Safety Inspection Place or Mechanic

I am needing to get a vehicle I am considering buying checked out. Since I’ll need to have it safety inspected to get my registration, anyway, can I just go to a Safety Inspection place to make sure it has no major problems? Or might they not do a thorough enough inspection and just let it slide by? The seller wants $1,250.00 for it, because he has maintained it a lot. He did a fuel injection repair 6 months ago. He said another man had offered him $1,000.00, which I was planning to do, but he would not take it. He wants $1,250.00 and won’t seem to bend on the price, saying it’s an honest price for the car. He said he could have asked $1,500.00 and allowed me to haggle him down to $1,250.00 but he thinks that approach is silly.

I would advise an independent mechanic for an inspection

Why is that Barkydog? I’m in Salt Lake City. How much should they charge for this, do you think? $90.00?

There’s a difference between a safety inspection, which merely ensures you’ll get the sticker, and a mechanical inspection which checks out far more than the state requires. A car might pass the state’s safety inspection but still have major problems.

if you trust the seller to reveal problems and he says there are none, just go get your sticker and pay the standard fee. Don’t ask for any further work. If you suspect the seller might be concealing information, get a full inspection.

What state are you in? What city are you near? I wouldn’t make any recommendation without some mention of the type of climate your cars live in.

I live in the state of Utah, near Salt Lake City. I do trust the seller to reveal problems, but I’m thinking there are problems he might not be aware of himself, that only a mechanic could spot? Of course, I’d have to pay the mechanic to check it out, and then the seller might only come down a bit on the price of the car, if it does have a problem. And then I’d have the cost of the repair on top of the cost of finding out about it. I don’t think I can cancel out on the purchase at this point. Oh, well. Maybe I can see this as an around-the-town car, while it lasts, and use it to look for something better, hopefully taking my time?

As others say, a safety inspection only covers those areas that make a car unsafe, or has execessive emissions. It will not cover real or potential engine and transmission defects, and other critiacal and potentially expensive areas.

Get a good independent mechanic to check the car out as well, That should cost about $90 in most places.

Well, I called the inspection place, hoping he could recommend a good independent mechanic for me to take it to for the checking out. He said for me to just remind him I am purchasing it, and he will give it extra time for the fine-tooth comb going over, same cost as the inspection, just $40.00. However, maybe I should call him back and let him know it is a 1993. Maybe he was thinking it was a much newer car? Yes, I think I’d better call him back? I’m not sure I pointed out just how old this car is.

Make mine another vote for an independent inspection of the entire vehicle. Use a reputable independently owned and operated shop and you’re more likely to get a better inspection for a reasonable price. Expect the price to be around $100.

I called the mechanic I have used before and trust several hours ago and got their answering machine. So I left a message on the machine asking when I could get in and the cost for checking out the car, but they have not called me back.

Update: I decided I’d better try calling the independent mechanic I like again, since you all think that is a better route to go than a mere safety inspection. I can have the car fully checked out by them for major problems for only $35.00 total (in cash) and they’ll make a printout for me of what would need to be repaired and what it would cost, based on mileage, too. In 2008 he had both rear shocks replaced and the right window clip. In January 2009 he replaced the water pump drive belt and both rear wheel cylinders. In 2010 the vehicle was towed to their shop for a fuel pump wire harness. They had to drop the gas tank to repair the wire harness, they said. And he had the steering column replaced. He said at 190,000 miles the car might need a tune-up if he hadn’t had it serviced since 2010, but I think he has serviced it, that he has gone elsewhere since then. Thanks for encouraging me to go to a mechanic instead of a safety inspector. This was all fascinating to me.


You are on the right track. Nice to learn that maybe the car has had good service. Where I live, the safety inspection is very basic; they check the brakes, power steering belt, windshield wipers and washers, tires, lights, turn signals, seat belts and nothing else.

Docnick, the mechanic I called does not do safety/emissions inspections at all, so that is good. His $35.00 charge is for a complete vehicle check-up prior to purchase. I had heard he was much lower on most repair charges than most, so that’s why I went to him initially. When my timing belt on my beloved Dodge 600 broke a few years ago, an elderly gent behind me, who stopped to help me get off the road, told me about his auto repair place. So I went there, and he charged only $188.00 for a timing belt replacement.

Update: Docnick, I just recalled the name of a shop the seller told me he likes, and so I called them to see whether they have a repair history on the car. Anyway, this shop says he brought it in a year ago for a power flood fuel injection system procedure I had thought the seller had said he’d had the fuel injector replaced, but they said, no, it was a flood of the system to clean it.

These fuel cleaner deals are uselless unless you actually have a fuel blockage. Real maintenance is changing the air filter, changing spark plugs when necessary, changing transmission fluid, changing engine coolant as mentioned.

It sounds like the current owner knows very little about cars and lets himself be sold on whatever the shop suggests.

Since your mechanic offered to check the car out thoroughly, I would not contemplate buying this vehicle untill ti has a clean bill of health. So, discount anything the owner says from here on in.

A thorough checkup costs more than $30 anywhere, by the way.

Good luck!

Docnick, thanks for the good info. I just got back from the mechanic. He did find several potential problems. I thought I’d heard a squeal in the brake yesterday while driving and sure enough it needs brake shoe & or pads for $66.00 labor. I wonder why it needs a new steering gear if he replaced the steering column within the last 3 years?? So with parts and labor the total to fix everything is $1,254.63. I really don’t think he knew, so I’m glad I took your advice and took it to a mechanic. He found all these things wrong for only $35.00, although we did have to wait quite a while to get the printout quote. So it’s probably not worth it; right? Or are these car problems not so serious?

I will just tell you that the most thorough inspection by the finest mechanic on the planet is no guarantee of buying a problem free car. It helps by swinging the odds into your favor a bit but that’s all.
Predicting whether a used car will have problems is right up there with psychics, crystal balls, and so on.

Sounds like the seller is a bit of a racist…

Nah, I think he just prefers dealing with those who speak his own language and are more like the mechanics in his homeland, because he said they remember what he tells them and recognize him when he returns-- it’s a more familial approach.

So of all these car problems, below, which do you think would be the most serious and/or most important to fix quickly, if any?:

The intake manifold gasket is leaking. The labor to fix it would be $158.40 The valve cover gasket also needs replacing. $125.40. I think the worst problem might be that it needs a new steering gear- rack & pinion manual and power, and worm & ball nut. The mechanic said something about how oil and anti-freeze could, theoretically, leak into the engine, I think?

Theoretically, how long do you think one could drive such a car around town, just average town driving, without developing a problem that needs immediate fixing, based on the concerns listed above? A few thousand miles?