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How to Properly Test Drive a Car

By Mike Richards Updated: 05/22/2019 Posted: 12/20/2018

You have probably heard that every time you buy a used car, it is essential to take it for a comprehensive test drive. This is a practical way to check if the car is sound enough to invest in or if you should consider buying another car in place of the one you have selected. Test driving the car is the only way you can discover any faults you may have missed during the car inspection. The test drive usually comes after you have done the title check, as well as the interior and exterior inspection. If the outcome of this inspection is satisfactory, then you are ready for a test drive.

Things to Consider When You Go for a Test Drive

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Before you go for the used car test drive, you need to know what you are looking out for. Some of the critical areas of concern in the car include;

  • Acceleration test
  • The brakes
  • Turn test
  • Suspension
  • Transmission
  • Engine

To ensure you have everything in place, you should have a checklist of the sounds and performance issues you are interested in. For you to truly appreciate the results of the test drive, include the highway and city drive. You do not need a whole day to find out if the used car is in great shape. The first few minutes should be enough to tell if the car is worth buying or not.

The Acceleration Test

This used car test needs to be done on the highway, although it can also be done during a city drive. In the highway, you can merge an acceleration test with the brake test. For the acceleration test, you need to do a hard acceleration.

This will tell you how fast the car picks up speed. How quickly the car responds when you accelerate is very telling of the condition of the engine. Consider the engine size against the response you receive from the car when you accelerate.

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The acceleration test will also tell of the car’s stability. Is the car stable or does it seem shaky the faster you move? When you start slowing down, monitor how the brakes respond. The car should slow down gradually. If the car slows down too fast, it is likely the brakes have a problem.

If the car has cruise control, this is a great time to test it as well. Press the cruise control button, once it comes on, just set it. When you brake, the cruise control naturally goes off.

You can also use the opportunity to find out from the owner how often he drives the car on the highway and in the city. Ask any questions that come to mind during this drive. Since he has been driving the car, he has more to tell you about it.

The Brakes Test

The city drive is a great place to do the brakes test. Here you will be testing how the car responds during the slow drive and brakes scenarios. Since traffic is a typical problem in the city, you need to be certain the car responds well in this situation.

Accelerate to speed limit then do a hard break. This is an excellent test of the anti-lock brake system test  (ABS). If it is working well, you should feel the ABS on the pedal, but the light on the dashboard should not come on. Should the ABS light on the dashboard come on, you need to have it looked at should you buy the car. The car also needs to stop straight when you break. If it veers when you let go of the steering wheel, you need to have that checked.

Further Reading

The 90 Degrees Turn Test

Find an area where you can test how well the car turns, and if there are any sounds. Turn the steering wheel until the point where the wheels cannot turn anymore. Do this when turning right and left. This test focuses on the front bearings, axles, CV joints, bolt joints, and the power steering. In this test, sounds and how the car feels is critical. The power steering should have no noises. Any groaning, whining and clunking sounds could represent a problem that you need to have checked.

Suspension Test

Go on a bumpy road for the used car suspension test. You do not have to pick the worst terrain to test this. Remember not all cars are suitable for every terrain. Unless the car you are buying is an off-roader, drive on a regular bumpy road. This will be enough to tell you if the suspension is in great shape. The steering wheel needs to be firm and predictable on the rough road. Listen for any knocks and bangs. This could signify worn out shocks.

The Transmission and Engine Test

This is a test you carry out concurrently with the other tests. This is because as you are carrying out the acceleration test, you are testing how well the gears are responding. You are checking how the engine responds. The brakes, turning, and suspension tests also have a bearing to the engine and transmission.

If you feel you are not very keen to the sounds and feel of the car, it may be best to have your mechanic carry out the used car inspection. The test drive is an excellent chance for you to decide if you will enjoy driving the used car you have chosen.

It is essential to ask the car owner of any problems the car has before you go for a test drive. You will be able to look out for the issues he pointed out and any additional problems. Any issues found may not mean you give up on the car. Of course, if you feel the car has too many issues, you are not obligated to buy it. However, a few minor issues may give you an opening to negotiate for a lower price. When you know what to look out for during the test drive, it will be easier for you to identify any problems with the car.