Used Car Purchase - Pre-purchase Check-up



Everyone recommends having a used car thoroughly checked out before purchasing it. We did just that several years ago and paid $100 for the service. Shortly after purchase we discovered a pretty major repair was required that had not been identified (and we had taken the car to a shop we’d used and trusted for years). Please advise where to go this time around. should we take a Honda to a Honda dealer (even if we’re not purchasing from the dealer? Can you recommend a reliable repair shop to take a car to in the Oakland/Berkeley CA area?


Even the best of techs can miss a future problem at the time of inspection.

Short of a dismantle, some are hard to pick out.


Don’t pay more than $30.


A useful pre-purchase inspection will take a couple of hours, maybe $100 - 200. I can’t imagine how anyone can due a worthwhile inspection in 20 minutes.


$100 is about right here in Minnesota. Just remember mechanics don’t have crystal balls to peer into. What happened to the vehicle mentioned? Some things on cars are like light bulbs, they work fine one minute and then…


There are some things that can crop up that no amount of inspection will detect, no matter how thoroughly the inspection was done.

A good inspection should take a couple of hours. Anytime I’ve ever purchased a used car I always ask if I can have it for 4 hours for inspection. If they say no, I move on. My last used car was purchased with no pre-inspection other than a walk-around and test drive, but I have a pretty decent handle on things mechanically speaking so the car has been fine.

When I started turning wrenches many years ago for a dealer they had a procedure they used and kept only the best cars for resale. Everything else went to wholesale. This is what we did with every traded-in car and it went in this order.

  1. The car was test driven thoroughly and notes were made as to any noises, handling irregularities, and most importantly, the clutch (if equipped) and the manual or automatic transmission operation.

  2. Assuming 1 is fine, then a compression test and oil pressure check was performed followed by a fuel pressure check.
    Any problem in the compression/oil pressure area led to a halt and meeting of the minds as to whether we should proceed further with it by fixing it or wholesaling it out. (NOW you know why wholesale cars can be a crap shoot.):slight_smile:

3.Assuming 2 is fine, the car was raised on a lift and all suspension components (front and rear), shocks/struts, exhaust, brakes, wheel bearings, tires, etc. and any fluid leaks were noted.

4.All lighting, wipers, horn, A/C and heater operation, door and latch operation, glass, interior defects, belts, filters, along with eyeballing any vacuum line oddities and body panel fitment. Fluid levels and condition was checked at this time.
At this point an estimate was made of any needed repairs and these were usually done in their entirety.

As I mentioned though, anything can happen with a used car. I did a “quick check” for someone once on an old '74 Ford Torino and this car was very, very slick along with being low mileage.
They bought it and one morning about 6 months later it caught on fire and burnt the entire nose off of it.
It appeared that vibration had cracked a metal fuel line and hosed the distributor down with gasoline.
The damage might have been less if they had turned the engine off instead of allowing it to pump more gas on the fire,
Nothing’s etched in stone. :frowning:


Thanks so much for the thoughtful and very helpful reply!!


We spent $1700 on balance driveshaft plus flx disc/mnts/mffler/transerv plus some general checking of every thing and replacing an engine mount.