What do I ask an independent mechanic to check when looking at used cars?

I’m looking to get a used car, and even though I’m only looking at certified, I want an independent mechanic to issue a clean opinion on the dealer’s representations about the car before I go into the salesman’s office to start talking about pricing and trying to avoid the attempts at selling me all kinds of unnecessary, dealer-installed junk like window tinting, spinners, and thongs.

I found a mechanic in the Car Talk Mechanics Files who is willing to check the 2009 Accord coupe with an odometer reading of about 15K that I will be looking at tomorrow. But what should I ask him to make sure to check?

Experienced mechanics know what to check. Just tell him/her how much you are willing to spend, and he’ll check the most important within that amount of work involved.

Finding a good mechanic is the problem. Once you find one, unless you have experience fixing cars, you are usually best to trust their judgement. You’ll get the most bang for your buck that way, b/c you are paying for their experience. So use it.

The best way to find a good mechanic is to ask your friends and family for a recommendation.

Well my typical line is look at this car if it is for your daughter living out of town. Tell me everything you find, money well spent.

How long does it usually take someone who is knowledgeable to do a thorough inspection?

I’ve done a lot of inspections and how long it takes depends on how thorough you want the inspection to be and the speed/competency of the guy doing the inspection. Figure 1 to 4 hours; it depends.

On the surface an '09 Honda with a measly 15k miles should need nothing. The problem that could exist here is any possibility of oil sludging due to scant use of the car and/or infrequent oil changes.
This is something that could snowball, become much more serious, and lead to a much shorter engine life.

A compression and/or leakdown test could reveal a problem here but even that test is not always 100% definitive. Unfortunately, it’s the only test there is. Hope that helps.

I would ask him to check whatever he would check if he were buying the car for himself.

In this case you are looking at a very recent car with low miles. I would specifically want to inspect all the body panels, frames, and suspension parts looking for evidence of repairs due to accident(s). Low miles on the motor can be bad, and I’d want to check for evidence of sludge in the engine. This might be an off lease car and the previous owner may have never changed the oil. Look for any evidence, including in the glove box for service receipts, that the car has been maintained and at least several oil changes.

Take a good look at the tires and brakes. At 15K miles the car should have the original tires about 50% worn. New tires is a red flag that car might have been driven aggressively. Brakes should also have original pads with about 60% life left. If the pads are new and were replaced more evidence of an aggressive driver.

Make sure the price you pay for this “Certified” used car is significantly less than a new one. Some of the deals on new cars are so good that a new car could be better (you know the car’s history) than an overpriced certified used car. The used car is now 3 model years old so it should be about 1/2 the price of a new comperable car.


You are wrong about the values of Honda. They hold their resale like no other car I have seen and a 3 year old car sells for nowhere close to 1/2 a new car. How do I know I work at a Honda dealership and sell them EVERY day. Take for example a used EX-L Accord 2008,2009 (off lease less then 36K) is going to run you right around 19-20,000 a new one is about 27,000. On a lease some Hondas are running a 60%+ residual and BEATING expectations !! PS the reason Hondas hold value is NO customer cash EVER, and very little fleet buisness.

With that said to the OP, if the car is certified correctly the car should have been toughly checked out by the Honda store. Most of our cars cost $500-1000 to certify, even with low miles. A 30K by the book (which we have to follow to certify the car) is a full fluid and filter exchange and costs $500+ to do. Tires can not be more then 5/32 worn and must match on all 4 corners or we have to replace. Breaks need to be less than 75% worn to pass, etc… Personally I think getting a mechanic to check the car out is a waste of money (keep in mind the car carries not only the factory warranty but its full certified warranty as well), but if it helps you sleep better at night go for it.

Actually, I think Uncle T made some excellent points. And I think it’s worth the $100+/- for the OP to get it looked at first, if for no other reason than to check for possible accident damage.

A neighbor of mine, who’s defintely not knowledgable on cars (and not a Mensa member), bought a “great deal” on a two year old used Chrysler. After the purchase he noticed a rattley sound in the rear. He brought it to the local shop, they put it on a lift, and half the rear panels were riveted on. The car had been in an accident and had a home repair. Personally, I don’t believe the car was safe.

I will add that you should not read much into the use of the word “Certified” when it comes to buying a used car. It’s a sales aid, much like the use of the word Carfax.

Most people believe that it means the car has been into the dealer service department and has been gone over from stem to stern so as to make sure the car is in excellent condtion. Very seldom is this the case and if the dealer claims this was done then ask to see a copy of the repair order. Even something done in-house will have a paper trail and safe gambling money says there is none on this car.

Most go back to the detail department where they’re cleaned up and then parked on the line for sale. They may look slick but that does nothing for the mechanical aspect of things.
Ask them exactly who did the certifyin". :slight_smile:

Dear gsragtop, your figures depreciate the new car about 10% per year or less. If you are getting those prices they are a rip off and I’d never pay that much for a 3 model year old used car - certified or not. There are suckers out there who will, but not me.

I accept Honda’s hold up that’s why I bought an '03 Civic as a new car, still have it, and plan to run it for another 10 years. The factory warranty on the '09 Honda should be about used up (3 years and XX miles) so that warranty is about done. Certified warranties don’t cover the car for another 3 to 5 years and generally don’t cover as many repairs as a new warranty.

New tires and new brakes are nice, but can hide how the previous driver handled the car. I’m not buying your story.


You can call me alot of things but not a liar… I DO THIS EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE… I am not guessing, I AM TELLING YOU !! I know you know alot, but on this one you are WAY OFF.

We get audited by Honda on our certified cars once every 2 months, they have to be right or we lose our right to sell certified cars. I can’t speak for other certification programs at other manufactures, but I can tell you about Honda. The car HAS to be right when we will it, or we can get in a ton of trouble. Its warranty will cover EVERYTHING at ZERO deductible for 1yr/12K (add to the factory warranty, or by itself depending on the car) and it bumps the powertrain warranty to 7yr/100K. A wrap warranty to make it bumper to bumper for the full 100K on a certified car costs much less the a non certified car as well.

As for value, again your wrong… While you may not want to pay these prices this is what the cars are worth:

NADA does not add for certification, but its considered a $1000 add in the industry