Used car inspections can save cash, remorse

Austin Self inspects a car at Bockman's Auto Care in Sycamore. The shop offers free inspections.
Austin Self inspects a car at Bockman's Auto Care in Sycamore. The shop offers free inspections.

When it comes to used cars, Sean Sheridan has an antidote for buyer’s remorse: know what you’re getting into in the first place.

Sheridan is an auto technician at Bockman’s Auto Care in Sycamore, one of several local auto repair shops that offer free used vehicle inspections to potential buyers. The service is available to anyone, not just the shops’ regular customers.

“The worst thing you can do is buy it and then have it inspected,” Sheridan said.

Consumer Reports recommends people buying a used car have it inspected by an independent repair shop that routinely does diagnostic work before any papers are signed or money changes hands.

Bockman’s owner Jon Bockman said he’s offered free inspections for the last five years. It isn’t limited to potential used-car buyers; people also bring in their cars for a once-over before taking a trip, like going on spring break.

“It’s a service to the customer,” he said. “It doesn’t take a ton of time and it doesn’t cost a lot of money (to him). It’s more of a convenience factor.”

Jim Gerlick, owner of Jim’s Automotive in Somonauk, said when he started offering free inspections five years ago, he was surprised how few people took him up on it.

“It started off really slow,” he said. “I thought it would go off with a boom.”

Besides doing drivers a favor, Gerlick said the service brings people into the business who may not otherwise come to him. He figures if they like what they get, they may become regular clients.

“I think it’s a feel-good situation,” Bockman said. “It’s win-win. We had a car in here the other day. It didn’t really need anything so we gave the keys back to them and their eyes just lit up. It’s a cool feeling.”

Leslie Piatt, service adviser at Motor Works in DeKalb, said their shop offers a free inspection for a “quick trip around the block.” Those wanting her “to tear the car apart” looking for body damage as part of a 55-point inspection will be charged $100.

“It’s the best $100 investment you’ll ever make on your car,” she said.

Rich King, service adviser at Chuck’s Auto Service in Sycamore, said the money spent on a used-car inspection is well-spent. The shop charges $45 for an inspection.

“To me, $45 is a cheap insurance if it has an issue that could need special repairs,” he said. “You don’t want to buy a $10,000 vehicle and find out a month later (it needs work.)”

There are limitations to what a pre-purchase inspection will find, Gerlick said, noting that the mechanics won’t take the car apart.

“When you buy a used car, you have to realize it’s not brand new and you’re going to have some issues, “ Gerlick said. Common issues include steering problems, tires, brakes, shocks, belts, hoses and leaks.

If a vehicle has 50,000 or more miles, Piatt always tells the customer to expect to pay another $1,500 to $2,000 on top of the price of the car for repairs. “The last person (who owned it) got rid of it because they didn’t want to suck it up and pay for the repairs,” she said. “I always tell my customers, this is your budget and figure this is what you have to pay.”

Auto technician Austin Self said sometimes he’s seen car sales staff accompany a possible buyer to Bockman’s. Although they may not always like the findings, he said, they never argue and will either have the problem fixed or renegotiate the price.

“Sometimes, there’s nothing wrong at all,” Gerlick said. “Actually, to be honest, I think if they bring a car in from our local dealers, the majority of them are pretty good cars. I think the dealers probably wouldn’t let them take a car (to us) if it wasn’t a decent car. It keeps them on their toes.”

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