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7 - Tips on Starting a Long-Distance Relationship

Updated: Feb 13, 2022

Finally, after months of navigating the EV and hybrid landscape and weeks of searching, that mythical red and black missile was almost within my grasp. Driving 400 miles to buy a car is nearly as risky as just buying one you haven’t seen and having it shipped, so the idea did make me a little queasy. Had the car been any further away, I wouldn’t have considered it. But, this part of Arizona was within a half day’s drive of my house. My wife and I could easily drive out there and back in one day, so it seemed like it was worth the gamble for a couple tanks of gas. I was ok with this risky proposition for the most part, but I wanted to hedge my bets a little bit more.



Car Foxes and Weasels

After a series of confusing and somewhat incomplete emails from the dealer (add ominous foreshadowing music here), I had enough information to know this car would probably work out well. Still, I needed to check a few things before I took the next step with the dealer. I thought it would be prudent to go ahead and get as much background information on that vehicle as I could to ensure it hadn’t been in a wreck, or salvaged, or used to ford a river. Here’s what I did to get a feel for the history of the car.


First, I started with the two leading websites for vehicle history reports, CarFax and AutoCheck. They’ve both been around for a long time now and are pretty reliable sources for information. They aren’t perfect and don’t have every detail you may want, but they do have just enough information to creep you out a little.


CarFax

CarFax reports are very comprehensive. I attached a link to a sample report because there is just too much to describe. For $40, you get a fair value estimate, ownership history, title history, additional details about the car regarding accidents or damage, a full timeline of ownership/service history/accidents, and a really nice infographic summary of all the details. They also have a buyback guarantee if something slips by them, but I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in that.



AutoCheck

AutoCheck is good too, also very comprehensive. It has basically the same information as Carfax, but a single report is only $20. It has fewer details and isn’t as well laid out, but it’s half the Carfax cost. They also have a buyback guarantee but no fair value estimation tool. If you have to choose between CarFax or Autocheck, AutoCheck is a better value.



Assorted Ideas

Those are two of the leading players in the market, and they are pretty reliable. You’ll get a little more detail with Carfax, but it may not be worth twice the price. One of the things that I found helpful was just doing a Google search for the VIN of the car. When I did that with the red P90DL in question, I actually found the for-sale listing from the dealer who last sold the car. It was fascinating because I was able to look at the mileage from the prior dealer, then compare it to the CarFax and AutoCheck reports, and get a pretty complete history of the car. All three data points together really told the car's story from the first sale through the current for sale listing. I even got some cool pictures of the car from a couple years ago. There are also many free sites you can use and lower cost sites, but they tend to be much less reliable. Also, it felt like a lot of those sites were a little sketchy. I don’t recommend getting a U.S. VIN report from an online company in Uzbekistan. If you’re buying a car that will ultimately be a big investment for you personally, don’t skimp. I got a CarFax report, AutoCheck report, and I searched Google for the VIN. It was worth the $60 and the time to really feel like I’d done my due diligence. But that wasn’t all I planned on doing before making the 400 mile trip to Arizona.



Inspecting My Gadget

Since all the car history reports were clean, I decided to tell the dealership selling that car that I would like to take the next step towards a purchase but was a little constrained by the distance between us. I asked them if it was ok to have an independent third party come out and test drive and inspect the car before I went out there myself. They said it was ok and they would accommodate an inspector. The dealer said to hurry up though, someone had just come out to look at the car and was very interested. Riiiiiiiighhht, straight out of the dealer playbook (replay ominous foreshadowing music). I wasn’t too concerned, considering the car had been on their lot for at least several months by this time. Regardless, I did want to get an inspector out there as soon as possible, just to move forward in the process, not necessarily because I was concerned about the car being sold.


My search for a third party inspector began immediately. To the internets! I searched for “Car Inspection Services” and received a surprising number of results. If you want to skip past my thoughts on the different inspection services, go straight to Plan B.


Here were some of the top inspection services that appeared, ranked in order of preference:


7. Plan B


IMCInspection

Iconic Motor Car Inspections seems like a smaller outfit than some of the other companies. I liked that their website had this folksy vibe to it. They were quite expensive, starting at $350 on their website, but it really felt like you would get your money’s worth with them. Also, they had a picture of one of their lead guys with Wayne Carini. If you like Wayne, that’s pretty cool. They had 5/5 star reviews on Yelp and Google, which was very comforting. The most significant limitation for me was, they seemed limited primarily to Southern California. The price didn’t really bother me too much because I felt it would be worth it. If their services had worked for me logistically, they would have been my first choice.



LemonSquad

This was my second choice. I liked the layout of the website, and all the interfaces seemed well laid out. I liked that they explicitly had ASE Certified technicians on their roster. When I searched for reviews of their website, everything skewed positive for the most part. A lot of the negative reviews tended to center on them missing critical items and being generally unresponsive. But, it seemed like a lot of others on the list received similar criticism. On Yelp, they had a 3/5 star rating, but on Google, they had 4/5 stars. Probably the most significant negative for me was the scheduling. When I tried to schedule an appointment, it would have been at least 3 days before I could get an appointment, and if the car sold before then, they would keep my $180. I went all the way through the setup process but decided to take a different path because the logistics and timing wouldn’t work.



CarChex

There was something about their website that just didn’t sit well with me. It seems professional and clean at first and priced about the same as LemonSquad. But, sometimes, you read reviews on websites, and there’s just something that doesn’t feel right. That’s how it felt when I read a lot of the positive reviews on CarChex. They have 4/5 stars on TrustPilot, but only 2/5 stars on Yelp. As I dug into it, I just didn’t feel comfortable with them. And like LemonSquad, between their scheduling lead time and report delivery time, it would be close to a week before I got a report back from them.



YourMechanic

Their website also had a down-home feel, but there was something off like it hadn’t been proof-read. I think what concerned me the most was the $99 pricing. Since most of the other services were at least $150 and none of them had great reviews, what would you get for $99? They offer a few different services, so parsing the inspections from the other stuff would be challenging. On Trustpilot, they had a 3/5, and Yelp was 3.5/5. They could be good from a customer review perspective, but the $99 price tag concerned me a little. If you’re looking for a second opinion and you can be there to inspect the car too, that might be a good deal. But, if you’re relying solely on an inspector to make a purchase decision, taking the discount route may not be the best path.



Automobile Inspections

This company had a folksy feel to their website as well and it seemed like they were a little more expensive too. The inspections started at $199 for basic inspection, but most inspections were closer to the $350 range. In general, their website seemed a little more sparse than other websites, it felt a little more generic. There weren’t a lot of online reviews which always concerns me a little. They had 3/5 stars on Yelp, but there were only 3 reviews. I just didn’t have as much confidence in this company as some of the others.



AIMCertify

It’s cool that this company is part of Kelley Blue Book. It lends a little credibility to the brand. The website is very clean, professional, and well laid out. They appear to work with significant manufacturers and handle their end of lease inspections. The pricing seems pretty reasonable and starts at $129. My only reluctance here is that they appear to be a big company, so I’d expect to see them on the more notable review sites, but they only seem to be on Yelp, and it’s not good 2.5/5 stars. A lot of the reviews complain about inspectors being late or really rude scheduling staff.



Plan B

At the end of the day, I didn’t use any of those companies, but I thought some of my insights may help you if you are on the hunt for an inspection service. I wanted to schedule something in the next day or two, and most of those companies had longer lead times of 1-3 days and 1-3 day turnaround times for the reports. Also, I just wanted something a little more personal. I hopped on Yelp and searched for car inspection services in the city where the dealer was located. I was surprised to find that a lot of local repair shops offered vehicle inspection services. So I just went down the list of local repair shops that had inspection services listed on their Yelp page and contacted them. Several said they didn’t offer those types of services, a few said they didn’t provide inspections on EV’s, but a few gave me price quotes and estimated timetables. Of the 2-3 that seemed to fit my timetable, I went with the company that had the better Yelp reviews. Considering the car's price and the distance, I wasn’t going to split hairs over $20 or $30.


I called the company I selected from Yelp to set up the inspection, then spent the rest of the afternoon coordinating details with the inspection service and the dealer. Just a couple days after I scheduled the inspection, the inspector was ready to head out and take a look at the Tesla. The inspector went out to the dealer, did the inspection, and even took the car for a test drive. Imagine that, taking a Tesla for a test drive. A few hours later, they sent me a brief written report and followed up with a 20-minute phone call. The phone call was kind of fun because the technician had never driven a Tesla, so he had a good time telling me about the test drive. It was especially funny because someone at the dealer had turned on the fart mode. While the technician and salesperson were test driving the car, the fart mode kept activating, and they didn’t know how to turn it off. At the time, I was satisfied with everything, but they definitely missed a few critical things in hindsight. It’s kind of ironic considering there was no engine or transmission to inspect, but eh, oh well. I’ll talk about what they missed later in more detail. Even with the oversights, it was still worth the $143 to have another set of eyes on the car before making a 400-mile drive.

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