We all know the importance of having a reliable, well-running vehicle. But with so many complex moving parts in modern cars, trucks and SUVs, it’s not uncommon to have underlying problems you may be unaware of.
To catch any issues before they result in a breakdown, most auto dealers, mechanics and service centers offer a multi-point inspection. This service is a comprehensive evaluation of nearly every component of your vehicle. They can also be called a courtesy check, vehicle inspection, maintenance inspection or pre-purchase inspection (if it’s done before you buy a used car).
As a vehicle owner, it makes a difference to do your research and think ahead – whether that’s shopping for auto insurance or knowing when to get a multi-point inspection. Here’s what to know about the latter.
Why should I get a multi-point inspection?
There are plenty of reasons to get a multi-point inspection. For starters, it’s a key element of preventative vehicle maintenance. Knowing the condition of your vehicle can help you catch and address potential issues before they lead to dangerous failures or costly repairs.
And because most multi-point inspections evaluate your vehicle on a rating scale (green = good; yellow = needs repaired soon; red = needs repaired now), it provides you with the information needed to plan and budget for repairs in the future.
What is checked during a multi-point inspection?
The specific elements of your inspection may vary depending on where you take a vehicle for service. But generally, you can expect most of these components to be evaluated:
Under the hood
- Engine oil: In gas-powered vehicles, oil lubricates an engine’s internal parts to help reduce friction and wear. During an inspection, a technician will check to ensure your oil is clean and filled to the appropriate level. While some oil use over time is normal, consistently low oil levels can be a sign of a leak. And dirty oil should be changed to maximize engine protection and performance.
- Coolant: Your car’s cooling system protects the engine from running too hot, which can cause significant damage. An inspection of your cooling system will include checking the radiator and coolant hoses for leaks. Your antifreeze should also be clean and filled to the appropriate level. Learn what to do if your car overheats.
- Brake fluid: In a hydraulic braking system, brake fluid provides the force needed to apply your brakes. This fluid should be clean and full, as it goes bad over time.
- Power steering fluid: Similar to brake fluid, this hydraulic fluid is used to build the pressure that operates your vehicle’s power steering rack.
- Air filter: An engine’s air filter ensures no debris makes its way inside your engine. Like any filter, it can get clogged over time, which reduces engine performance.
- Drive belts: Rubber serpentine belts drive multiple components in your engine bay, including the power steering pump, alternator and air conditioning compressor. As your belt ages, cracking can lead to a broken belt. And a loose belt can make a loud squealing noise.
- Hoses: There are a number of rubber and metal hoses in an engine bay that carry fluids to your car’s engine and other critical components. During an inspection, the technician will check for any leaks that could cause problems down the road.
- Battery: A battery supplies the electricity needed to start and operate your vehicle. By conducting a battery voltage test, a technician can give some insight into the overall health of your battery. They may also check your alternator to ensure it’s properly charging your battery while the engine is running. A dead battery tops our list of 7 reasons your car won’t start.
- Washer fluid: Most drivers have experience filling their washer fluid tank. This quick check will ensure you’ve got enough fluid to clean your windshield when needed.
- Seat belts: Safety restraints, such as seat belts, will be checked for proper operation.
- Airbags: A technician may use a vehicle code scanner to check for any issues with your car’s airbag system. Given the recent string of airbag recalls, they can also let you know if any need to be replaced (any recall-related repair will be paid for by the vehicle manufacturer).
- Horn: A quick honk is all that’s needed to validate that your horn is in working order.
- Brakes: The condition of your brakes has a huge impact on your vehicle’s stopping power. Brake pads will be inspected for wear (this determines how much life they have left) and rotors will be checked for warping, rust or other damage.
- Lights: Headlights. Taillights. Turn signals. They should all be burning bright. If not, the bulbs can be replaced.
- Wipers: Cracked or broken windshield wiper blades can leave you with a streaky view when rain starts to fall. Learn when and how to replace your windshield wipers.
- Floor mats: This may sound strange, but improperly installed floor mats have led to serious accidents over the years (this includes installing aftermarket floor mats on top of the mats that came stock with your vehicle). If your mat gets caught under the accelerator or brake pedal, you could find yourself in an unsafe situation.
- Cabin air filter: In the same way your engine air filter cleans the air going into your engine, a cabin air filter keeps dust and debris from coming through your car’s vents. If it’s dirty or clogged, it should be replaced.
- Air conditioning: Your AC will be checked to ensure it’s blowing cold.
- Engine performance: One of the most important checks is evaluating the overall performance of your engine. To do this, a technician will use a code scanner to read any error codes from the vehicle’s computer. If your car isn’t running smoothly, they’ll also evaluate the car’s idle speed and ignition system (spark plugs and wires), while checking for any oil leaks that may impact performance.
- Transmission/clutch: It’s the job of your transmission to apply power from the engine to the wheels. If you have an automatic transmission, a technician will check the condition of your transmission fluid and evaluate whether the car is shifting smoothly from one gear to the next. If you have a manual transmission (stick shift), your clutch will also be tested for proper engagement.
- Differential/transfer case: On your car’s axle, a differential helps to split power from the transmission to both drive wheels. If you have a four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive vehicle, you’ll also have something called a transfer case (this transfers power to the front and rear axles). These components will be checked for any fluid leaks, which could indicate a bad seal.
- Driveshaft/U-joints/CV joints: These components connect your car’s transmission to the differential. The parts of your vehicle will vary depending on whether it’s front-wheel drive (FWD), rear-wheel drive (RWD), all-wheel drive (AWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD). Regardless of your vehicle type, they’ll be checked for wear, which can lead to noise and vibration when driving.
- Fuel lines/brake lines: Metal fuel lines move gasoline from your car’s gas tank to the engine, while brake lines move hydraulic fluid from under the hood to the four corners of your vehicle. If you live in a climate that gets snow (and road salt) in the winter, rust can become an issue for these metal parts. They’ll be checked for any leaks or damage.
- Exhaust: A technician will evaluate your exhaust system and muffler for any signs of leaks or damage. If something is wrong, the added noise is a giveaway.
- Shocks/struts/springs: A critical component of your suspension system, these items enable you to travel smoothly over bumps and imperfections in the road. They’ll be checked for leaks, cracks and other signs of wear (like a rough, bouncy ride).
- Ball joints/bushings: These parts are used to help your wheels turn smoothly from side to side, and also allow suspension components to move up and down. Because they wear over time, they can lead to clunking or squeaking noises and result in loose or shaky steering.
- Alignment: A computerized alignment machine will be used to evaluate whether all four of your wheels are set to the correct angle. Bad alignment can cause steering vibration and excessive tire wear if not corrected.
- Tires: Your tires will be checked to ensure they’re inflated to the correct pressure and have plenty of tread left.
How long does a multi-point inspection take?
As you can probably guess from the list above, a comprehensive multi-point inspection can take upwards of a few hours. However, the time it takes will also be dependent on how thorough the inspection is. Before dropping your car off, ask the shop for a list of what will be inspected, as well as an estimated time to complete the job.
How much does a multi-point inspection cost?
The cost of your multi-point inspection will also depend on how thoroughly the job is done. For example, a quick courtesy check may be offered for free at some shops, but you shouldn’t expect much more than a brief visual inspection of some of the components described above. Meanwhile, a detailed inspection with diagnostic testing could run you $200 or more. The added cost of an intensive inspection can definitely be worthwhile. Whatever option you choose, adjust your expectations accordingly.
When should I get a multi-point inspection?
There’s really no bad time to schedule a multi-point inspection for your vehicle. Typically, getting an inspection every year or two will help keep your car in perfect running condition. But you may also consider scheduling an inspection before events such as:
- Buying a used car. A pre-purchase inspection will ensure there won’t be any surprises when you drive your new-to-you car off the lot. Learn more in our explainer on pros and cons of buying a used car.
- Taking a long road trip. Fixing potential problems before you hit the road can prevent a vacation-ruining breakdown. Read more in our ultimate guide to planning a road trip.
- Changing seasons. The fall and spring are popular times to schedule inspections due to changing weather and driving conditions.
- Selling a car. If you’re selling your car to someone directly, a recent multi-point inspection can give buyers confidence in the quality of your vehicle – and fetch you a better price.
Multi-point inspection vs. state inspection
Depending on where you live, your state or county might require you to complete an annual or biennial vehicle inspection. It’s important to note that these inspections are not the same as a multi-point vehicle inspection. Some state inspections only test the emissions of your vehicle to ensure it’s not emitting more pollutants than it should. Others require a safety inspection, but it may be less thorough than a full multi-point inspection.
Performance you can count on
At Erie Insurance, we believe reliability isn’t just important for cars. You should be able to count on your insurance company, too. When you purchase auto insurance from ERIE, we commit to be there when you need us and get you back on your way, right away. To learn more, talk to a local independent agent in your neighborhood.