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How to avoid buying a dud car - pre purchase vehicle inspections

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Updated 10 Oct 2019

Jonathan Nash

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For most of us, getting by without a car would be a pretty tough ask.

From enabling us to get to work and back, to safely transporting our kids to school, to a myriad of other transportation tasks (getting the week’s shopping back from Woolies would be tricky without one, right?) the family automobile is a vital tool of modern life.

It’s pretty important, then, that you own a vehicle that will, when properly maintained, give you years of safe, comfortable, trouble-free motoring.

Of course, buying a car isn’t cheap, and if you’re looking for something of the used variety rather than a sparkling new model fresh off the showroom floor, then finding the right one at the right price, that is also both safe and reliable, can be a little stressful.

After all, you don’t want to part with thousands of dollars for a car only for the wheels to fall off when you turn into the first corner.

While that is unlikely in any circumstance, the truth is that you can’t be entirely certain what treatment a second-hand vehicle has been subjected to by previous owners and getting the input of a professional regarding the condition of your potential purchase just makes a lot of sense.

That’s where a pre-purchase inspection comes in.

So, what is a pre-purchase inspection?

A pre-purchase inspection is a professional examination of a vehicle’s condition.

A qualified inspector/mechanic evaluates the vehicle - making note of any mechanical, electrical, structural and visual defects - and provides a report summarising the vehicle’s condition.

The final report is not a recommendation, but a guide for the prospective buyer as they consider whether or not to purchase the vehicle.

Why should I get a pre-purchase inspection?

The inspectors are experts in the trade and will give you, as far as the limits of the inspection procedure allow, a clear picture of the vehicle’s condition.

Put simply, this will give you peace of mind that the car you’ve got your eye on is in good nick, has plenty of life left in it, and is an investment that won’t let you or your family down.

And if the inspectors should uncover any faults or defects, their report can be used to negotiate a price reduction or as an indication that it’s time to back away from the purchase and move on to another vehicle.

Where can I get a pre-purchase inspection?

Many mechanical service businesses – from local workshop and mobile mechanics to large state-based or national organisations such as the RACQ or Redbook – offer a pre-purchase inspection as a service.

AutoGuru also provides a booking service for pre-purchase inspection providers in your local area.

Depending on the provider, inspections will be delivered either on site at the vehicle’s location or you may have to organise for the vehicle to be transported to an inspection workshop.

What is included in a pre-purchase inspection?

The details may differ slightly between service providers but, in the main, an inspection will take anywhere up to three hours (depending on the vehicle and the type of inspection requested) and examine most areas of a vehicle, from mechanical and electrical systems, the paint work and body panels, the condition of wheels and tyres, as well as the vehicle’s interior. In most cases, a road test will also be undertaken to assess steering, suspension, brake, engine and driveline operation.

Once the inspection has been carried out, a detailed report will be forwarded to the customer.

In the case of the providers available through AutoGuru, pre-purchase inspections will include, amongst other items:

• Seats, seat belts and interior trim
• Air conditioning and heating
• Windscreen wipers and washers
• Doors and locks
• Dashboard and instrument cluster
• Lighting systems
• Glass and mirrors
• Subframe
• Underbody
• Suspension
• Steering components
• Transmission and engine
• Exhaust
• Drive shafts
• Fluids
• Ignition, fuel, and cooling system
• Brake system
• Wheels and tyres
• Wheel bearings
• Road test

Are they any items that are excluded from a pre-purchase inspection?

All pre-purchase inspection providers exclude certain items from the service.

Once again, these may differ from provider to provider but, in general, exclusions will likely be items such as LPG systems, catalytic converters, entertainment and infotainment systems, and the satellite navigation system. You should check with the provider about their exclusions - these can usually be found on their website.

It should also be noted that no pre-purchase inspection is completely exhaustive.

The inspector will not take the car apart to scrutinise individual components – although examining an individual component may be something that can be requested – and inspectors can only pick up problems and defects that are present at that time of the visual inspection.

How much does a pre-purchase inspection cost?

Prices do vary depending on the vehicle to be inspected, the location and, in the case of the state motoring associations, whether you are a member or not.

However, somewhere between $100 to $450 should be about right.

To compare quotes for your exact car from local independent service providers, click here.



Master Check for members: $299
Master Check for non-members: $349
Mobile Check for members: $249
Mobile Check for non-members: $299


Standard Inspection (cars under 10 years):

Mobile inspection for members: $269
Mobile inspection for non-members: $289
In-store inspection for members: $299
In-store inspection for non-members: $319

4WD/AWD, SUV, MPV & cars over 10 years:

Mobile Inspection for Members: $319
Mobile inspection for non-members: $339
In-store inspection for Members: $349
In-store inspection for non-Member: $369

Prestige cars:
Mobile Inspection for Members: $369
Mobile Inspection for non-members: $389
In-store inspection for members: $399
In-store inspection for non-members: $419


Mechanical Inspection: From $270
Total Care Inspection: From $295


Pre-Purchase Inspection: From $260 (Includes a vehicle history report valued at $34)


Sedan (under 10 years) for members: $216
Sedan (under 10 years) for non-members: $238
Sedan (over 10 years) for members: $257
Sedan (over 10 years) for non-members: $283
4WD/Importer/European (under 10 years) for members: $324
4WD/Importer/European (under 10 years) for non-members: $357
4WD/Importer/European (over 10 years) for members: $391.50
4WD/Importer/European (over 10 years) for non-members: $431


2013 Ford Focus $112.50 - $253.50
1990 Ford Falcon $82.50 - $202.50
2015 Hyundai Elantra $88.50 - $231
2017 Subaru Forester $82.50 - $214.50
2007 Toyota Yaris $112.50 - $195

While you may be tempted to go straight to your state motoring association, it’s worth remembering that a pre-purchase inspection is a service that many excellent, experienced local workshop and mobile mechanical businesses offer, and at very competitive prices.

You can book such a local expert through AutoGuru.

Check the AutoGuru terms and conditions and review a sample pre-purchase inspection report on this website.

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Written By

Jonathan Nash

Jonathan has been writing about the auto industry for years and is particularly interested in the high-tech innovations sweeping the industry.

He’d love to own a Tesla Model S, but also adores anything with a V8 under the bonnet. 

He has yet to decide between an EV or a Mustang for his next ride.