Many people decide to opt for a used car rather than a brand new one, and there are many good reasons for this. Some simply want a cheap vehicle to get them from A to B while others want to avoid the instant depreciation that comes with driving away in a brand new vehicle. There are others that purchase a used car for their children who have only recently passed their driving test, as they don’t want the risk of them having their first small bumps or accidents in a costly new vehicle.

Whatever your reasons are for purchasing a used vehicle, one thing you need to do is make sure you test drive it before you make up your mind. In this article, we will look at some tips on test driving a used vehicle before you make your purchase.

How to Perform the Test Drive

When you are test driving the vehicle, you should make sure you drive it for at least half an hour if not more. In addition, try to drive it along different stretches of road that involve different manoeuvres such as around corners, around islands, up hills, and on roads with rougher surfaces. This will make it much easier for you to determine how healthy the vehicle is before you make the purchase. 

You should try and replicate the test drive on the type of roads you mostly drive on. If you live in a hilly area the demands on the engine and transmission are different to that of a flat and even road. Also if you are fully loaded with passengers or kids in your normal driving this will feel different if you are test driving as a single driver. An engine that appears smooth and quiet on a flat road may actually feel underpowered, strained and loud in the cabin when fully loaded with passengers and driving through hilly areas. 

Test driving a new car as opposed to a used car will mean you will be focussing on different things in the drive.

In a new car, the test drive will help you work out whether you like the feeling of the drive and comfort and whether it is practical for your needs.

When test driving a used car you will naturally incorporate the things you would consider in a new car plus you are looking for mechanical faults or other issues that may arise from wear and tear or poor maintenance.

Check The Engine Oil Cap

It is also worth checking under the engine oil cap before you start the vehicle up. If you notice a thick white substance there, this could be a sign of engine or head gasket problems. When you start the car, make sure you start it from cold so you can check that it starts the first time. Once you start the vehicle, one of the things to listen out for is any unusual noise emanating from the engine. Also, keep your eyes peeled for excessive smoke coming from the exhaust.

Listen Out For Suspicious Sounds

While test driving the car, check the steering and listen out for odd squeaks and juddering from the steering wheel. Check the steering for excessive free play.  In addition, when you are driving the car on a level road, make sure it doesn’t veer to one side or have any vibration through the steering wheel. This may indicate the tyres are out of alignment and unbalanced. 

When the road is clear, make sure you also check the brakes and ensure they bring the vehicle to smooth halt in a straight line. There should be no grinding noises or vibration when you apply the brakes. The brake pedal shouldn’t sink to the floor or feel spongy and the steering wheel should not wobble or vibrate.  Make sure you do a hill start using the handbrake to ensure it doesn’t slip.

Listening for knocks and rattles as you drive. Particularly over bumps, rough road and while turning as it might indicate some loose suspension or body components.

Functional Checks

It is important to check all the gears or automatic transmission during your test drive as well as testing the reverse position. Check the gear changes are smooth and decisive and there is no hesitation when engaging gears into drive or reverse in the automatic transmission. On a front-wheel drive vehicle, a knocking noise when turning indicates worn constant-velocity joints (CVjoints).

The engine should run smoothly during acceleration and deceleration and when driving steadily. The water temperature gauge should remain in a safe range (the temperature light should stay off). Rattling or knocking sounds might indicate incorrect tuning or engine wear.

With regards to the clutch, you should check the biting point to ensure it is not too near the top, which could be a sign that you need a new clutch. 

Noticeable exhaust smoke with the engine running at idle or under load during acceleration is not a good sign for the engine. Black, blue or white smoke indicate different engine problems.

 Finally, make sure you keep an eye on the suspension during your test drive and check to see whether the vehicle absorbs the bumps in the road effectively rather than bouncing and juddering.

If you are not confident to be able to identify these types of issues in your test drive you can always take along a friend who may have mechanical knowledge and assist you with checking for these things. 

Alternatively, if you are really interested in the car then you can engage professional a third party service provider to carry out a thorough Pre-Purchase Inspection on the vehicle. At the end of the inspection they will give their opinion and a report on all aspects of vehicle including the body, paintwork, and mechanical condition. 

Contact A Used Car Buying Advocate

If you are considering purchasing a used car and you would like further advice and information, you can get in touch with the experts at My Next Car Buying Advocacy. A car buying advocate can take a lot of the pressure off your hands by providing you with professional guidance and looking out for any potential warning signs, so you always end up with the right car at the right price!

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