Buying a used car is a big decision and should not be taken lightly.
Though most of your inspection should take place before the test drive, it’s during a test drive that you’ll find out what you need to know about a vehicle before moving forward with a purchase. Before taking off on your mini-road trip, grab a piece of paper and a pen to jot down any concerns you come across during your journey. Let’s take a look at some basic tips for completing a thorough test drive.
Before test driving a car, eliminate any distractions that might hinder your perception. Did you bring your spouse and children to the dealership with you? Leave them at the dealership (with supervision, obviously) until you get back. Do you like to listen to music while you drive? Forego turning on the radio until you return to the dealership. The goal of a test drive to is to use all of your senses to evaluate a car’s performance.
Listen to the Engine
Prior to putting a car in gear, listen to the engine while it’s idling. Do you hear repetitive noises, strange squeaks or knocking sounds? If so, confirm with the salesperson that the car is safe to drive off the lot and write down your concern to evaluate post-test drive. Noticing sounds like these may indicate that there’s a problem with the engine’s components. In this case, you may want to have a third party inspect the vehicle prior to making a purchase decision.
Ceck out the Handling
If the car is safe to drive (let’s hope it is if the dealership is letting you take it off the lot), start at slow speeds in a safe area. For no more than 2 seconds and in an unobstructed area, take your hands off the wheel and evaluate whether the vehicle pulls in one direction or the other. If it does, it may need an alignment. In order to test the car’s constant velocity joints, find a secluded cul-de-sac or empty parking lot in which you can drive in circles.
Acceleration & Steering
During the test drive, pay attention to the car’s acceleration. Does the vehicle hesitate or jerk during acceleration? At higher speeds, does the car shake or make strange noises? When steering the vehicle, note whether the steering is “loose.” If you have to turn the wheel multiple times to turn a simple corner, the steering is loose and needs further inspection. A vehicle that is working properly responds smoothly and efficiently to changes in speed and steering.
A Smooth Transmission
For those with no experience as a mechanic, evaluating the transmission can seem like a mystery when you’re not accustomed to driving a certain car. If you’re test driving a car with an automatic transmission, putting the car in park and then shifting into drive should help identify any underlying issues. If the transition is sticky, hesitates, or if you notice any strange noises, there may be a problem with the transmission.
For cars with manual transmissions, putting your foot on the brake and shifting into reverse is a good way to test the transition. Just as with an automatic transmission, strange noises, knocking sounds or grinding indicates the need for repair.
What’s your best car repair tip? Let us know in the comments below.