Well, we’re into auction season, the weather is nice all over the country, so cars are moving! We’ve been keeping busy too, inspecting some amazing cars for our clients. For a long time now, the internet has been bringing classic car buyers and sellers together, with people buying cars from across the US, or halfway around the world. We’ve noticed on several occasions recently we have been hired to “re-do” pre-purchase inspections performed by “nationwide” inspection service companies who employ independent contractors. The reasons we are retained in these situations generally revolve around two issues; difficulties getting an inspection completed in a timely manner, and/or the overall content of the report provided, which failed to address key questions their clients had. As this has happened more than once lately, We’ve put together a guide for what to look for when considering hiring an independent third party to inspect your next classic car purchase.
Accessibility: Will you get to speak directly with the person who is performing the inspection, or will you be speaking with an “intermediary” who will “relay your questions to the inspector”? For many people, buying a classic car is a major investment. In a long distance purchasing scenario, the buyer has the added disadvantage of purchasing sight-unseen. You should feel comfortable with the inspector, and the work they will be doing.
Competency: Is the inspector you have retained qualified to inspect the vehicle you are considering? Highly qualified inspectors will possess strong foundational knowledge about the types of vehicles they inspect. You should be given the opportunity to communicate any specific needs or concerns about the vehicle you are having inspected. Do you feel like the inspector understands what your concerns are? Will your inspector do any prep work or research? A quality inspector will spend time compiling background research on the vehicle you are considering, before they inspect the car. If the client requires it, based on the type of vehicle they are considering, the inspector should know how to properly identify and decode major components, like the engine, heads, and transmission to ensure they are correct for the vehicle. In certain situations, some highly original and valuable vehicles sometimes need other parts like glass, carburetors, generators and other components date coded and authenticated as well.
Search for Filler: How much time will the inspector you hire spend searching for Bondo or filler on the prized classic you are considering? Will they check at all, or save time by taking the owner or dealer’s word for it? Does the inspector even know where to look? A high quality inspector will take the time to film video of any areas where filler is discovered, as well as any scratches or dents in the bodywork. You’ll “watch the magnets slide or fall” and know how large or small any repaired area is.
Does Everything Work? Everything should be checked. All lighting. Heating and air conditioning controls, fresh air vents, wipers, radio, cigarette lighters, every lock on the car, and all power options. A quality inspection will show you how the features work, on video! Old cars are just that, old. It’s common that some features may not be operational on the car you are considering, but if you’re hiring an inspection service, you should know what’s broken before the car is delivered to your door!
What is the Mechanical Condition? A quality inspector will be able to identify all sorts of issues, from water pumps ready to fail, to burned and improperly repaired wiring, to brake cylinders that are virtually dry (the last one of those we saw was on a single master car, luckily we caught it BEFORE the test drive!). Fluid leaks, u-joints, suspension bushings, incorrect components- will your inspector check it all out for you? A quality inspection might even include a video of a cold start of the car, so you can see and hear the engine, be able to observe any excessive smoke form the exhaust, and monitor things like oil pressure and unusual noises.
Underbody Inspection: Is the vehicle going to get off the ground for inspection? Vehicle underbodies are complex, and it’s important they are inspected properly, especially uni-body cars. Sometimes you can’t get a seller to get a car off the ground, but a qualified inspector should, at a minimum, provide ramps so they are able to get under both ends of the car to properly assess the chassis. Your inspector should be comfortable getting a little dirty! A quality inspector who is looking at a vehicle located in their area may even have connections with a few area garages to get a car up in the air if necessary.
Tools of the Trade: What sort of inspection equipment will your inspector use? Paint meters? Modeling clay for documenting stamping or casting numbers where a camera can’t reach? Bore scope cameras? (Useful for looking inside rockers and frame rails, and great for seeing casting codes on blocks which are sometimes made nearly invisible by other parts in the way, etc.) Do they carry any hand tools or diagnostic equipment? Sometimes all it takes are a few simple screws removed to properly access and assess the inner quarter panels or floor pans under carpet. A smart inspector will never disassemble anything without the owner’s permission, but it’s not even an option without basic hand tools.
See examples of their work: Have you had a chance to view a sample report? If not, you should ask to see a sample of the inspectors work before committing. How long does your inspector anticipate being with the car? Quality classic car inspections can sometimes take several hours. Ask yourself how much time you might take to inspect the vehicle if you were with it yourself.
Do they treat the car, and the seller, with respect? An inspector who lacks good communication skills and treats the seller or the vehicle they are inspecting disrespectfully can make the negotiations more acrimonious for the buyer. In fact, it can sometimes ruin a deal. Do they slam doors, or close them carefully? Do they take all precautions to ensure the finish will not be damaged by anything during the inspection? Do they drive the vehicle carefully during the test drive or are they abusive with someone else’s property? A good inspector can get the feedback necessary about how a car drives without smoky burnouts and runs to one hundred miles an hour.
Does the inspector interject their “opinion” into the transaction? Does the PPI report make claims about what a car “could be” with “a little work”? The best inspectors report what is, not what could be. Will your inspector offer an opinion about whether or not they “like” the car? Quality inspectors choose their words carefully, and understand that it’s not their role to “sell” you a car, but rather, provide facts about overall condition, to help you determine whether a vehicle meets your personal expectations. Classic cars are a matter of taste, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As the buyer, only you can decide whether you will be satisfied with the condition of the vehicle you are considering. Your inspector should act like the independent third party they are in the transaction.
Michigan Automotive Inspection Services provides professional pre-purchase inspection and appraisal services for automobiles located in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. The company is independently owned, not part of a national inspection network. We provide competent, courteous and personalized service to our clients. Our work is never contracted to third party inspectors or appraisers.