Taking a test drive is one of the most crucial procedures when purchasing a used car. No matter if you’re buying from a private party, or a used/new car dealership, the only way to know if the car is the perfect one for you is to give it a full test drive.
There are several actions you need to do before, during, and after your drive in order to optimize the experience and make sure you’re getting an accurate idea of what the car is like.
- Before the Test Drive:
- During the Test Drive:
- 5. Open and Close the Doors
- 6. Adjust the Mirrors and Seats
- 7. Check the Blind Spots
- 8. Take Note of Any Odd Noises or Smells
- 9. Test the Brakes
- 10. Check Under the Hood
- 11. Test All the Lights
- 12. Inspect the Tires
- 13. Check All the Gauges
- 14. Take It Slow at First
- 15. Drive on Different Surfaces and in Different Weather Conditions
- 16. Take It for a Spin
- After the Test Drive:
- Take Your Time
Before the Test Drive:
1. Research the Car’s History
If you’re buying from a dealership, they will already have pulled a vehicle history report (VHR) for you. If you’re buying from a private seller, it’s up to you to get one. You can order a VHR from any of the three major providers: Carfax, Autocheck, or VinAudit.
A VHR will tell you about the car’s ownership history, any accidents or damage that has been reported, open recalls, and service records. This is important information to have because it can affect the car’s value and safety.
You should also look up reviews of the make and model of the car you’re interested in. You can find these on sites like Edmunds, Consumer Reports, and Kelley Blue Book. These reviews will give you an idea of what to expect in terms of performance, reliability, and safety.
2. Get a Vehicle Report
A vehicle report is a document that contains important information about a car, such as the year, make, model, and trim level. It also includes the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which is a 17-digit code that uniquely identifies each vehicle.
The vehicle report will also tell you if the car has been in any accidents, has any open recalls, and what the car’s safety rating is. This information is important to know because it can affect the car’s value and safety.
3. Check for Open Recalls
Open recalls are safety defects that have been reported by the manufacturer but have not yet been fixed. You can check for open recalls on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website.
If the car you’re interested in has any open recalls, you should ask the seller if they’ve been fixed. If not, you should either negotiate a lower price or get the repairs done yourself before you buy the car.
4. Look for Signs of Flood Damage
Flooded cars often end up being sold without the buyer knowing that they’re damaged. This is because flood damage can be difficult to spot, and it can take years for the problems to show up.
That’s why it’s important to do a thorough inspection of the car before you buy it. Look for rust on the underside of the car, in the trunk, and under the hood. Also, check for water stains on the upholstery and carpeting.
If you suspect that the car has been in a flood, you should get a vehicle history report (VHR) to confirm. You can order a VHR from any of the three major providers: Carfax, Autocheck, or VinAudit.
During the Test Drive:
Once you’ve done your research and are ready to take the car for a spin, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
5. Open and Close the Doors
One simple but important test is to open and close all of the car’s doors. This will tell you if the door seals are in good condition and if the doors line up properly.
6. Adjust the Mirrors and Seats
Before you start driving, make sure that the mirrors and seats are adjusted to your liking. This will help you feel more comfortable behind the wheel and make it easier to drive the car.
7. Check the Blind Spots
When you’re on the road, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times. That’s why you should always check the car’s blind spots before changing lanes.
To do this, simply look over your shoulder in the direction you’re planning on moving. If you can’t see the car in the mirror, it’s probably in your blind spot.
8. Take Note of Any Odd Noises or Smells
When you test drive a car, pay attention to any strange noises or smells. These could be signs of major problems, and you don’t want to end up buying a lemon.
If you hear any unusual noises, make sure to ask the seller what they think it is. If they can’t give you a satisfactory answer, it’s probably best to move on to another car.
The same goes for any strange smells. If you notice a musty smell, it could be a sign that the car has been in a flood. If you notice an acrid smell, it could be a sign of electrical problems. In either case, it’s best to err on the side of caution and move on to another car.
9. Test the Brakes
One of the safest parts of a car is the braking system. That’s why it’s important to test the brakes before you buy a used car.
There are a few different ways to test the brakes. The first is to simply press down on the brake pedal and see how the car responds. Does it stop quickly and smoothly, or does it take a long time to stop?
Another way to test the brakes is to drive on a busy road and see how the car responds when you have to brake suddenly. If the car doesn’t stop quickly, it’s probably not a good idea to buy it.
10. Check Under the Hood
It is recommended to check under the hood before you make the purchase. This will give you an idea of the condition of the engine and other major components.
- Belts and Hoses: One quick and easy way to check the condition of the engine is to look at the belts and hoses. If they’re cracked, brittle, or otherwise damaged, it’s probably not a good idea to buy the car.
- Fluids: Another thing to check under the hood is the car’s fluids. The oil should be at the proper level and should be a healthy color. The coolant should also be at the proper level and should be a greenish color.
- Transmission Fluid: The color of the transmission fluid can also give you a good indication of the car’s condition. Fresh transmission fluid is typically red or pink, while old transmission fluid is usually dark brown or black.
- Brake and Power Steering Fluids: The brake and power steering fluids should be at the appropriate amount. Make sure to inspect the vehicle’s undercarriage as well to check for any fluid leaks.
- Radiator: Check to see if the anti-freeze is either green or orange in color in the plastic reservoir that is attached to the radiator by a rubber hose. An issue with the radiator will be indicated by a milky or rusty appearance. As well, observe the radiator itself. A radiator leak may be indicated by any green or orange stain.
- Oil: It should be either black or a deep brown color. If it seems to be amber in color, the oil was most likely just changed. The car may have a burst head gasket or a fractured engine block, both of which are major and expensive issues, if the oil on the dipstick has water droplets, looks grey, or foams.
11. Test All the Lights
All the lights on a car should be in good working order. That includes the headlights, brake lights, turn signals, and hazard lights.
- To test the headlights, turn them on and drive down a dark road. Are they bright enough to see the road ahead?
- To test the brake lights, have someone stand behind the car while you press the brake pedal. If they can’t see the brake lights, it’s probably not a good idea to buy the car.
- To test the turn signals, simply turn them on and drive down the road. If they don’t work properly, it’s probably not a good idea to buy the car.
- When testing the hazard lights, simply press the button and make sure that all the lights on the car start flashing. If they don’t, the car might not be safe to drive.
12. Inspect the Tires
The condition of a car’s tires can tell you a lot about the car. If the tires are bald or have very little tread, it’s probably not a good idea to buy the car.
It’s also a good idea to inspect the condition of the tires. If you see any cracks or bulges, it’s not worth taking the risk of buying the car.
13. Check All the Gauges
The gauges on a car’s dashboard can tell you a lot about the car. For example, the oil pressure gauge will tell you if the engine is low on oil. The temperature gauge will tell you if the engine is running hot. If it’s in the red, it’s probably not a good idea to buy the car.
The fuel gauge will tell you how much fuel is in the tank. If it’s close to empty, it’s probably not a good idea to buy the car.
14. Take It Slow at First
If you’re test driving a car for the first time, it’s important to take things slowly at first. Get a feel for how the car handles and be careful not to push it too hard.
Once you’re comfortable with the car, you can start to drive it a bit faster. But even then, be sure to obey the speed limit and drive safely.
15. Drive on Different Surfaces and in Different Weather Conditions
When you test drive a car, it’s important to drive on different surfaces and in different weather conditions. This will give you a better idea of how the car performs in different situations.
For example, if you’re only driving on dry pavement, you might not notice that the car doesn’t handle well in the rain. But if you drive in the rain, you’ll quickly find out.
The same goes for driving on different surfaces. If you’re driving on smooth pavement, you might not notice that the car doesn’t handle well on rough. But if you drive on a gravel road, you’ll quickly out.
16. Take It for a Spin
Now that you’ve done all your research and inspected the car, it’s time to take it for a spin. When you test drive the car, pay attention to how it feels. Does it feel smooth and stable, or does it feel like it’s going to shake apart?
Also, pay attention to the car’s handling. Is it easy to steer, or does it feel like the car is fighting you? Also, pay attention to the car’s brakes. Are they responsive, or do they take a long time to stop the car?
If you have any concerns about the car after test driving it, it’s probably not a good idea to buy it.
After the Test Drive:
Once you’ve test driven the car, it’s time to make a decision. If you’re happy with the way the car performed, then it might be a good idea to buy it.
But if you have any doubts about the car, it’s probably best to move on to another one. There’s no point in taking the risk of buying a car that you’re not completely happy with.
17. Evaluate Your Overall Impressions
When you test drive a car, it’s important to pay attention to your overall impressions. If something doesn’t feel right, there’s probably a reason why.
For example, if the car feels like it’s going to shake apart, it’s probably not a good idea to buy it. Or if the car is hard to steer, it might not be safe to drive.
Trust your instincts and go with your gut feeling. If something doesn’t feel right about the car, it’s probably not a good idea to buy it.
18. Get a Second Opinion
If you’re still not sure about the car after test driving it, it’s a good idea to get a second opinion. Ask a friend or family member to come with you and take the car for a spin.
See if they have any concerns about the car. If they do, it’s probably best to move on to another one.
19. Get a Pre-Purchase Inspection
If you’re buying a used car, it’s a good idea to get a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) from a qualified mechanic. This will give you peace of mind knowing that the car has been thoroughly inspected and that any potential problems have been found.
The PPI should include a test drive, a visual inspection of the car, and a check of the car’s fluids and tires. The mechanic will also hook the car up to a diagnostic machine to check for any engine codes that might be present.
Take Your Time
When you test drive a car, it’s important to take your time and not rush into anything. If you have any doubts about the car, it’s probably best to move on to another one.
There’s no point in buying a car that you’re not completely happy with. So take your time, do your research, and find the perfect car for you.