How to have a mechanic check out a used car?
November 9, 2009 6:28 PM   Subscribe

What is the most common protocol for having an independent mechanic check out a used car before buying?

Will I have to sign something saying I agree in principle before bringing it to my mechanic?

Will I be able to drive it there myself? Or will the dealer bring it for me?

If I do indeed have to sign something, under what conditions can I "unsign" it? In other words, what would the mechanic have to find/say for me to be able to revoke my agreement?

posted by whataboutben to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
When I bought a used car I asked the woman who sold it to me if I could get it inspected. After she agreed, I called an independent mechanic, made an appt. that worked for both of us (lunch on a weekday). Nothing was signed. Inspection took 45 minutes and we both got a copy of his assessment. She drove back to work.

Later I asked her to fix all the problems he discovered or reduce that amount. She did. I bought it.
posted by special-k at 6:39 PM on November 9, 2009

Like special-k I just asked the seller if an independent inspection was OK, then called a local mechanic, who arranged the details with the seller. In the USA, AAA will give you references for mechanics if you need that. It worked the same with a dealer for a relative last month.

I think it's very unlikely you'd have to sign an "agreement in principle" -- I certainly wouldn't. Ask the dealer if they'll take it (but you pick the mechanic, of course) and if they won't then take it yourself -- any decent dealer will be OK with that. I should re-phrase that: "decent" does not go with "used car dealer".
posted by anadem at 8:04 PM on November 9, 2009

I've used Carchex and have been really pleased--they work with a network of independent local mechanics whom they assign to go and inspect the car, take photos sometimes, document all the issues with the car, and then send you the report.

Googling Carchex reveals a problem with some local mechanics in MD, but my NY experience was nothing but positive. I'd use them again.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:31 PM on November 9, 2009

You might have to sign a liability waiver/agreement to drive the car off the lot to the mechanic. If the dealer won't drive the car there with/for you, you may want to be very cautious and treat it like a rental agreement. Thoroughly document the condition of the car beforehand. Consider who may be liable if the mechanic damages something (or if the dealer claims the mechanic damaged something).

But I would not buy a car from a dealer who tried to lock you into any kind of purchase agreement as a condition to having the car inspected. If they want that, run away.
posted by TDIpod at 9:01 PM on November 9, 2009

Just did this with the boyfriend's new (used) car- purchased from a private seller off of Craigslist. We test drove it and liked it okay, then talked about price in the event that nothing major was wrong. We called the mechanic of our choice and made the appointment and then met the seller outside the building. We dealt with the mechanic (our mechanic is slightly weird about this- he didn't even want to see the seller, I imagine because of past drama) and came back to pay when done, then straightened out the details of purchase after nothing major turned out wrong (and used a minor concern or two as a further negotiating point).

I would not buy a car from anyone- including a dealer- who required that you sign some kind of a purchase contract in order to have the car inspected, or who objected to you using a mechanic of your choice. If they are concerned about you running off with the vehicle or damaging it en route to the inspection, they certainly should be willing to meet you at the mechanic.
posted by charmedimsure at 10:00 PM on November 9, 2009

No contract should be signed.
Additionally, make sure the mechanic you use is one known to you. DO NOT use a mechanic recommended by the seller. I know that seems like common sense, but...
posted by Thorzdad at 5:35 AM on November 10, 2009

Agreed with the above. In addition, if it's a private party sale and the car wasn't dealer serviced, I'd talk to the owner's regular mechanic on the phone before taking it to your mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection (PPI). The owner's mechanic will know about things that might or might not be checked in a normal pre-purchase inspection. He (or she) may not tell you about the hidden "gems" but it won't hurt to ask.

Tell the mechanic that if they're honest about the car and the pre-purchase inspection doesn't turn up anything new, you'll consider using them for any future work on the car. "I need to get the car checked out, and for obvious reasons I need to use someone other than you. But, I don't have a regular mechanic, and you already know the car, so if the other shop confirms what you tell me..."

A normal PPI isn't going to turn up half-assed repairs buried behind stuff that costs money to remove. It won't tell you if the owner has been less than anal about fluid changes. It won't tell you if it's just one of those spooky cars that needs an inordinate amount of attention. Those things can bite you in the ass a couple years down the road.
posted by paanta at 6:53 AM on November 10, 2009

Last I did this was at a kinda shady used lot, they just made a copy of my license and let me take it. Mechanic found about $1500 worth of stuff wrong and the lot wouldn't budge on the price so I walked. Definitely worth the $50 or whatever the inspection cost.
posted by ghharr at 7:15 AM on November 10, 2009

I took my car to a mechanic that I sort of knew and had a good feeling about. He gave it the once over and said everything was good.

Fast forward two years when my car has all kinds of problems. End up driving it to my friend in a different state who tells me that the car had a serious accident and all kinds of bad work had been done to it before I bought it. The right wheel was barely hanging on.

Point of story: get a really effing good mechanic, and pay him well. It's important.
posted by sully75 at 9:09 AM on November 10, 2009

Perhaps this goes without saying but I'll say it anyways: go to an independent mechanic that truly knows the make of car that you are having inspected. Go only to an independent Honda/Acura mechanic if you are having an Acura or Honda inspected. I took the last car I purchased, an old Volvo, to an independent garage where two brothers have been working on Volvos (and only Volvos) for more than thirty years. The first car I took to them resulted in a laundry list of things that needed to be fixed. The second car to them needed almost nothing....two years later I still drive the Volvo and take it to the same mechanics for maintenance. Well worth the $85 and $85 for the inspections.
posted by fieldtrip at 10:16 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

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