Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Used Car Mechanic's Inspection?

I’m looking to buy a used car, two to three years old, with under 45k on it. I am wondering if I need to spend time and money having a mechanic inspect the car. I know a lot about cars, and do many of the repairs on my 98 saturn myself. I know what to look for in terms of car health, and I can check most things myself. I am wondering, though, what mechanics would inspect, and if they do anything that requires a lift or special tools that I would not have access to. Any advice?

A mechanic who sees and repairs cars every day knows a lot of places to look for trouble. This same mechanic may know about the weaknesses in a particular make of automobile. I know some things about cars, but I consider it a good investment to get an opinion of a reliable mechanic.

Just make sure you get it on a lift and do a wheels off inspection and don’t forget to look for accident damage. A point some one else on the Forum brought up,Don’t buy a car with any warning light illuminated,espically “check engine” make them fix it first (not just a clear code fix).

For the little it costs, a mechanic’s inspection is well worth the money, although I have never used one myself.

I would first research those cars that are trouble-some, and eliminate those from my choice. Then I would only buy a car that has been treated well by its previous owner; you can easily tell by asking for the maintenance records, and interviewing the owner if it is a direct sale.

When you are ready to buy the car, have the mechanic go over it, and any item that needs replacing should be deducted from the selling price. I’m sure most sellers would agree to this.

Many years ago a fellow student from Germany wanted to tour North America before going back home. He wanted a cheap car and could I help? We found a Pontiac straight 6, stickshift with no accessories whatsoever, and reasonbly low mileage for a few hundered dollars.

Later in September he phoned me before leaving for Germany. He had toured through Canada and the whole USA and put 30,000 miles on the car and sold it for $50 less than he paid. Asked if he had any problems, he spent $30 fixing a sticky gear shift. I got a free wienerschnitzel dinner with wine out of it and the satisfaction of helping someone enjoy our continent.

Good luck!

For this car, a 98 saturn that is nearly 10 years old, I would say yes, pay the money. The inspection may result in a long list of wear and tear items on this car may result in your re-thinking the purchase, or use as leverage to bring the car up to speed, maintenance-wise. Remember age deteriorates things as much as miles driven. I would expect a compression check, inspection of hoses, belts, brakes, suspension, exhaust, assessment of fluid conditions, and verification that heating and air conditioning all work properly as a minimum. I am sure I missed a few items, but you get the idea. This entails putting the car on a lift.


I think you may have misread the post.

His post says he already owns a '98 Saturn and is “looking to buy a used car, two to three old with under 45k on it”.

Aside from that, I agree with your post on inspections.

Some know a lots don’t know enough. I was selling a car for my elderly neighbors. A friend wanted to buy it and took it to a shop that does the inspections. They found $1,200 of repairs.

The neighbors had the car in the shop for wandering steering, something a 70’s and 80’s GM car can do without anything being wrong. The shop had sent them home with a “nothing wrong” report. They needed ball joints, tie rod ends, a center link and an idler arm. It also needed exhaust work and front end alignment.

We were trying to get $1,300 for the car. That Cadillac was beautiful and I thought he should have bought it and had the work done.

You would like to know what you are getting. Putting the car on a lift will instantly reveal many things about the condition of the body. Sometimes equipment is as good as knowledge.

An inspection while on a lift can much easier reveal accident damage or suspension troubles. You cannot crawl or peek and see some repaired damage.

Do not trust car fax. If the person fixed the damage on the side(typically lease car done with shoddy repairs) you will never know.

don’t forget to check for evidence of accident damage. Some cars have a VIN number on the major body panels, so you know if they are original.

You’re right, but I think I would still go the a fairly complete inspection. While 45K miles is not very significant, a level of damage/lack of proper care may show up even at 45K miles.

I’ve inspected a lot of cars, both for dealers and individuals, and at a minimum a compression test should be performed. That’s on top of a visual inspection of a number of other things.
Don’t assume a 45k miles car is near perfect because it only takes one overheating episode or one lack of oil incident to cause severe damage.

If it has an automatic transmission check the fluid condition and perform a stall test. To do this test shift the trans into LOW with the park brake set. Hold the foot brake and try to rev the engine. Do this quickly and do NOT loiter around. The engine should stall at around 1900 RPM, give or take. Allow to idle for a few minutes and repeat in SECOND gear. Repeat in DRIVE. Do NOT do this in the OVERDRIVE position. This will give you a rough indication as to whether the clutches are slipping or not.

Also keep in mind that even the most thorough of inspections by the best of techs does not guarantee a problem free car. There are simply too many things that can go wrong with a collection of parts and for which there are no tests. Hope that helps.

I have just been through this a few times and have done the “mechanics inspection” myself just because I’m too lazy and cheap to do otherwise. In my experience, what I do depends on the car that I’m looking at.

I just bought an '06 Corolla 5-spd 80,000 mostly highway miles from a private party original owner who had maintenance records and a legitimate reason to sell the car. The car ran and drove perfectly and in this case my “inspection” was purely visual other than checking all of the fluids. I’ve had the car for 2,000 miles and have had no problems.

I bought a '97 Protege with 160,000 miles for my daughter, again one owner private party with records. On this car in addition to the fluids, visual, and test drive, I removed and examined the spark plugs. I would normally have done a compression test at this point, but the plugs looked so nice, and the parking lot was so hot that I blew it off. This has been a great car.

If you’re buying a 2 or 3 year old car, it should start, run, and drive perfectly like a new vehicle. If not, keep looking. For a car with an uncertain history, I would at least do the fluids check, spark plug inspection, (compression test if indicated by plug inspection), examine the tires for even wear and maybe remove the wheels and look at the brakes, but that’s a lot of work for something that won’t cost much if you are doing your own work. If you have kept a '98 Saturn running you are more than capable of inspecting a late-model used car.