Test-Drive and Inspection Tips
48. Test-drives are even more important in used cars than in new ones. Don't skip them.
49. Make a checklist of options and features you want to closely inspect during your test-drive. Without a checklist, it's easy to forget crucial items.
50. Use common sense for your personal safety when you're arranging a test-drive with a private-party seller whom you don't know. Consider having a friend or family member come along with you. If no one is available, let someone know where you are going and with whom you're meeting.
51. A prospective seller may want to meet during the day in a public area such as the parking lot of a mall for the test-drive. This is for the seller's safety, and it's not a bad idea for you as a buyer.
52. Get the big picture first: Crouch next to the front bumper, look down the side and sight along the lines of the car. Do this for each side and make sure there are no ripples in the door panels. They could indicate body damage.
53. Check panel fitments front, side and rear, and check that the gaps between the doors and around the hood and trunk lid areas are even.
54. Open all the doors and the trunk. Test all the lights, controls, heater and air-conditioner.
55. Take a look at the four-digit DOT code on the tires. This is the tire's "born-on" date and it will tell you the tire's age. Older tires could be dangerous and might need to be replaced. The first two digits stand for the week; the other two are the year. For example, if your tire had "1613" listed, it was manufactured on the 16th week of 2013.
56. Open the hood and make sure there are no leaks or sprays on the underside of the hood lining that would indicate a burst hose or fluid leak. With the engine running, listen for unusual noises that might indicate a mechanical problem.
57. Once you get behind the wheel, your first impression will be the way the car feels when you sit in it. Are the headroom and legroom sufficient? Do you have good front and rear visibility? Are the gauges and controls laid out conveniently?
58. Before you start driving, adjust the seat, the mirrors and the seatbelt. How's the lumbar support? Would it be a comfortable car to take on a long trip?
59. Turn off the radio/audio system before you begin driving and try not to have a distracting conversation with the seller. You want to concentrate on hearing the engine and fully experiencing the car.
60. If possible, test-drive the cars you are considering back-to-back so you can more easily compare your driving impressions. Testing multiple versions of the same make/model is also a good idea, as differences or problems with specific vehicles will more likely become apparent. Along the same lines, it could be helpful to test-drive a new version of the used car you're considering if it belongs to the same generation. Knowing what it should be like can be helpful.
61. Bring golf clubs or other large items you regularly carry to test the cargo area's capacity. If you have small children, bring their car seats with you and make sure they attach easily and safely.
62. Get in and out of the car several times to see if you bang your head or have to crouch awkwardly. Sit in all the seats to make sure they are comfortable and provide adequate legroom.
63. Check the storage compartments around the driver seat to make sure there are adequate places to put your wallet or purse, your cell phone and whatever else you commonly take with you.
64. If you are testing a newer used car, verify that you can connect your phone via Bluetooth. Check other in-car infotainment features to ensure that they work.
65. Try to test-drive a car during the day so you get a better idea of the color in natural light. It won't look the same at night even under street lights.
66. Don't test-drive a car in the rain or snow if you can help it. You won't get a true feeling for how the car drives under normal conditions.
67. After the test-drive, ask the owner or dealer if you can see the service records to learn if the car has had the scheduled maintenance performed on time. Avoid buying a car that has been in a serious accident or has had major repairs such as transmission rebuilds, valve jobs or engine overhauls.
68. Have the car inspected by a professional. A pre-purchase inspection can save you thousands of dollars. A private party will probably allow you to do this without much resistance. At a dealership, it might take some more persuasion. If it is a CPO car, there is no reason to take it to a mechanic since it has already been inspected by a factory-trained technician.
69. When you arrange a pre-purchase inspection, ask the mechanic to check out the car's major systems, verify the car's equipment, options and condition level, check for body or frame problems and check any engine codes, which can reveal mechanical problems.