auto

Buying a used car? Get an inspection first

Tara Baukus MelloIf you're getting ready to buy a used car and you're worried you'll end up buying a lemon, a used-car inspection can help bring you some peace of mind. For $100 to $150, a professional mechanic will go over any car you are considering to buy to uncover any current mechanical issues as well as identify potential future problems.

Many independent auto repair shops conduct used-car inspections, which are often referred to as pre-purchase inspections. If you already work with an independent mechanic you trust, asking him to conduct the inspection or for a referral is a good start. If you don't, or if the car is located in another area, you can do an Internet search for "used-car inspections" and the city where the car is located to find a firm. You also can search for reviews on Yelp.com or a similar resource.

Make sure the mechanic you hire is certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, or ASE. Another option is to hire a national firm specializing in used-car inspections, such as Alliance Inspection Management, Carchex and Inspect My Ride.

Once you locate a qualified mechanic to perform the inspection, ask for a list of what the inspection covers. It's likely you'll receive a long list of items that the inspector will check, including many that you can check yourself, assuming you are not purchasing the car remotely. These items should include reviewing the exterior and interior for damage and wear and checking the operation of all the various car features and all fluid levels.

But a professional inspector should review the car for many issues that require a professional eye. In particular, look for an inspector who can assess the engine, steering, suspension and frame and look for signs of previous accidents and water damage. In addition, the technician should use a code-reading device to check for any error codes that could indicate a problem. Should he find any, you can ask the seller for a receipt for a corresponding repair.

Inspections are generally offered either as a mobile service, where the mechanic goes to the used car's location, or at the mechanic's garage where the seller would bring the car. If the seller is willing, opt for the garage inspection. That should allow the mechanic to put the car on a lift to view the chassis and frame more thoroughly and also give him access to other diagnostic equipment for a more comprehensive inspection.

Regardless of the type of inspection and inspection service you choose, make sure you receive a written report and photos of any areas of concern. Having this documentation can be helpful in your negotiations to purchase a used car if you decide to move forward with the deal.

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If you have a car question, email it to us at Driving for Dollars. Read more Driving for Dollars columns and Bankrate auto stories. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.

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