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Just The Facts - The Inspectors Perspective

As someone who inspects vehicles for a living, I sometimes seem to walk a fine line with the sellers of the vehicles I inspect. While the interactions are rarely the same, my role in the process is always clear; I represent the (potential) buyer’s interests. What sellers often do not realize is that as the inspector, hired by the buyer, I do not attempt to sell the buyer on the merits of the vehicle I have inspected. In fact, my service agreement with each of my clients’ states that I will not offer an opinion of whether or not they should purchase the vehicle I inspected. Why is that? It’s simple; it all comes down to expectations. My job is to deliver complete, competent and factual vehicle inspections which are impartial and neutral. It would be rare for my personal expectations of a vehicle to be in complete alignment with that of one of my clients. Automobile enthusiasts do all sorts of different things with the cars they buy. Some of the cars go straight to museums, taken off the road for years and years. Sometimes they are driven in local parades, and put on display at an occasional local car show, but past that, are largely unseen. Occasionally, they are daily driven. There’s a guy working in the building across from my office who daily drives a ’69 Pontiac Firebird convertible. Rain or shine, that car is out there, disappearing in mid-September and reappearing sometime in April. We all know car owners who practically have a seizure if they believe you may have breathed on their car before brushing your teeth. Other guys don’t care if you lean on their fender for a bench racing session. Guys who track their cars are often that way. Some guys will spend hours and hours polishing and waxing their finish until they achieve self-perceived perfection in an imperfect world. Others relish in every scratch and ding and call it “patina”. Both types of owners are correct, of course, and that’s what sometimes makes inspecting vehicles challenging. Everyone has their own expectations about what they will do with the vehicle once they purchase it, and more importantly, each buyer has different expectations about what the vehicle they purchase will do for them. As the inspector, reviewing a vehicle for a client, my personal expectations about what I feel a vehicle should do for me is not relevant.

A case that illustrates this point would be a Mercedes I inspected for an out of state client earlier this year. My inspection revealed several things about this vehicle that I personally found unsatisfactory. It had previous accident damage, and while it was repaired well, and the vehicle had a clean title, I could still tell a significant front end repair had been made. I suppose an untrained eye may never notice, but if I bought that car, all the subtle nuances of the repair would be all I would ever notice every time I approached the car. There were many other minor issues with the vehicle as well; dingy OEM wheels, some inoperable interior electronics and a worn out top. Taken on their face, they were just that- minor issues. For me, the issue was looking at how lengthy the list of minor issues was. Had I been in the market for a Mercedes, I would have passed on this one at almost any price. However, after reviewing the report and consulting with me over the phone, the buyer decided to proceed with the purchase, as he was comfortable he had the resources and expertise to repair the minor issues and negotiated a price low enough to compensate for the previous crash damage. He also believed the inspection I provided was thorough enough to ensure no unfortunate surprises would await him when he had the car shipped to him. The car met his expectations, and in the relationship between client and inspector, that’s the only thing that matters. Thankfully, my personal opinion about the vehicle never came up during our closing consultation. As Joe Friday would say, “Just the facts”.

Almost universally, the buyers are all looking for the same thing from their inspector, a competent and impartial analysis of the current condition of the vehicle, along with identification of anything which may become an issue in the future. In these transactions, the seller is the wild card. As an inspector, I’ve come to deal with all types of sellers, and from my perspective, they all bring different strengths and weaknesses to the transaction.

Consigners: Often my favorite sellers to interact with, as for the most part, they don’t have real skin in the game. Most of the time, the consigners I have worked with are happy to leave me alone with the vehicle as long as I like. They have no issue with me digging as deep into the car as I want, and they don’t generally get bent out of shape when I leave a car idling for ten or fifteen minutes to monitor operating temps or run a convertible top up and down five times and stop it halfway thru to check for fluid leaks. The downside of consignment dealers is that they sometimes represent the land of mis-fit cars. Occasionally I show up at certain consigners to perform an inspection and you can just tell- they have some really, really nice stuff. Other times, you show up to look at a car for a client that is parked between a worn out light pink ’65 Galaxie with noticeably mis-matched paint on the passenger front fender and door and a ratty black C3 Corvette with a gaudy fixed headlight conversion and more gold pinstripe than a John Player race car. Another issue is that I am not generally dealing with the owner of the car, and the consigner is often uninformed, and maybe sometimes unwilling to answer any questions I may have about the car.

Dealers: Working with dealers is a mixed bag; I’ve had both positive and negative experiences. These guys have a little more skin in the game. The best dealers understand my role in the transaction and leave me be, silently standing behind their vehicle and letting the inspection take its natural course. Good dealers get it- it does no good to sell a customer a vehicle that will ultimately not meet their expectations. This is as it should be, as it creates aggravation that neither party needs. Other dealers sometimes seem quite concerned that I must have better things to do with my time than spend all afternoon inspecting a 45 year old $90,000 car for a client. That particular dealer was perplexed when I called to set up the inspection appointment and informed him that I would likely need the vehicle for at least three hours, and more than that if I discovered irregularities. Not unreasonable for a vehicle that was allegedly frame off restored in 1990 and superficially re-restored a few years ago. Multiple times during the inspection he kept coming out of his office; “you ready for a test drive yet?” and “hey, just let me know when you’re ready for that test drive”. I never understand it- my time is not on their dime; as long as they make it home in time for dinner, who cares how long I spend with a car, I love what I do!

Private Sellers: Oh boy. You may imagine that private sellers can be the most challenging, and you would be correct, for all sorts of reasons. Private sellers have all the skin in the game- and if they have personally restored the vehicle, or it was their dad’s car, or they’re in a bad financial spot and are being forced to sell it (I see this with divorcing couples), the inspectors tightrope goes up another hundred feet and the safety net is pulled. Whatever the reason may be, whether to maximize profit on the sale or inflate an already over inflated ego regarding their vehicle, some private sellers love to hover. They will hang out with you during the entire inspection. They make distracting small talk, tell stories, ask probing questions about the car until they are convinced I know what I’m talking about, and give disapproving looks if I dare to blip the throttle of the idling engine. In these situations, I am usually permitted a test drive, but if I’m ever denied a test drive and have to settle with a ride along, it is always with a private sale car.

Now, to be sure, not all private sellers make inspections difficult. One nice thing about working with a private seller is that, unless they’re curbstoning, private sellers are almost always the best informed about the vehicles they are selling. And in defense of the private seller, I understand. I really do. I’ve sold enough vehicles myself as a private seller to know what it’s like in their shoes. For every issue or imperfection I note, I’m effectively slapping their girlfriend. Nobody wants to spend hundreds or thousands of hours or significant sums of money restoring their dream car only to have a perfect stranger show up and tell them why their dream isn’t so perfect. This is where it pays to have an inspector who treats vehicles respectfully and diplomatically communicates with the seller during the inspection.

One thing I don’t think sellers realize, and they should, is that the attitude and conduct of the seller always comes up during my post-inspection consult with the buyer. Almost every time. The buyer generally wants to know if the seller seemed open and honest. Did they accommodate me well? Questions like this come up in discussion, and it matters. It helps to put the buyers mind at ease about a transaction to hear from me that the seller was very friendly and open, not pushy about the inspection or any questions I have. Sellers who make the inspection process difficult often lose the sale. People like to do business with others they feel they can trust, and what sellers sometimes fail to realize is that when buyers and sellers are separated by seven states, I am often the conduit that makes that trusting connection possible. My best advice for a seller is this- leave us be to do our work. As an inspector, brown nosing me will only heighten my suspicions about a vehicle, and the more you appear in a hurry for me to be gone, the more compelled I feel to double check everything on the car.

Whether I’m dealing with a consigner, dealer or private seller, I still have the best job. I’ve met a lot of great people, and carefully examined many beautiful cars. As a professional independent vehicle inspector, I continually strive to provide the best third party vehicle inspection available. I treat every buyer and seller with respect and every vehicle I inspect as if it were my own. If I can be of service to you with your next vehicle purchase, please give me call.

Happy Motoring.

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