How to Test-Drive a Used Car?

by Aivaras Grigelevičius
May 12, 2021
by Aivaras Grigelevičius
May 12, 2021

A test drive of a car you are going to buy shouldn’t be like a calm Sunday cruise. You have to be prepared for it, know what to expect, what is right, and what is wrong.

For example, if a car has been in an accident, some drivetrain parts may be damaged so little that even a mechanic won’t notice, but you’ll feel tremendous vibrations during a test drive. Here are some tips on how to identify problems during a test drive and get the best deal possible.

Perform cold and hot engine starts

You’ve probably heard that it’s essential to make sure the engine starts fine when cold. However, both cold and hot starts are highly recommended. Ask the seller to let you come the following day and start the car by yourself while the engine is still cold.

Both petrol and diesel engines should fire up in less than two or three seconds (depending on the season). Bear in mind that diesel engines need a few moments for glow plugs to heat the combustion chamber while petrol engines can start right away. If the engine turns slow, takes a long time to start, runs roughly after that – battery, glow plugs, fuel pump, fuel lines, or a starter may need a replacement.

After the engine reaches normal operating temperature, you should shut it off and try to start once again. A hot engine should start right away. Otherwise, there may be problems with a high-pressure fuel pump, injectors, or various sensors.

In conclusion, any problems related to this section can lead to expensive repairs, and unless you’re ready to face them, you’d be better off looking for something else.

Pick up some speed

The car you’re testing may be with you for at least a few years, so don’t hesitate to take it for a cruise on a highway before handing over the money. Some speed will test the balance, stability of your car and let you try all gears.

If possible, reach 80-100 km/h. You shouldn’t see or feel any vibrations, play in the steering, unusual noises. Expect a smooth ride. Gears should change without any delays, especially if it has an automatic transmission. Also, try a hard braking test once you’re away from other cars – you shouldn’t feel any pull to the sides.

In the best-case scenario, vibrations can be solved by rebalancing the wheels, but it can also mean damaged rims, bent axles, even a worn-out transmission!

Try a bumpier road

The purpose of a suspension is to make the car stable, comfortable, and quiet. There are many suspension types available in modern cars, but they all have one thing in common – you’ll hear it if there’s something wrong.

The best place to test a car’s suspension is an old bumpy tarmac or gravel road. Some vehicles, especially smaller ones, tend to be more rough and noisy in such circumstances, but no clunking, rattling, knocking sounds are acceptable.

If it’s a front-wheel-drive car, try to turn the wheel all the way to each side and accelerate a little. If you hear a crackling noise, a CV joint must be replaced as soon as possible.

So many parts can go wrong in a suspension that it’s not even worth listing them. Suspension repairs usually aren’t too expensive and won’t be breaking the bank. Still, uncovering more problems grants you a great chance to get a better deal.

Things to keep an eye on

And that’s why a test drive is nothing like a calming cruise around town. You have to identify as many unusual noises as possible and, on top of that, there are a few things you must keep your eye on.

The first and most important one is the engine temperature. It shows the temperature of a coolant in the engine – it shouldn’t go above 90°C. If it does while on a highway, a radiator may be clogged or just living its last days. If the temperature starts rising while the car is at a standstill, the electric fan may not be working. But these repairs aren’t the biggest danger here – the engine may already be damaged if someone has been overheating it.

Also, make sure that no warning lights or beeps appear during the test drive. A seller could have erased fault codes right before your arrival. Bear in mind that sometimes sellers just remove the bulbs from a dashboard to hide various faults, so it’s always wise to bring the car to a shop for a diagnostic check. 

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