Buying a preowned car – Is a PPI worth it?
“I ran a VIN check and reviewed the service history, the car looks great, what can go wrong?”
The answer is, plenty. Without a pre-purchase inspection, you might only have half of the story of that vehicle’s previous life, and you don’t want to unknowingly end up with a car that had a rough childhood or adolescence!
To a certain extent, the VIN check, also known as a Title Check, and the service history may only tell you what a previous owner wants you to know about a particular vehicle. As all vehicles achieve greater usable lifespans, more people find that buying pre-owned is a great money-saving alternative to the regimen of new car payments, increased insurance costs, and the hassle of the new-car dealership buying experience. We have even produced a few videos for our YouTube channel which go into detail, explaining the substantial cost savings in ownership and maintenance that are possible when choosing pre-owned vehicles over new. But there is a crucial, pre-purchase step that should be performed if you are to have any confidence in that purchase, and that is to have that vehicle inspected by a competent independent repair facility.
The competent part is self-explanatory, but you may be asking, “why an independent shop?”
The reason is that a good quality independent shop sees a much wider array of issues than a typical dealer service department. At Midwest Performance Cars, we have seen it all, in both vehicle repairs as well as inspections. That vast exposure to the gamut of potential problems, combined with our depth of knowledge gives us a great base to work from when inspecting a car for the first time, in preparation for a potential purchase. For instance, our standard Pre Purchase Inspection (PPI) process consists of a complete visual inspection of the exterior, racking the car on a lift and inspecting the undercarriage, a road test, paint-gauge depth measuring to check for evidence of repaint or bodywork, and diagnostic computer scanning of the vehicle ECU to check for any logged data that might be out of the norm. Additionally, we also verify the operating condition of all electronic and mechanical controls. If any one of these steps shows any unexpected deviation, we can recommend further steps, such as a compression test or borescope (remote camera examination) to check the individual engine cylinder conditions or other drivetrain subsystems. The client ends up with an 8 to 10 page written report, complete with photographs and links to video documentation if needed, of the vehicles particular systems. It is a wise and essential operation that costs about $250 and can save a buyer thousands in potential unexpected repairs.
Most people assume that a vehicle title check presents a comprehensive picture of the car’s history, however, significant events can lack detail or be missing altogether from the VIN records. If a vehicle is involved in a major accident, and the parties do not file a claim on their insurance for fear of losing coverage, a car owner could take their vehicle to a body shop, pay for repairs out-of-pocket, and that repair might not show up on the title check. The same goes for a major mechanical issue or failure. Not all repair shops provide data to the title check companies, the way we do. We upload repair and maintenance records directly to a title check company, because it adds to the value of our customer’s vehicle. That is good for our customer and for any subsequent buyer of one of our client’s vehicles, because their diligent maintenance becomes part of the vehicle’s searchable history. But if an owner is dealing with an unconnected or unscrupulous shop, they can have a major repair made to a vehicle without any record appearing on the history. If that happens to be an engine swap, a future buyer could wind up driving a car that does not have its original engine and they would never even know it.
We recently had a new client drive in with a late model, pre-owned Porsche sedan. He had purchased it less than one month prior, WITHOUT having commissioned a Pre-purchase Inspection. In addition to some scheduled maintenance, he also had a complaint of some squeaks and groans coming from areas of the front and rear suspensions. Upon doing a thorough courtesy inspection, we found clear evidence that this 4 year old vehicle had been involved in some type of front-end trauma, whether that was a collision with another vehicle, guardrail, or embankment, we could not tell. However, the entire front support bracket was new. This was a 60,000 mile car, one where you could eat your lunch off of the support bracket, it was so clean and new. Additionally, the belly pans were like-new, several sheet metal fasteners throughout the front end were not fully tightened down, and there were flattened areas of the suspension knuckles that had obviously been deformed by repeated hammer blows. Other than this, and the brake pads being down below 4 millimeters and needing replacement, the Porsche was in very good condition. Unfortunately, these were all conditions that would have been immediately caught and called out in a PPI. Having that PPI in-hand could have been a strong negotiating point to save thousands on the purchase price. No PPI had been done, so the buyer didn’t have the knowledge.
Due diligence is always necessary when making a major purchase such as a pre-owned European vehicle. You should never feel embarrassed in asking the seller, whether it is an individual or the swankiest dealership in town, to have the car taken to your reputable shop of choice for a Pre-Purchase Inspection. We have had cars come from the local Bentley, Aston Martin and Bugatti dealer for PPI’s, without an issue. If the dealership is good and has a solid reputation, they should have no problem with delivering a vehicle for inspection. If they give you a hard time, or more so, if they refuse, do yourself a favor and politely excuse yourself. You don’t need to take someone else’s headache off of their hands.