How to perform a pre-purchase inspection

You’ve decided to get a used car, and after hours upon hours of research, have finally decided on a particular car you found online. You go down to the dealer to take a look and take it for a test drive, and you’re happy with the car.

But wait ! Before you sign on the dotted line, there’s something you need to do first - send the car for a pre-purchase inspection. Ok, you don’t have to do it - but it’s something we absolutely recommend. As its name suggests, a pre-purchase inspection refers to the car being sent to a 3rd party workshop of your choice to be checked and given the green light before you purchase it.


As warranties on used cars are a grey area, and the fact that you have very few reference points on how the car was being treated by its previous owner, a pre-purchase inspection can help you avoid buying a ‘lemon’. Of course, there are some things which a pre-purchase inspection can’t really detect (like an alternator which is about to fail) but at least you’re getting a good idea of what needs to be replaced and you can negotiate with the dealer before purchase.

How to perform a pre-purchase inspection :

  1. Inform the dealer

First, you’ll have to inform your dealer that you’d like to send the car for a pre-purchase inspection. If the dealer refuses, it’s best to walk away. Dealers who make up excuses not to have the car sent for an inspection are probably trying to hide something. Some dealers also insist on sending the car to their workshop, which can be dubious as they may have a good working relationship with the workshop. You’re spending thousands of dollars of your hard earned money on a car, so the least you could do is to have it checked first before buying.

If the dealer allows it, great. Set a date and time for them to send the car to the workshop on your behalf.


2. Contact workshop

Next is to contact a workshop you can trust. If you are unsure of which workshop, you can head over to a Facebook group called SG List of Recommended Car Workshops or you can ask your friends/family. Some car workshops do the check for free, while others require a payment. It’s best to ask first. Even if it costs $50 for a check, it’s $50 well-spent to give you a better peace of mind driving your car. The most important factor here is finding a workshop you can trust. Which is why you should send it to a shop you have a good relationship with.

Inform them of the date and time discussed earlier and if they are ok with it - then you have it settled. Your potential car will be sent to them for checks.


3. Pre-purchase inspection

It’s best if you are there during the inspection so you can see it for yourself, but it's not always necessary. This is why the workshop and mechanic should be one that you trust. At this stage (and since you’re not around), they can claim that a component on the car needs replacement when it actually doesn’t, or that the car is no good - when it actually is.

If you are there, things to look out for are engine leaks, any rattles or funny noises when the engine is turned on or while driving, damages to the undercarriage, date since battery was last changed etc. You can check out our article on this here.


4. Inspection results

There are only 2 outcomes - either the car is all good to go with no parts needing replacement, or the car has some parts to be replaced before the mechanic can give the all clear. Let’s assume the latter. It’s more likely since its a used car. It is now up to you to negotiate with the dealer on this (which isn’t the most fun thing to do), but it’s one last hurdle before getting your car.

If the parts to be replaced are minor, and you don’t mind paying for it then you can go ahead and sign on the dotted line. But if the damaged or worn component costs a few hundred or thousands to repair - this can be a dealbreaker for many customers. Dealers will of course avoid having to pay for it as it will eat into their profit margins, but you have to also stand your ground if you feel that the dealer paying for the repairs is justified (but of course be reasonable!).

This is also the tricky part - there’s no rule on who should pay for the repairs. For smaller repairs or replacements like changing the battery, brake pads etc. it can be easier to negotiate, since the dealer may have given you a discount on the price of the car or help you get a better deal on a loan via lower interest rates.

But if the repair costs thousands to fix, i’d probably get the dealer to foot the bill because the component is likely to be critical to the operations of the car.

There’s no rule for this, so who pays for the repairs really depends on your negotiating skills and how agreeable the dealer is. At the end of the day, you shouldn’t feel like you got ripped off, and the dealer shouldn’t feel like he’s sacrificing a lot just to make a sale.

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