected before you buy!

I know it’s been said over and over again but it bears repeating. Whenever contemplating a used car purchase, find a reputable local garage and have the car inspected. Prices for this service can range from $50 to $150 but whatever the cost it’s probably money well spent. I was reminded of this today by the two pre-purchase inspections we had at the shop.

First was a 2005 Chevy Cobalt that was at a local new car dealer. It was in the “bargain corner” with a tag that read as-is only $2999. It looked good and clean, but the check engine light was on or flashing. The dealer told the prospective buyer it probably just needed a tune-up. I found one cylinder with 35psi of compression. That car needed major engine repair or replacement.

The other was a 2003 Subaru Forester for sale at a used car lot for over $5000. The tech inspecting it noticed a metallic noise from the transaxle when making hard turns. He called me over to show what he found. When checking the trans fluid the end of the dipstick was chipped and broken and the fluid that was on the remainder of the stick was silver with metal shavings. That car needed transaxle replacement.

Both of these cars needed major repairs that the potential buyers wouldn’t be able to afford, so the inspection fee was money well spent in avoiding a bad purchase.


Real experience of a real technician doing real inspections and finding real problems.

Can’t get a better testimonial than that!


Of course, asemaster is correct, but the people who most need to heed his advice are probably the ones who are least likely to see it.

In this forum, as well as in other forums that I visit, there are always posts from people who are about to buy a used car in the $1,000-$2,000 category, and who are asking which make or model will be the most reliable. When it is pointed out to them that proper maintenance of an older car is actually more important over the long-term, rather than a specific make or model, they seem to be mystified.

I have even attempted to point out to some of those questioners that their question is tantamount to a bride-seeker asking something like…Do blondes make better wives than brunettes?..but even that ridiculous analogy doesn’t seem to get the point across to them that the way a car has been driven, and how it has been maintained over a period of many years, is the most important factor to consider with an older used car.


Thanks for real-life examples of prepurchase inspections.

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Even a precursory inspection of fluids, look for leaks etc. before going in for an inspection. One car I looked at the dealer had bondoed the trans, and it was still dripping. Dealer said they would fix it, in my mind I said I will never step foot on that lot again.


My thinking on the dealer selling the the Cobalt in the original post too.


In addition to being a warning to get used cars checked out, this also serves as a warning about comments made by used car salesmen.
Thanks for the post asemaster. Hopefully it’ll help a few people. :relaxed:

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I’d have to think that the dealer knew exactly what was wrong with that Cobalt.

If it “just needed a tune-up” then why didn’t they do that that tune-up and bump the selling price way up.

The Used Car Dept.gets a break (labor and parts discount) through their service dept. so it wouldn’t cost them nearly as much to do as a customer walking in off the street.


Location, Location, Location, are the three most important considerations in Real Estate.

Condition, Condition, Condition, are the three most important considerations in Used Cars.

I agree with @VDCdriver’s advice that maintenance/condition is more important than make/model when it comes to used cars, almost every time.

The maintenance is what influences condition and to determine condition, maintenance records are helpful and a careful inspection is essential.

I’ve bought lots of used cars, the last one off Craig’s List (the little beauty in the photo at left)! I’ve always done my own inspection and fortunately have never gotten a bad deal, yet.

I’ve probably been somewhat lucky, but if one doesn’t know what they’re looking at then they definitely need a professional inspection.


Or if they don’t have a lift in their garage. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:
It’s amazing what you can see with the vehicle on a lift!



“Or if they don’t have a lift in their garage.”

I don’t have a lift. I wish I did. As ancient as I am I can still get on the ground and back up fairly easily. It’s nowhere near as good as a lift, but it’s what I have.

I do a thorough phone interview and screening, have thoroughly researched the pertinent make/model/year/drivetrain, talked to my insurance agent, and carry my code scanner with me.

For most used car buyers I would refer them to a professional, but for me I prefer to work alone. By the time I’m done checking out a car the owner is happy to see me leave, sale or no sale.

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Informative post there OP. Thanks. $5000 asking price for 14 year old Subie would be enough to make me look elsewhere, even if the transaxle was in good shape. With the transaxle problem discovered, yikes! Those pre-purchase inspections saved the buyers a good deal of money, time, & grief. Definitely money well spent.

Those vehicles might be a good choice for diy’er inclined buyers looking for a bargain, if priced accordingly. But not for the vast majority of buyers.

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It is always necessary to get used cars inspected before making purchases but to my utmost surprised some auto lovers get carried away on siting the outward appearance forgetting the most important part (Engine).

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This post was originally kicked around 1 1/2 years ago, but it still offers some good admonitions.

With the flooding going on in different parts of the U.S. the engine possibly isn’t the most important …

… it could be the electronics, wiring, etcetera. Have the car thoroughly checked for evidence of water immersion.


Yeah that’s something to keep in mind now. Not only beware of Texas cars but now North and South Carolina and surrounding states. Just for curiosity I was looking at some used car listings from dealers on Jeep Renegade, 016, 017, and 018. One that caught my eye had 600 miles on it, one year old. Clean Carfax, one owner, etc. Then when I looked at the auction location where it came from to Minnesota, it was out of Texas. So be afraid-be very afraid. Why would someone trade a car with 600 miles unless it had floated for a while or was a total POS?


ulu4ulunnwa ------ There has to be an interesting story behind that screen name.

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I would just add that you should avoid using an inspector who is recommended by the dealer or one with an address in the same general area as your dealer. Use Yelp or other reviews to make your own decision. And if the seller shows any reluctance, even if they claim their 163 point inspect is more than generous, run, don’t walk.

Also, use a service such as CARFAX to get an idea of the history. If the car has ever been auctioned, run, don’t walk. Also, was the car in an area where there was a major flood or hurricane? Run, don’t walk.

Happy motoring to all.

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I had a boss that always bought cars at auction. He got a good price and they always ran well for him.

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Actually, I think that’s where dealers pick up a lot of their used cars. Dealers are far better at picking out good cars than the general public I believe and don’t want junk on their lot.


Right, even the Carfax site has disclaimers that they only have what is reported to them and they do not verify .

Also some dealers will auction vehicles that just do not fit their business demographic or are not in demand in their area.