Mechanics say an auto inspection can uncover hidden problems
No matter how many “points” a mechanic’s inspection promises to cover, don’t overlook the main point: determining the status of a vehicle’s most critical components.
An inspection is a good investment if you’re considering buying a used vehicle or if you’ve lost track of your car’s maintenance schedule and need a general idea of its condition, especially before a long trip.
Highly rated auto service pros tell our team that a thorough inspection involves more than a visual once-over mechanics may offer during oil changes. At the very least, it should include a detailed review of brakes, tires, engine and transmission.
In addition, a multi-point inspection ideally will cover fluids, lights and abnormal sounds or smells, as well as car seats, carpet, paint and any signs of rust or body damage. Other “points” can include the exhaust system, loose or missing bolts, belt wear and tear, and warning systems.
Many auto service shops advertise specials on what they may call a 20-, 50- or 100-point inspection. The number of “points” doesn’t always indicate that one shop’s inspection is more detailed than another. For instance, a 150-point inspection may include 20 items related to the engine alone, while a 20-point inspection may count a total engine evaluation as one point.
Some “points” you can probably check yourself, such as confirming that the vehicle identification number (VIN) on the dash matches the one on the driver's door, checking if tires are low or balding or if there’s obvious rust.
However, an experienced, reputable mechanic is your best bet for taking the wheels off and going beyond the surface. Most reputable car dealers will allow you to arrange and pay for your chosen mechanic to inspect a used car before purchase. (Be aware that in the case of mandated emissions tests or other vehicle checks, a state may require work to be done by government- approved facilities.)
Expect to pay from $50 to $250 for a thorough inspection. Don’t sign a work agreement until you’re certain what’s covered and that no repair work will be done without your say-so.
To find a good mechanic, ask friends and family for recommendations and check comments on a trusted review site. Inquire about work guarantees, experience, training, certification, licensing and insurance.
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, the nation's most trusted resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home improvement to automotive repair. Follow Angie on Twitter @Angie_Hicks.