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Should you get your used car inspected?

heycar editorial team

Written by

heycar editorial team

car being inspected
  • We reveal what a used car inspection covers
  • Find out whether they are worth the money
  • How much should a car inspection cost?

Buying a used car can be exciting and scary, sometimes in equal measure. But you can remove one area of uncertainty by getting the car checked out before you buy it. These are independent car inspections designed to give you peace of mind that everything is as it should be under the bonnet and with the car’s history.

What does a second hand car inspection include?

Any thorough inspection will normally include two main parts. Firstly a mechanical inspection, where a professional technician pokes around the car’s bodywork and oily bits. Then a history check that looks into the car’s background to ensure it’s what the seller claims it is.

What do you want to get from it?

A used car inspection should come to you as a written report that will help you build a complete picture of the car. From its condition to how well it’s been looked after, how reliable it’s likely to be, and whether any major – and therefore expensive - components need replacing soon.

Mechanical inspection

There are different levels of mechanical inspection depending on your needs and budget, and the exact service levels can vary between companies. But you can generally expect a qualified technician to give the car a thorough going-over followed by a test drive. This part should include:

  • checking how worn the tyres and brake pads are
  • ensuring the fluids are at the correct levels
  • inspecting for corrosion underneath
  • ensuring major components such as suspension parts aren’t broken, worn out or damaged.

You can pay more for a detailed check of the bodywork and interior features such as electric windows, air conditioning, upholstery and carpets. If you are buying a specialist model such as a sports car or 4x4 motor, be sure to use an experienced specialist for that type of vehicle.

Car history inspection

A history check is as important as the mechanical inspection. This is to guarantee that the car has never been declared an insurance write-off, stolen and sold under a new identity, or sold with money still being owed on it. You also want to be sure the recorded mileage hasn’t been tampered with to make it seem a better deal than it really is.

There are several organisations that can check a car’s past for you, like HPI or Experian AutoCheck.

How much is a car inspection?

Generally speaking, the more thorough the inspection, the more it costs. Cars with bigger engines can cost more to check, as they tend to be larger and more complicated. Prices usually start at around £75 and can go up to several hundred pounds depending on the car’s size and what level of inspection you want.

Have some cars already had one?

Before you think about getting a used car inspected, it’s worth checking that the garage, franchised dealer, or whoever is selling it hasn’t already done one. Many manufacturer-approved used cars often undergo an extensive series of checks before they’re put on sale. Some independent garages also offer used cars that have already been checked over by the AA or RAC.

Who does used car inspections?

There are a wide range of organisations offering a used car inspection service. If you know and trust your local garage, you could ask them to look over the car. This may be the cheapest way to do it, but it may also be less thorough and more informal, which could mean less peace of mind than you’d ideally like.

You could also go to a local or national motoring organisation such as the AA or RAC. It’s always worth comparing prices on the internet to avoid paying over the odds

Check the small print

If you want to get the best value for money from a vehicle inspection, always check the small print for what’s actually covered, as this can vary. You also want to be sure the car inspection is appropriate for your vehicle, especially for more complex cars such as convertibles or 4x4s.

Is it anything you can’t do yourself?

That depends on how good your mechanical knowledge is. If you know your way around an engine bay and you’ve got the time and basic equipment, there’s no reason you can’t do it yourself..

As far as paperwork goes, you can learn quite a lot from the government’s MoT check website. If the car has a service history and bills for the work that’s been done to it, you can also build a picture of its history and see how long certain components should last.

Companies such as CAP HPI offer a basic history check on used cars with prices starting anywhere between £10 and £20. At the very least it’s worth having one of these done. And remember: if a seller claims a car is ‘HPI clear’, don’t just take their word for it. Ask to see the paperwork to be sure.

Are used car inspections worth it?

They’re certainly very handy for building a picture of the car and how it’s been maintained. But they also aren't a guarantee that things won’t go wrong in future. If the car’s engine fails two months after you buy it, you’re unlikely to have a valid claim against whoever conducted the inspection because they can say it was fine when they looked at it. But if the car’s been inspected, you know that what you’re driving away is in full working order and what the seller claims it is.