Can a Dealer Charge Me an ‘Inspection Fee’ for a Certified Pre-Owned Car?

Illustration for article titled Can a Dealer Charge Me an ‘Inspection Fee’ for a Certified Pre-Owned Car?

As Jalopnik’s resident car buying expert and professional car shopper, I get emails. Lots of emails. I’ve decided to pick a few questions and try to help out. This week we are discussing extra charges for a certified car, a questionable CarMax Miata, and why Honda doesn’t just make more Type Rs models.


First up, can a dealer charge you an extra fee for a certified car?

“Last week I was at a Honda dealership following up on a 2014 Honda Civic, 34k miles, and in great shape. The car was advertised as Certified, which was not a big deal to me at all. In fact, I find that kind of marketing nonsense amusing.

However. when we got down to numbers, on the sales sheet was an “inspection fee.” When I asked what that was (in addition to $699 Doc fees,) I was told by the finance person that it was a fee charged for the inspection, and certification of a car, and that it is required by Honda for a car to be certified.

Huh? Can you explain that one? Is it true or false.”

A dealer does have to pay the manufacturer a fee to put the car through its certification process, but this should already be built into the price of the car as advertised. “Inspections” and “reconditioning” are part of doing business in selling used cars. Taking these fees on later is a common tactic amongst some car dealers so that they can advertise a price below market value and make up for it with an additional fee.

In fact, if a car is being advertised as “certified” and the dealer charges you a “certification fee” or “inspection fee,” they may be in violation of FTC regulations for advertising. It’s kind of like going to Burger King and ordering the Mega Bacon Whopper that is advertised for $4.99, and the cashier says the bacon is an extra 50 cents.

I’ve run into similar situations with other dealers who wanted to charge these fees and often when you push back they waive the fee. If they don’t, just take your business elsewhere.

Of course, this goes back to a core car buying tip of always get an itemized out the door price in writing before you go to the dealership, regardless of whether the car is new or used. That way if a dealer pulls this extra fee trick, you can catch it and move on before you waste your time driving to the dealer.


Next up: at what point do you walk away from a sale on a problematic car?

“I am in the market for a Miata NC, and thought I found a good deal at CarMax for a 2013 with 51k miles for $15k. However, when they shipped it to my local CarMax, they decided the hood should be painted, and a few dings should be fixed. So I waited for that to be done. Then when I test drove it, when I got back to the lot the brakes on the passenger front tire started grinding, so they said they’d replace the rotors, pads, and calipers. Is this too many red flags for a relatively low mileage car? There are also scuffs on the plastic inside which suggest it might not have been well taken care of. I wanted to go with CarMax to avoid the crap shoot of buying from an individual or shady used car lot, but I don’t know what I’m doing.”


What happened here is what happens to several folks in buying into the marketing to think that CarMax used cars are dramatically better than other used cars from any other source. I covered this in a previous column, and despite CarMax’s arguments to the contrary, there is no significant evidence to suggest that buying a pre-owned car from CarMax is going to guarantee a higher quality specimen. This particular car seems to have lived a hard life, and I would suggest moving on to other leads.


In the $15,000 range there are any number of reputable used car dealers and private sellers that will carry a quality NC Miata. You just have to be patient, and once you find a good candidate, get it inspected.

Lastly, why doesn’t Honda just make more Civic Type Rs?

“Why is Honda not building more Civic Type R models? I have searched and searched in 100 miles radius of my area and every time, I only find 4 to 5 Type Rs for sale and they all have a markup of 4K to 10K. I want to buy one but without markup, now that car has been here for two years. What is holding Honda back?”


Honda is building more Type Rs, and as we have covered the next model year will get a price increase, but your question more has to do with the volume of cars being built. If the demand is so high, why doesn’t Honda just increase production?

The answer is complicated, but basically the Civic Type R is a low volume and relatively low profit car for Honda. They make some money on each model but the margin isn’t as wide as, say, a loaded Pilot. So from a business perspective Honda isn’t super motivated to make a bunch more cars that aren’t super profitable. And remember those markups don’t benefit Honda—that is pure profit for the dealership.


Perhaps with the next model year arriving it may force the remaining inventory to come down in price. If you aren’t in a rush, it’s worth waiting a bit.

Got a car buying conundrum that you need some assistance with? Email me at!

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (



Dealerships can charge whatever they want because we’ve allowed them to exist for some strange reason.