Mobile inspections help used-car buyers

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Everyone knows you should get an independent mechanic to check out any used car or truck to keep from making an expensive mistake.

Yet many buyers decide to forgo an inspection because they don't have the time to take their purchase to their favorite garage.

Or they don't even have a garage where they know the mechanics are looking out for them.

If that's you, why not consider a new alternative -- the go anywhere, anytime mobile inspections popping up around the country.

Here's how it works: 

Such services are particularly useful if you're shopping on the Internet for a car or truck that's hundreds, or even thousands, of miles from your home.

"The main advantage," says CARCHEX CEO Jason Goldsmith, "is that you are going to get a professional set of eyes to determine if the car is what the seller is representing it as."

Here are answers to most of the questions you might have about these services:

How much will it cost?

Most inspection services have different levels of inspections with corresponding prices.

For example, Tech-Express provides three increasingly comprehensive inspections priced from $195.95 to $295.95. All include a test-drive evaluation and a test-equipment scan for trouble codes among its checks.

CARCHEX currently offers two inspection levels priced at $109.95 and 119.95. Less extensive than Tech-Express, both of its 155-point inspections include a test-drive evaluation as well as other system checks.

Requesting an inspection at a more remote location may entail an additional charge for mileage, but this should be established at the time payment is made.

CARCHEX and Tech-Express also include a full battery of photos of the inspected vehicle.

What do they look at?

How intensive the inspection is depends on the service and the level of inspection you order.

Basic inspections usually cover: 

Services that include road tests expand the inspection to include how well the engine, brakes, transmission and other mechanical parts work.

More extensive inspections look at steering and suspension components like control arms and shock absorbers, radiator corrosion, and estimate how many miles it will be before brake parts need to be replaced.

Many services offer sample reports online, giving you a good idea of what will be inspected and how detailed that inspection will be.

How long does it take?

It can take anywhere from 48 hours to four days from the time you hire an inspection service until the company files its report to you.

Is a prepurchase inspection worth the money?

If you're dealing with an individual or a used-car lot that isn't part of a new-car dealership, we think it's worth every penny.

These cars and trucks are sold "as is," which means the individual or used-car lot isn't going to help if there's a problem down the road. Even if it's only a few miles down the road.

Inspections are less important when you're buying a used vehicle from a new-car dealership. You can certainly forgo one if you're buying a car or truck that's still covered by any type of factory warranty.

Are these inspections guaranteed?

Unless specifically noted among their list of services, there are usually no guarantees.

"Our reputation is on how good of a job our inspectors do," Goldsmith said.

Goldsmith said the 155 points they inspect are guaranteed to be as reported, but without taking a car apart, there is no way to say with certainty that nothing will go wrong.