A couple of weeks ago I overheard an interesting conversation while inspecting a GTO for a client at a classic car dealership. I was about halfway through my inspection when an inspector from another company showed up to look at a truck for someone. Naturally, I was curious about the inspection he was performing, and so I kept an eye on what his inspection process entailed. About 10 minutes into his inspection of a K5 Blazer, a gentleman walking around the showroom, window shopping, asked the inspector what he was doing. The inspector said he was an agent of a national inspection firm, and that he worked in the area inspecting cars for said firm. The window shopper asked the inspector what the cost was to have a vehicle inspected. The inspector’s reply was that it depended on the amount of travel involved, but as an example, the charge for the Blazer he was inspecting was $350. One of my eyebrows went up when I heard that.
It didn’t take long to get a feel for his inspection. He was with the vehicle he was inspecting for less than 40 minutes. To his credit, he did crawl underneath the K5, as it was far enough off the ground for him to slide under. He checked the operation of the lighting. He took maybe 30 or 40 photos, no video. He test drove the truck, by running it up and down the half mile service road behind the dealership; he was only gone a few minutes. He was under the hood for a few minutes at best. He never put a magnet to the exterior sheet metal, never took a tread measurement. After the test drive he parked the truck and left.
My eyebrow went up because of the price. With travel, my client had paid me five dollars more, $355, to be there on their behalf to inspect the GTO. For an extra $5, my client received a four hour inspection of the GTO they were considering. For an extra $5, my client received 220 photos of the car they were considering. For an extra $5, my client received an hour’s worth of video of the vehicle; including a 15 mile, 25 minute test drive. For an extra $5, they got a cold start video of the engine, so they can see how easy or difficult it was to start. They will know if the car is making good oil pressure, and know if it smokes, or if the lifters chatter. For an extra $5, my client knows where all the body filler used before paintwork lives on the GTO. In fact, they have a video watching me work my magnets over the areas with filler so they can see exactly where the filler is, and whether it’s just minor dent repair, or a fender edge sculpted from Bondo.
That extra $5 represents the difference between independent inspectors and national inspection organizations who utilize “agents” or “sub-contractors” to perform inspections. Now to be sure, that inspector was not taking home all $350. Obviously the company that sent him out needs their share. It seems to me that for only being there a half hour, he probably wasn’t bringing home the majority of the sale. Obviously, as an independent inspector who owns his own firm, my inspection fee goes directly to me, which is why I don’t mind spending hours inspecting and photographing a vehicle, then taking all the information and creating detailed reports.
I should probably mention that I have previously inspected the Blazer the other inspector was looking at, for a client in Florida. I know quite a bit about that truck, including where the filler was, and the size and extent of the patches welded into the floor pans and rear quarters. I knew the engine block had a suffix which was correct for K5 application, and that its stamped assembly date predated the assembly date of the vehicle. I knew enough about the truck that my client was able to pass on the purchase. While it’s a fairly nice truck, it just didn’t meet my client’s expectations.
Will that truck meet the expectations of the buyer who hired this inspector to look at it? I’ll never know. And to be fair, the level of detail provided in my inspections is perhaps sometimes unnecessary. However, as an independent, impartial third party inspector, I choose to perform my inspections under the premise that my clients care about the details. My clients trust me to bring them as close as possible to the classic vehicle they are considering. Otherwise, they would hop on a plane and come see the vehicle for themselves.
The proof our clients need is often in the details. For an extra $5, make sure you really understand your classic car or truck investment. Give us a call, we’re here to help!
John Hansen is an automotive writer and owner of Michigan Automotive Inspection Services, which provides professional pre-purchase inspection, consultation, and appraisal services for classic automobiles located in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.