What Does a Pre-Purchase Inspection Include?

Purchasing a “new-to-you” used vehicle can be a daunting process. From the initial search to the final payment, each step brings with it a host of things to factor into your decision. One of the largest downsides of buying a used vehicle is the unforeseen issues that the previous owner may have failed to disclose or address. 

Though service history and CarFax reports can provide you with a great initial overview of the vehicle, some things can only be checked with the hood popped or the vehicle on a lift. This is why we recommend any prospective buyer of a used car bring the vehicle to a trusted local mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection (PPI).

In a pre-purchase inspection, the vehicle will have all of its essential systems checked for issues that may not be apparent on a simple test drive. This extra information on the vehicle’s condition could be the difference between buying a reliable car at a great price or a never-ending money pit of repairs. 

What’s Checked During a PPI?

During a pre-purchase inspection, a technician will give your vehicle a comprehensive overview to reveal any skeletons in the closet you should be aware of before making a significant purchase like this. Here are some of the things you should expect to be looked over during a pre-purchase inspection. 

It’s also important to remember that the exact checklist will vary by shop, and it may be a good idea to ask your mechanic what exactly they’ll be going over during the inspection. 

Fluid Levels & Leaks

Vehicles rely on various fluids to lubricate, cool, and/or drive hydraulic systems. From the oil to the coolant, each has a specific purpose within that system to keep it performing as it should.

This is why the fluid levels and conditions are one of the first things that will be checked during any inspection, as running without the proper quality or amount of any fluid can lead to irreparable damage to crucial components. 

The technician will also check for any active leaks throughout the vehicle, even ones that may not be dripping into a visible position. While the car may run great at the moment, it’s important to identify any leaks before purchasing to avoid unforeseen issues down the line. 

Creature Comforts and Safety Features

While less important from a mechanical standpoint, the various systems in the vehicle designed around driver and passenger comfort should also be checked. Things like the power windows/seats, air conditioning and heater, radio, and other “non-essential” interior features are hardly non-essential for the majority of us when buying a vehicle. 

Of course, it’s also necessary to ensure proper operation of safety items like headlights, brake lights, turn signals, and other small items that may be easy to gloss over despite their important role in keeping you safe. 

Car radio and climate controls


Another important area for any technician to inspect is the condition of both the exterior bodywork as well as the frame. Though you’ve probably already discovered any major scratches or dents on the exterior, a thorough check during a pre-purchase inspection will also include the less visible portions as well as the frame that sits under it. 

Ensuring the frame is in proper condition is vital, as even the smallest amounts of rust or damage can spell bad news for your vehicle in the future. A slightly bent or shifted portion of the frame can dramatically alter the driving experience, safety, and control you have over the vehicle. 

Rust is particularly important to check for in areas where rain and moisture are common, especially those that have been kept outside for the majority of the time with their previous owners. 


Of course, one of the most important areas for the technician to check during your inspection is the brakes. During a PPI, the rotors and pads of your brakes will be inspected for signs of wear and damage, along with any other components like calipers and brake lines. The technician will also likely drive the vehicle and get a first-hand feel for the current state of your braking system. 

Even if the brakes feel good on the test drive, there’s always the potential for a lingering issue to rear its ugly head after you purchase the vehicle. This is why it’s so important to have the brake system of the vehicle inspected prior, as brake issues are not something you want to encounter on your new investment. 


Maybe the most worrisome part of buying a used vehicle, a pre-purchase inspection can give you peace of mind about the condition of the engine in your potential new purchase. The technician will perform a detailed overview of the engine and surrounding components during the inspection, as well as check for any premature signs or sounds of wear. 

As we talked about above, the inspection will also include the vital fluids like oil and coolant that run through your engine and keep it operating properly.

Electrical System

Another system that can’t be accurately checked with a visual inspection alone, the electrical and charging system of the vehicle will go through a comprehensive test during the PPI. The battery, alternator, and other crucial electrical components will be checked for the proper power output and connection to the rest of the system. 


The health of the exhaust system is vital to vehicles not only for quieting engine noise but also for the sensors and emissions components that rely on an airtight seal for proper readings and removal of pollutants. 

Even the smallest crack or failure in an exhaust component can completely throw off the oxygen sensors, causing misreadings that translate to inefficiencies in the engine from an improper air/fuel ratio. 

Problems in the exhaust system may also lead to the inability to pass an emissions test, which is required for the registration of used vehicles in many areas. Exhaust leaks can pose a risk to the driver as well if the leak is allowing gasses to enter the cabin while driving. An unforeseen exhaust issue could prevent you from registering the car until you shell out the money for repairs. 

Catalytic converter and exhaust system under vehicle on lift


Of course, it’s crucial to inspect one of the most important systems in the drivetrain: the transmission. With the complex internals of a gearbox, serious problems can begin to develop before they’re even noticeable in daily driving. 

So while a test drive can provide you with a brief idea of how the transmission is functioning, having a qualified professional go over it with a close eye can save you from some frustrating issues. The technician will inspect it for any fluid leakage and test for warning signs of wear or internal damage, as well as check the condition of the fluid (automatic only).


The suspension system is one of the most complex and sensitive in your entire vehicle, as it’s what allows the vehicle to stay planted and under control while driving over various surfaces. During a pre-purchase inspection, the technician will give the suspension and steering system a comprehensive visual overview as well as test for any potential issues while driving.

Pre-Purchase Inspections at Sun Automotive

If you have your eyes set on a used car, trust the expert technicians at Sun Automotive to give the vehicle a comprehensive inspection, so you can have peace of mind in your newest investment. We understand purchasing a used vehicle can be overwhelming, which is why we strive to make the process as easy and painless as possible! Give us a call or schedule online today at one of our four locations. We have two in Eugene and one in Junction City and Springfield!