Feature article

Can I trust a pre-purchase car inspection?

Why get a pre-purchase inspection on a car you're considering buying and can you trust the results? Here’s our top tips.

Buying a used car can make even the most assured of us nervous – to gain confidence in your purchase, you need to know as much as possible about the vehicle you’re buying. Your trust as a buyer is now enhanced by the availability of a Background Check on Trade Me listings, but a pre-purchase inspection of the car is essential. So, can you trust it and what will it tell you?

What is it?

A pre purchase car inspection is a comprehensive mechanical check of the car you’re considering buying. A skilled mechanic will look over the condition of the car, structurally and mechanically, to make sure there are no causes for concern in its road-worthiness or imminent performance issues. The inspection will help you decide whether to buy the vehicle.

Depending on who you select to perform your pre-purchase inspection, the process may vary slightly, but these are the general checks they’ll perform:

  • The engine for any noise, fumes, smoke and other engine wear and tear.
  • The battery, alternator and starter motor to make sure they’re operating correctly.
  • The exterior of the radiator, water pump and hoses for any deterioration or leaks.
  • A drive test to check the car’s handling, steering and brakes as well as listening for any odd noises.
  • The car exterior for any corrosion.
  • Tyre tread depth and wheels for any damage.
  • The steering and suspension for any damage, leaks or wear.
  • A test of brake performance to look for any signs of wear and tear or faults.

The inspection will notify you of any recommended repairs needed on the car, any potential WoF issues, and will empower you with full knowledge of the mechanical condition of the vehicle.

Can I trust it?

As long as the inspection is undertaken by an accredited mechanic - there are some very well known and highly regarded options out there - you can have confidence in both the quality of inspection, and accuracy of results given. Organisations like MTA require that their members adhere to strict codes of practice and maintain high inspection standards.

Where you can potentially come unstuck is if the inspection is undertaken by a lesser, untrustworthy mechanic, and is an insufficiently comprehensive inspection. This is why it’s so important to use trusted mechanics.

The above checklist tells you what you should expect your mechanic to check and look for, as a minimum. If your inspection covers less than this, there are some potentially important car integrity issues that might have been missed.

Buying with confidence

A Background Check can be considered stage one in your journey to enlightenment and car buying confidence* – informing you of the car’s history (stolen vehicle, damaged import, re-registered status). Obtaining a pre-purchase inspection from a trusted, accredited source is stage two. And any car in NZ needs to have a current Warrant of Fitness (WoF) to legally drive on the road – stage three.

* For even greater peace of mind, if not available from the seller, it’s also a great idea to purchase a money owing check from MotorWeb.