July 22, 2019

Can car dealer charge fee for pre-purchase vehicle inspection by independent mechanic?

Dear Consumer Ed:

I am considering purchasing a vehicle from a rental car company. To make sure the car is in good shape, I want to have it inspected by an independent mechanic. However, the salesperson at the rental car company told me that they would charge me a $250 fee for doing that. Is this legal, and if so, would this fee be refundable once I return the car or purchase it? 

Consumer Ed says:

It is a great idea to have a used vehicle inspected by an independent mechanic, regardless of whether the vehicle is “certified,” was inspected by the dealer, or comes with some kind of warranty or service contract. Having a mechanic’s inspection helps to determine the overall reliability and mechanical condition of the vehicle before you buy it, and the cost from the mechanic is usually about $100-$200, according to consumer automotive resources. That’s far less money than you would spend if you bought a car and later discovered it had a major mechanical issue. 

As far as whether the dealership can charge you a fee if you take the car to an independent mechanic, they probably can. Businesses, whether they are dealerships, independent dealers or rental companies, are allowed to set their own pricing policies. Furthermore, there is no law in Georgia stating that they cannot charge such a fee. Although there are legitimate reasons that the dealer might not want the car taken off the premises (for instance, liability concerns), the fact that the dealer is seeking to discourage an inspection is concerning and might be a sign that the vehicle has problems that the seller does not want you to know about.  Moreover, purchasing a rental vehicle comes with increased risk that might not be associated with new, or other used or pre-owned vehicles. For example, rental drivers may be rougher on rental vehicles. Also, a rental car has had multiple drivers, while other used cars, depending on the mileage and what they were used for, might have had just one or two consistent drivers.

As to your question of whether the dealer’s inspection fee is refundable, it really does depend on the dealer. Because there is no law regulating this fee and businesses generally can set their own prices, there is nothing stating that the fee is refundable. However, you can always ask that the fee be refunded. It is likely that the dealer will say no, but if they say yes, make sure you get that promise in writing. You should obtain a copy of the agreement and keep it as evidence just in case the dealer reneges on the agreement later on. Nonetheless, if the dealer refuses to let the vehicle be inspected without a fee and insists that the inspection fee is non-refundable, it could be a red flag, so you may want to take your business elsewhere.

Submit your own question to Consumer Ed.  Remember…we do not give legal advice. Always consult a lawyer about legal issues.

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