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How professional car inspections work

When you’re buying a used car there are all sorts of things that you need to take into account. Has it been crashed then poorly repaired? Is the suspension dangerously worn? Is the catalytic converter on its last legs? How much life is left in the battery?

Even someone who has been buying and selling cars for years can be caught out thanks to the complexity of the latest models. There are just so many things that can wear out or go wrong – and they can cost a pile of money to fix.

So it’s no wonder that a lot of used car buyers turn to the experts before they buy a used car, by investing in a professional used car inspection. That way they’re getting an expert opinion on the condition of a potential purchase and there should also be some peace of mind should things go wrong further down the line.

Not all vehicles are eligible for inspections though. Many companies won’t scrutinise classic vehicles, US imports, kit cars or high-performance cars, and hybrid or dual-fuel models are sometimes out of bounds too. Any vehicle being inspected must also have a current MoT. But if you’re considering buying a mainstream car made within the last 15 years, investing in a professional inspection could be a seriously canny move.

What will a professional car inspection cost me?

You’ll be doing well to get a car professionally inspected for less than £100 – and double this is more likely. That might sound like a lot of cash but remember the technician has to travel to the car then on to their next job. They’ll take at least an hour (often more like two) to go through your potential purchase, writing their report. With hourly garage rates typically around £100 per hour, you’re actually getting pretty good value.

The best way of looking at things is to look at technicians in the same way as accountants – they should save you more money than they cost you. Because fixing cars tends to be expensive – parts and labour soon add up – it doesn’t take much of an issue before the bills start to really mount. Just replacing a duff battery can easily cost £100 for example. So if your £150 inspection reveals £300-worth of issues, you can haggle accordingly (or walk away), and the inspection has paid for itself.

Many garages offer an inspection service and so do most breakdown organisations. Taking the AA as a typical example , for a 206-point inspection you’ll pay £202 while a 155-point inspection is pegged at £162 – but if you’re an AA member these prices drop to £182 and £146.


Is there a cheaper option?

You’re in luck because there is a more affordable alternative to a full-blown analysis of that potential used buy – but remember that you get only what you pay for. This cut-price option is an MoT – the same annual test that you’re obliged to put your car through every year for it to be legally on the road. While the maximum cost of an MoT is £54.85 there are plenty of garages that will do the test for a lot less – perhaps as little as £25.

The downside is that an MoT is only checking whether or not the car is roadworthy and therefore legal. It’s fairly in-depth and for what you pay you get a lot of checking by someone who knows what they’re doing. But they won’t be looking for wonky panel gaps, poor paintwork or tired mechanicals unless they fall foul of the regulations. Also, there’s no redress in the event of you buying a heap.

What does a professional inspection involve?

Call in the experts and you’re paying for two key things: a load of expertise and the use of some specialist equipment that you wouldn’t otherwise have at your disposal. While the former will enable the inspector to spot a poorly repaired car at 50 paces, the latter will enable them to check the paint thickness as well as quiz the car’s ECU (the brain that controls everything) to check for faults.

So as well as going through the bodywork, electrics, transmission, brakes and suspension the inspection will also take into account items such as the condition of the fuel and exhaust systems along with the wheels and tyres. Not everything will be checked though; expect items such as any multi-media systems and exhaust emissions to fall outside the scope of the analysis.

How much protection do I have?

Having paid for an inspection, you’d expect some sort of redress in the event of a problem failing to be spotted. Some companies will fix any faults that crop up post-inspection, while others will pay for you to have the work done wherever suits you best. The best companies will give you the choice.

What you need to beware of is inspection companies wriggling their way out of things once you’ve driven off in your new purchase. It’s not unusual for a company to claim that the fault wasn’t there when the car was inspected which is why it’s worth looking for online reviews of any company before you sign up, to see what their after-sales is like.

One thing to bear in mind is that these inspections typically don’t look into whether or not the mileage is genuine, if the car is stolen or if it’s subject to outstanding finance. In other words, there are no data checks as part of the process. That’s why your best bet is to also invest in an HPI check before buying, which in conjunction with a decent inspection should give you as much peace of mind as possible.