Top 5 test drive tips before you buy a used car

Posted on Wednesday, February 24, 2016 - 13:23

Buying a used car comes with advantages and disadvantages, but if you have decided to put money down for one, you have to make sure you are getting your money’s worth. The obvious disadvantage in a used car is that it might have suffered damage, some of which may not even be obvious at first glance. While it is important to test drive any car you are thinking of purchasing, new or old, it is especially important for used cars, because of the risk of damage.

Pay attention to the wheels

Before you even hit the road, take a good, long, hard look at the wheels – do they align perfectly from back to front? Or are they slightly misaligned? The latter may mean that the car was involved in an undisclosed accident that damaged the chassis. If this is crooked, what else is wrong? Also, pay attention to them while you’re driving and see if anything feels different or weird. Does your car “pull” in any direction? Can it effortlessly maintain direction? If not, pass on this one.

Start the car with a cold engine

Before you take a used car for a test drive, make sure the engine is cold. If it’s already warm, wait for it to cool off. Why? Because a warm engine may indicate the seller did a little warming up beforehand, to conceal problems with starting. A cold engine will ensure that you get the real picture on how easily it starts, how long it takes, what kind of sounds the engine makes, if there is a lot of smoke, etc.

Drive on different surfaces

Sometimes cars do great on smooth surfaces, but the real problems are revealed when you take them over gravel. It’s essential that you test drive the car on all kinds of different terrain, so you can get an accurate feel of how the vehicle is performing under various conditions. Sure, you may only ever use it to run on smooth roads in the city, but you never know when you find yourself in need of driving on a different surface, and you suddenly realise that your car can’t take it. I’m not saying you need 4x4, but make sure it performs well on varied terrain.

Listen to the engine

Be careful about this one, because car salespeople can be sneaky and try to “show you how the radio works” while you’re out on your test drive, in order to mask the terrible sounds the engine is making. Don’t fall for this trick; listen closely to how the engine is running, and if it seems like it’s really struggling, it is. You can safely skip this one and save yourself the headaches.

Use all the gears

You may not typically use all your gears, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to test them all. Remember to try them one by one, in order to make sure that the gear change is smooth, but also to check that the vehicle runs ok, regardless of gear. You wouldn’t want a car that struggles to make 5th.

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