On further inspection, dealer-ordered "independent inspection" doesn't do the job.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Apr 01, 1991

Dear Tom and Ray:

Yesterday I went to a new car dealership near work to look at some of their used cars. We're thinking of buying an '88 or '89 Acura Legend. I told the salesman that before I would consider purchasing one, I'd want to have my own mechanic check it over (I know you advocate this). He said it wouldn't be necessary because they had already paid an outside independent mechanic to check their cars, and only those that passed had qualification stickers on them. I noticed that most, but not all of the cars had stickers. I'm enclosing the inspection pamphlet they gave me. Do you think this is a sufficient check?

TOM: No, we don't, Jan. While a dealer-ordered "independent inspection" is better than no inspection at all, it's simply not enough.

RAY: Here's why. The sole purpose of this dealer's inspection (as described in the pamphlet you sent us) is to qualify the car for an extended warranty. These warranties are actually insurance policies. But before an insurance company will issue a warranty on a particular car, it wants to be pretty darn sure that it won't have to pay for anything right off the bat. So the inspection concentrates on those parts of the car covered by this optional warranty. And while that covers a lot, it may leave out some important things.

RAY: For instance, like most warranties, this one doesn't mention clutch wear. So the inspection might not be concerned with how good the clutch is. You'd want to know if you were going to need a 500 dollars clutch job in six months, wouldn't you?.

TOM: Accident damage also isn't covered. So if the car had been in a major accident and its wheels couldn't be properly aligned (requiring you to buy new tires every few thousand miles), you'd want to know that too, right?

RAY: The exhaust system might be ready to rot through in several places, leading to hundreds of dollars worth of exhaust work. Normal exhaust corrosion isn't covered by this warranty, so the inspector might not be overly concerned about that either. You get the idea?

TOM: This isn't to say that all independent inspections are inadequate or intentionally misleading. Some might be very thorough, and might go above and beyond the warranty requirements. We're simply saying that YOU should choose and pay for the inspector, so there's no doubt who's best interests he's looking out for. If you hire the inspector, he's going to be concerned first and foremost with how the car is going to perform for you, not how it's going to perform for the people selling the warranty.

RAY: Finally, just asking for an independent evaluation can tell you something about the used car dealership itself. If they have nothing to hide, they should have no qualms about delivering the vehicle to a mechanic of your choice. If they protest, and insist that their ace mechanic, Vinnie, has "inspected every inch of the vehicle and has assured them that it's in A-1 condition," suggest that Vinnie may want to make an offer on the car, but that you'll shop somewhere else. Good luck, Jan.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One