When buying a used performance or specialty car, a pre-purchase inspection is key. This is true even when you’re working with a legit dealer who makes a convincing argument that their car is top notch. In fact, that’s when your guard should be at its highest. This story should convince you to always get an independent evaluation.
A longtime Jalopnik reader (and owner of a 1969 Dodge Charger and a 1988 Porsche 911, so not just some geek off the street) had an unfortunate experience purchasing a used Porsche 911 from several states away. He found the car at what looked like a reputable dealer that specializes in pre-owned sports cars.
He was told by the salesperson that their “Porsche Certified Technician” gave the car a clean bill of health. The customer did notice an idle issue and the dealership agreed to fix that problem prior to sale. He made the purchase and shipped the car. Once it arrived, the condition was not what he expected.
Upon the delivery, the car was noted with extra 700 miles, a check engine light and rough idle, as well as PASM failure. The navigation system wasn’t working and the rear quarter panel was painted. My dealer friend ran a Porsche scan tool, which confirmed all the faults (rough idle was due to misfires).
Two days after the delivery I was able to get an appointment with Porsche of Manhattan, who put it on the lift and immediately noted rear main seal leaking (seemed like its been there for a while, due to gunk build up) and left front axle boot leaking badly. RMS issue is bad for manual cars, as it will contaminate the clutch if not fixed, which requires removing the transmission. All the codes were still there and required further diagnostic to determine the exact cause. They only had an hour of appointment time, so I took the car to a local specialty shop to finish the inspection, during which they also found that the engine mounts were shot and the idler pulley was on its last leg.
Dealership would charge about $2k to drop the tranny to address IMS, further diagnostic needed to determine the issue with miss fires (plugs and/or coils), PASM needs further investigation, could be faulty sensors, could be faulty PASM unit, could be faulty shocks, the plugs and coils need to be replaced ($12 for a plug and $60 for A coil). My indy shop charges half the rate, and could do the work, but i’m still looking at over $2000 to get the car running right.
The buyer attempted to contact the dealership, who basically has sent the message of the deal is done and the car is no longer their problem.
There are a few key takeaways from this story. The first of which is always get a car inspected by an independent shop. Do not take the dealer’s word for it that everything is fine! Especially if you notice something that might not be right, like the idle problem. This could be a sign of something more serious. An independent shop would have been able to detect the numerous issues listed above allowing the buyer to make a decision as to whether or not to buy this car.
The second point is that it’s easy to sit read this story and get judgemental, but it’s important to understand the psychology of why someone might make a purchase like this without doing the inspection. Finding the right specialty car takes time and buyers don’t want to find the right car only to miss out because another buyer snatched it up. Buying a quality used specialty car is more about taking advantage of an opportunity for a good value more than finding a good discount. Depending on the car and the price, that opportunity may not present itself very often.
Putting the qualification of a pre-purchase inspection on the sale adds time and an extra layer of logistics to the process. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and want to jump on a deal before it gets away. If a dealer looks like they are the type of place that carries good quality inventory and they make assurances that the quality is indeed as advertised, even smart shoppers can be sucked in.
There have been a few times with my own clients where the pre-purchase inspection was lined up and the car was sold to someone else who was willing to buy the car without it. Did these folks miss out on a good opportunity? It’s possible. Dealers are out to make a sale the easiest way they can. While a good dealer will often hold a car with a deposit while the process is in motion, some won’t.
Buying a used car always carries a level of risk and managing that risk when your emotions are involved in the purchase can be tricky. Not getting an inspection done risks you getting a car that needs work, but getting it done could mean you risk losing the car to another buyer.
But another car will always come along, it just may take awhile, and it’s always better to have as much information as possible before you sign that contract.