Buying a used car is a big investment, and it’s important to not rush the purchase.

Although a pre-purchase inspection isn’t mandatory, it’s a good idea to conduct a pre-purchase inspection before you buy a used car. When used car buying, it’s best not to have any surprises, and a pre-purchase inspection can tell you everything you need to know about what’s really going on with the used car you’re thinking of buying.

What is a used car pre-purchase inspection?

Pre-purchase inspections are when someone (usually a mechanic) inspects a vehicle for any damage, malfunction, safety issues, or problems that could arise with the car in the future. With this information, the buyer has a clear picture of the vehicle's condition.

Knowing about a car’s potential issues can help you (the buyer) decide whether to go through with the purchase.

Read more: Buyer’s Guide: 6 steps to buying used car

Is a used car pre-purchase inspection necessary?

Inspecting a car before buying it isn't required by law, but it is highly recommended. It’s nearly impossible to detect all internal problems from a quick glance at the engine and interior. The inspection will help identify the actual condition of the auto and reveal any unwanted pre-existing conditions.

However, car inspections cost money, and it is ultimately up to you to decide whether you're willing to invest in a pre-purchase inspection or not. If you're buying the car from a close relative or friend, you might choose to trust their word on the vehicle's condition. You may also be purchasing the car for parts, in which case an inspection may not be needed.

How to get a used car pre-purchase inspection in Ontario

There are several ways to get a pre-purchase inspection in Ontario. If you're buying from a dealer, they will usually perform the inspection on-site before you drive off. If you're buying from a private seller or prefer to do the inspection off-site, you can take it to your local mechanic.

If you don't have a reputable mechanic to turn to, you can use the CAA (Canadian Automotive Association) to find a service center to help out with the pre-purchase inspection.

Can you DIY a used car pre-purchase inspection?

You can perform a DIY used car inspection to save some money. However, you should only do this if you are confident in your knowledge of cars and have experience inspecting or fixing vehicles. In most cases, it’s best to hire a pro to conduct the pre-purchase inspection.

If you decide to do your own pre-purchase inspection, here are some tools that you may need to have on hand:

  • OBD2 scanner — shows important vehicle information once connected to the car.
  • Coating thickness gauge — measures the thickness of the coating to detect potential damage.
  • Telescoping mirror — helps you see areas of the vehicle that you can't inspect with the naked eye.
  • Flashlight — allows you to inspect car parts that are in dark areas.

Download our FREE Used Car Self-Inspection Checklist

GuardTree’s 76-point checklist for everything you need to consider when inspecting a car to buy. Use it to help reduce your chances of buyer’s remorse.

What is checked during a used car pre-purchase inspection?

During a pre-purchase inspection, a mechanic will perform a safety inspection and visual check of the used car. Having a vehicle history report that outlines the car’s damage history can highlight which areas of the vehicle need careful inspection. Knowing where to look can help a mechanic determine that all damage in the vehicle’s past has been thoroughly and carefully repaired.

Here are some of the main things that are typically investigated during a pre-purchase inspection:

  • Warning lights on the dashboard
  • Brakes and emergency brakes
  • Fluid leaks
  • Lights (headlights, turn signals, etc.)
  • Steering system
  • Engine noise

Who typically pays for the used car pre-purchase inspection?

The person buying a used car is usually the one who pays for a pre-purchase inspection. However, if you're buying from a dealership, they might offer a free pre-purchase inspection as part of the deal. A basic pre-purchase inspection usually costs from $100 to $200, depending on your location.

Protect yourself from surprise repair and breakdown costs.

The older a car is, the more likely it is to break down. When your pre-purchase inspection checks out and you move ahead with a purchase, you should also consider an extended warranty for your used car.

As Canada’s only subscription-based used car warranty provider, GuardTree gives you peace of mind with a monthly extended car warranty subscription that you can cancel at any time.

Our subscriptions provide protection from most major electrical and mechanical repairs. And we included additional benefits like roadside assistance and car rental and trip interruption costs to keep you on the road.

See what’s covered and use our price calculator to decide if an extended car warranty is right for you.


Read more: Extended Car Warranties 101: Everything You Need to Know



Disclaimer: This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute mechanical or other professional advice as it relates to your vehicle. Each person must consult a qualified professional with respect to matters referenced in this post. GuardTree Inc. assumes no liability whatsoever for actions taken (or not taken) in reliance upon the information contained herein.