Vehicle Inspections: What To Expect For Your Money

by Don Elliott on March 1, 2012

We regularly recommend that you take your vehicle, just purchased or still under consideration, to a quality service auto repair facility for an inspection. The purpose, of course, is to establish the condition of the car before you make an offer to buy it. If you have already bought the car, a trained technician will identify any immediate problems, safety issues, and upcoming maintenance needs.

Vehicle inspections are not all the same. It is a good idea to review with your auto repair service shop the scope of the inspection and at what price before any work will begin. Some car repair shops offer a “no tools” inspection at a reasonable price that may be adequate depending on the general condition of the car.

Once I have a car in the auto repair shop, I prefer to have the technician do a complete inspection. Most shops will provide a written summary of the items that they have inspected and include recommendations for auto repairs when necessary.

Brakes – This is probably the most important item on the checklist. A wheel-off brake inspection is the best way to determine the car’s ability to stop. While making the brake check, the technician should identify the amount of brake pads or shoes remaining and estimate when brake maintenance will be necessary. The parking or emergency brake should be checked as part of the brake inspection.

Suspension Components – A proper inspection should get the car up off the ground for a look underneath. Suspension components like wheel bearings, tie rods and ball joints are items that might be expensive to repair or replace.

Collision Damage Check – The technician will look for signs of prior damage that may or may not have been repaired correctly.

Fluids – A check of the fluid levels will often paint a bigger picture. Under-full fluids begs the question, “Where did it go?” Is the oil milky or like sludge? Is the antifreeze/coolant the right type?

Bulb Check – The technician should check to make sure that all the indicator lights on the dashboard are working properly.  He should also check headlights, taillights, and other illumination as a check for deeper problems.

On-Board Diagnostics – A good inspection will include a reading of the vehicles computer system using the On-Board Diagnostics portal.

Wear Items – Windshield wipers, the battery, tires, and belts should all be checked and the condition reported on the inspection report.

Test Drive – Technicians are in different cars every day, familiar with unusual sounds and conditions. When on a test drive, they will check drivability. Acceleration, stopping, steering, and noises will all be evaluated for problems. While in the car, the tech will check the air conditioning, the sound system, and electrical components including door locks and window operators. Follow-up checks may be required to evaluate the cause of any drivability issues.

A good auto repair shop should provide an inspection of the car with a summary report listing all items checked. Without campaigning for business, they will also recommend car repairs and provide an estimate of costs to perform the auto repairs where necessary.

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