Shopping for a used car can actually be fun, almost as if one were on a treasure hunt. There are many fantastic deals to be had, especially when utilizing the vast marketplace that is the Internet to power your search for the perfect vehicle at the best price.

There are definite risks, though, to buying a used car, especially from independent used-car lots or from a long-distance seller. For these two scenarios, it is of vital importance, before any money changes hands, for a potential buyer to have a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) done on the car in question.

A PPI is a thorough assessment of a car’s safety, mechanical and cosmetic components, usually done by a certified mechanic or auto-body technician that has experience in these tasks and in the brand of car being assessed. PPIs are usually done at the buyer’s expense and most commonly when the buyer cannot inspect the car personally. In some cases, even when the buyer can inspect the car and take it for a test drive, a thorough, independent inspection is warranted if there are any questions at all in the buyer’s mind. A safety, mechanical or cosmetic question could arise, for example after the buyer purchased and reviewed the car’s vehicle history report and noticed a red flag.

The whole point of a PPI is to ensure one’s investment is as secure as possible and that the car they are buying is safe to drive. PPIs are well advised in long-distance transactions and whenever a warranty is not offered. It is usually simply a matter of picking up the phone and dialing to arrange for a PPI wherever the seller is in the country. While a completely clean result from a PPI provides the seller with a stronger negotiating position, any problems that are revealed would typically do the opposite, and in some cases could lead to the buyer simply walking away from the transaction altogether.

PPIs should be agreed upon by both parties in advance

While there is, unfortunately, no agreed-upon, industry-wide standard when it comes to PPIs, a basic inspection typically includes a visual assessment of the vehicle, top, bottom, front, back and sides. This inspection costs around $100. More comprehensive assessments are available as well, including a test-drive and digital engine analysis, which could cost a buyer a couple hundred dollars or more.