Please, please, have a car inspected before you buy it!

I regularly have people come in with a used car they just bought and then ask to have it checked out to see what it needs. Isn’t the time to do that before you buy the car, not after?

I have here a 2002 PT Cruiser bought by a young lady from a private seller for $2000. 2 days later it loses coolant and the windows steam up. We find coolant full of SilverSeal, leaking heater core and blown head gasket. $2200 to repair.

This afternoon a lady is bringing in a 2010 Impala she bought last week from a Chevy dealer. There is a noise from the right front when accelerating, and she feels a clunking when turning.

Please, unless you’re quite proficient in car maintenance and repair, spend the $100 or so that your local garage will charge to check a car out. It will be money well spent.

If the seller is unwilling to let you have the car inspected, that should be a big red flag.

You are in a tough position. Now you get to live the Kill the Messenger part. Of course if you did an inspection and something breaks 3 or 4 months later it is still kill the messenger. You have my sympathy.

Oh, I have no problem delivering news, good or bad. I have no real stake in it, they’re not my cars and it’s not my money. But in the first case grandpa (a longtime customer) loaned money to granddaughter to buy a car, and 3 days later he gets the news that it’s going to cost that much again to fix the car. I just hate to see that happen to people.

My son and his husband did it correctly now that they’re in Tolede Ohio and they’re pleased with their Jeep Liberty. ( after have NO vehicle at all in San Francisco for the last ten years )
Then I get a call…
’‘Dad, our car made a funny bang and then smoke came out from under the hood…we stopped and took pictures.’’
– so he texted me the picks, looking up under the radiator / engine front area there was GREEN goo splattered and dripping down.
Told him that didn’t look automotive and to simply check all the fluids and visually look at everything else.
So the did ( assumed the hit an alien in the road ) , and continued home with no issues.

Turns out their used car prep tech put on front brakes and left his tube of brake quiet in the fender well. …it fell into the fan…POP …spatter…hot exhaust…smoke…
No breakdown…just a scare…and a good overall used car.

That’s where my tube of “Brake Quiet” went!!!

I’ve left my share of tools under the hood and have found other mechanic’s tools also.
I corrected this problem quite a bit. I have two 10X14 cake pans that I’ve glued a magnet to the inside of the bottom and covered the bottom with some old cloth. They work great under the hood for keeping all the tools in one place.

Back to @asemaster 's post. I cannot understand why someone would not take a prospective purchase to their own mechanic for an evaluation. Even if you were buying the far from too far away for that, you could always find an independent mechanic to check it out.

After all you are spending thousands on this purchase. Another $100 for an inspection is a drop in the bucket.


Unfortunately, there are a whole lot of folks who belong to the “all I know is that I put gas in it and it goes” crowd.

You would think that these folks–even more than others–would want somebody knowledgeable to take a careful look at a car before they buy it. However, it seems that most of these folks judge prospective purchases solely on external factors–and perhaps on the BS of the party that is selling it.

I totally agree @VDCdriver.

I have that in my horseshoeing business too. They spend $20’000 on a jumper, just to find out that it was drugged or nerved to cover a lameness issue. Then they complain when the cost of Veterinarians and myself…along with special shoes and pads and they can do nothing but watch the nag mow the lawn for the next ten years, because it couldn’t jump over a toothpick without limping…


@VDCDriver Some even choose a spouse that way! You’ve no doubt heard the expression: “I did not know my husband drank until he came home sober”!

Good thread ! It’s really good advice for every used car buyer. If you have a working relationship with a service provider, some that I have had will perform the service for next to nothing for a long time customer. There was an instance where the problems were found and were not deal breakers. They were used to negotiate down the price on a car that was good otherwise. The seller, the mechanic and the buyer can all benefit from using this as a standard operating procedure when buying used cars. If the car is really good and well cared for, It can work in favor of the seller too.

I’m surprised by how many people don’t think they have the right, or should even ask, to have a car checked by a disinterested third party. I’ve been the third party, the asker, and the seller many times.

I’m in full agreement with having a car inspected pre-purchase but there are several caveats.

One is the depth of the inspection and who is doing the inspecting.

Two is that even with the finest of inspections the possibility of minor or major problems still exists.
A thorough inspection definitely improves the odds though.

It is sad to have to give someone some bad news on a car and doubly sad when they reveal they just bought it a week or so before.

As Volvo V70 mentioned, being the messenger can get kind of messy sometimes…

I think being the mechanic can be messier than being the messenger. The girl who borrowed money from grandpa to buy a PT Cruiser with 180,000 miles has decided to take the car to her dad’s back alley neighbor who knows how to fix cars. I wonder what the car is going to be like after he does the head and heater core?

I can’t say that I always do it and usually am OK but I did look at a car back in school and had it checked. It was a 64 Cutlass that was pretty sharp but I had a trusted mechanic look at it. I think he maybe charged me $10 but he had a list of stuff wrong with it as long as his arm. Bearings, trans, brakes, and can’t remember all. It worked out good since it really was not a very practical car anyway and really couldn’t afford it.

I think that if the PT Cruiser comes back to asemaster the original estimate is not going to be valid anymore…it may have to double. :wink:

OK, I’m bumping my own thread because another timely reminder may be in order based on a car that came in today.

Lady brings in a 96 Accord she just bought for her son. She can’t transfer the title until it passes emissions, and it just failed the inspection. Agrees to the diagnostic fee and wants to know the easiest way to get the title transferred.

Get in the car in the lot and find the check engine light on (automatic emissions fail), SRS light on, and brake warning light on. The only open bay is the alignment rack, but the clutch is slipping so badly I have to make a running start to drive up the ramps. I raise the car to inspect if catalyst is still there, and it is, but the pipes behind it rusted out long ago. I also notice the steel cord coming out of the left front tire, and all the tires are 2 sizes too small for the car. I had left the engine running and I now see the flapping noise is one of the belts starting to shred. I stopped looking for things wrong after that.

Very sad to see things like this when mom has good intentions and the son is going to end up hugely disappointed.
From the sound of it the cost of bringing it into shape would be more than the car is ever worth and I would strongly suspect that if you kept looking the laundry list would be much, much longer.

In a perfect world what should happen is that people even with no mechanical abilities should learn how a car functions and how to at least visually inspect things on them such as belts, tires, fluids, etc and for quirks/noises in the power/drivetrains along with handling.
They could save themselves a lot of grief by at least knowing a few fundamentals.

I guess I might consider myself a primadonna, I can check it out myself etc. I did maybe get burned on my last used car purchase. Everything looked fine, sounded fine, bought it at a lowball price of course, did a 200 mile exercise, got it home and pinion seal had a drip, ok new bearings etc in the transaxle, but I don’t think a mechanic could have predicted it as there was no sign of a leak when I bought it. I chalk it up to test drives maybe messed it up. Just saying an inspection is absolutely essential, but not a guarantee.

Asemaster’s latest post is indeed a sad commentary on human nature.
This woman undoubtedly had good intentions, but failed to notice even the most obvious red flags that one need not be a mechanic in order to see:

A bunch of lit-up warning lights?
A tire with the steel cord protruding?

How much do you want to bet that this woman (and many people of both sexes who behave similarly to her) would spend a few days comparing prices in order to save $5 on a new TV, yet fail to exercise any due diligence or caution regarding a 19 year old car which has the potential to cost a HUGE amount of money if they make a bad purchasing decision.

In regards to the Honda asemaster mentions one also has to wonder how long, how many miles, and at what speeds that lady was operating the car before she brought it to asemaster.

The point could be made that she was lucky to arrive there in one piece and the ensuing point would be that hopefully she is not brushing repairs off and allowing the son to drive a potential deathtrap.

When my daughter was in high school she wanted to know a bit about how cars worked so I taught her and am extremely proud of how she handles things. She’s done her own oil changes when she felt like it and has even done a full-on brake job with rotors and caliper service while I just sit back and offer tips as needed.
She makes it a point every other weekend to look tires and belts over, check fluids, battery terminal corrosion, for any obvious leaks, etc, and routinely checks all lighting, horn, etc.

When she bought her current '05 Mustang she wanted to do it on her own including the inspection and test drive so I was clean out of the loop. She did well; the car rolled over 201k miles a week ago, still looks and drives as new, and uses no oil between changes. She does have a LF strut getting a little weak so in the next week or so she’s going to learn that procedure.

If a 100 pound female accountant can do these kind of things then I see no reason why anyone can’t at least venture into some of the above things on their own; assuming no physical limitations of course.

The woman with the Honda never drove the car. She drove her late model Lexus in. She bought it for her son, who has been driving it for a few days and took it to the emissions test station, then here to the shop when it failed.

After giving her the estimate for cleaning the EGR ports in the intake and replacing the catalyst ($600), I also gave her prices for the $800 clutch, $120 belts, $300 exhaust, $200 two tires, and recommended a brake inspection and checking for various oil leaks.

Her response was that they didn’t pay very much for the car (I hope not, it’s 20 years old and 220,000 miles) so they can afford to spend a little bit on repairs and would be back next week after they get it through emissions.