When purchasing a vehicle, the test drive is an excellent opportunity to weed out any problems and to ascertain whether it’s suitable for your needs. However, the opportunity is often lost as many people are unaware of how to test drive a used car for the first time. These five tips will help you identify any red flags so that you can make an informed and intelligent decision.
Feel the engine before you enter the vehicle. Many sellers will run the car for a while before you arrive so that it starts smoothly when you turn the key for the first time. It is essential you test the vehicle’s ability to start from cold as any problems in doing so may be indicative of larger issues.
If the engine is cold and you’re satisfied it hasn’t been pre-prepared, turn the key and listen to the sound of the engine as it starts. Any hesitation or rattling may be problematic. Alternator and battery issues are the most common causes of faulty ignitions but it could also be symptomatic of a larger, more expensive issue.
When you test drive a used car, one of the first indicators of a vehicle’s condition is the biting point when you pull away. If it is unusually low or high, the clutch may be faulty. Pay attention to the feel of the car as you move through gears. It should be smooth at all times and not struggle to engage or disengage any gears.
Devise a route beforehand that will definitely involve lots of speed changes. Cruising on an open highway may be more fun but you need to put the transmission through its paces by stopping and starting as much as possible. Built-up traffic is especially good for testing out the clutch and gears. If a seller knows the vehicle struggles in stop/start scenarios they may try to subtly direct you away from traffic jams, so be persistent.
Your ability to control the vehicle is paramount to your safety and enjoyment. Feel for how the car reacts to your movements. On a straight and clear road, briefly lift your hands from the steering wheel when it is safe to do so. If the tracking is correctly calibrated, the vehicle will maintain a straight course without veering to either side.
Take a route through some winding roads that you know well and test out how easily the car follows the road. There shouldn’t be any play or movement in the steering wheel itself. If you feel any rumbling or unusual feedback in it, there may be a problem with the steering geometry or tire balance.
Every time you slow or stop, you should pay close attention to the efficacy of the brakes. Check the stopping time and make sure the steering isn’t affected under relatively heavy braking. If you can find a safe spot to perform an emergency stop, tell the seller your intention before completing the maneuver. The car needs to stop quickly and under full control.
Test the handbrake on a hill if you can. You must be satisfied it can hold the entire weight of the vehicle at any gradient you’re likely to encounter. If you’re ever concerned about the condition of the brakes, it’s always better to trust your instinct and err on the side of caution.
When you turn the ignition, the radio will probably start to play but you should keep it switched off the entire time you test drive a used car. It may cause some awkward silences between you and the seller but it’s essential you listen to the sounds of the vehicle itself. Open the window so you can hear the engine as you idle in traffic and as you pull away. Any unusual sounds coming from the engine should give you cause to investigate further.
Likewise, listen out for the sound of the vehicle as you navigate sharp turns or bumps in the road. Take a mental note of anything you hear that seems out of the ordinary. Some groans and creeks will naturally occur but you will instinctively know if something doesn’t sound right so trust your gut.
The test drive is the best opportunity you will get assess a vehicle before deciding whether or not to purchase it. To take full advantage of the situation, make a plan of action before you arrive. Use Google maps to construct a route of the local area that includes a plethora of challenges for the vehicle. Don’t worry about following protocol or offending the seller. Buying a car or van is a huge commitment so you need to give yourself the chance to make the best decision possible.