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What Does a Pre-purchase Car Inspection Look For?

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The average new car warranty lasts three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first. But you won’t get a warranty if you buy a used car. 

Without a warranty, you’ll be responsible for the car’s repair costs. So you should take a few steps to ensure you choose a reliable, good car. 

One way to do this is to get a pre-purchase car inspection. Trained mechanics perform these, and you can get one for any vehicle. But what will a pre-purchase inspection reveal? 

Here is a guide that explains what mechanics look for and check during these inspections.

Exterior Condition

One of the best reasons to get a pre-purchase inspection is to avoid buying a lemon car. A lemon car has significant issues that you find out after buying it. Unfortunately, it costs a lot to fix some car issues.

Mechanics check many things during pre-purchase inspections, starting with the car’s exterior. They’ll examine the paint condition and look for scratches and dents.

Most car inspectors use a digital paint meter when completing this step. This tool measures the paint thickness. As a result, it helps them spot problems with the car’s exterior.

Previous Damage

When buying a car, you might want to avoid buying one that was in a car accident. Unfortunately, car reports don’t always reveal vehicle accidents. But a pre-purchase inspection can.

While they examine the car’s exterior, they’ll look for signs of previous damage. For example, a paint meter helps them locate areas with body filler. Car repair shops use body filler to fill in dents and dings after accidents.

Tires and Brakes

A reliable vehicle needs good tires and brakes. Tires generally last long, but they won’t last forever. 

A car inspection reveals how much tread the tires have. The amount of tread tells you if it needs new tires. It also tells you how much time you have before replacing them.

The vehicle’s brakes are similar. They last a long time, but they will need replacement. By examining your brakes, the mechanic can tell you how much life they have left.

In addition, they’ll check the components of the suspension system. They’ll ensure it has proper alignment and that all components operate correctly.

Learning these things can help you avoid buying a car that requires immediate work. 


A car’s dashboard contains lights and dials. The mechanic begins the next step of the pre-purchase inspection by examining the car’s interior.

Then, they look at the dashboard. First, are any of the dash lights on?

For example, is the “Check Engine” light illuminated? If so, why is it on? 

The inspectors get to the bottom of any dash lights that are on. For example, they can run a diagnostic test to determine why the check engine light is on. 

Next, they’ll test the gauges to ensure accuracy. The primary goal is to ensure that each gauge works. 

Interior Instruments

Additionally, vehicles have many interior instruments. These include:

  • Exterior light switches
  • Interior lights
  • Radio
  • Windshield wipers
  • Heated seats
  • Defroster
  • Turn signals
  • Hazard lights

Testing each of these ensures they work properly. 


A good-running vehicle has an interior heating system. Most vehicles also have air conditioners. These systems have fans and motors that make them work.

So the car inspector must test these things. First, they’ll test the heat to ensure it blows hot air. Then, they’ll test the AC to ensure it blows cold air.

Additionally, the inspector ensures the fan operates properly at all speeds. 


A pre-purchase car inspection comes with a test drive. During this drive, the inspector notes how the car functions when driving.

For example, does it shake or vibrate when operating? If so, they might inspect the brakes and tires closer.

Next, how does the vehicle shift through different gears? Is there hesitation when shifting? Shifting issues occur when a vehicle has transmission repairs. 

They’ll also note how well the car stops when pressing the brakes. For example, does the vehicle stop well? Are there any squeaks or squeals when stopping?

Mechanical Features

You can reap many benefits from a pre-purchase inspection. But one of the top ones is a mechanical assessment. Vehicles have numerous mechanical components.

These inspections check all the mechanical features, including:


A test drive reveals transmission issues. However, inspectors also check each component of the transmission. For example, they’ll check the transmission fluid level. 

If you’re considering a manual vehicle, it will have a clutch. The clutch is also part of the transmission system, so they’ll ensure it functions properly. 


The engine includes many parts. For example, it contains hoses, filters, and a cooling system. Thus, an inspection includes an assessment of each of these parts.


Additionally, vehicles contain numerous fluids. Each fluid serves a unique function.

For example, the brake fluid assists with the car’s brake system. The coolant assists with the radiator system.

The inspectors check every fluid level during the inspection. They’ll write down any fluid levels that are too low.


The exhaust system is another mechanical component that requires evaluation. This system includes the muffler, exhaust manifold, and catalytic converter.

The purpose of an exhaust system is to eliminate the engine’s fumes. This system also plays a role in the gas mileage a car gets.  

If the inspection reveals issues with these components, you might look for a different one to buy. However, the inspection might not reveal any significant issues. If this is the case, you’ll know you found a good car. 

Get a Pre-Purchase Car Inspection for Protection

Getting a car inspection before buying a vehicle protects you. After all, it offers a professional opinion on the car’s condition. So you take a risk buying a car without getting it inspected first. 

Are you ready to purchase a vehicle but interested in getting an inspection? Contact us to learn about our services or to schedule a pre-purchase car inspection.