How To Buy A Used Car – Part 4

Before the test drive

Before taking the car for a test drive, check you are comfortable with the insurance cover and/or the risk you are taking should you have an accident.

This is especially important if you are buying privately.

Dealers will have insurance to cover you for significant damage, but they may require you to sign a document whereby you accept paying an excess amount for damage.

Their policies may also require them to be in the vehicle with you during the test drive.

If the owner/dealer is in the car with you, ensure you can still carry out all of the following tests:

On the test drive

Driving should be free of jerking, surging, or stalling. The ride should be smooth and easy.

Use all of your senses.

Listen carefully for engine and transmission noise at all speeds. Notice any rattles and where they may be coming from.

Feel for vibration or wobbles at all speeds.

Notice any unusual smells. Burning rubber smells could be damaged drive or accessory belts. It could also mean a rubber hose is touching somewhere it shouldn’t.

Before leaving, make sure the hand brake and the foot brake works!

In neutral, rev the engine smoothly all the way to the red line. There should be no flat spots in the acceleration.

Whilst stationary, is the steering tight without excess travel either way? There should be no more than 5cm of play.

Check reverse gear. Does the transmission easily find reverse and do the reversing lights come on?

Drive straight very slowly in first gear. Check for smoothness.

Drive straight and accelerate slowly up to 60km/h checking for smoothness.

Do a highway test up to the speed limit checking for noise/vibration.

Find a car park and do a slow 360 turn each way listening for excess noise.

In same carpark, go over speed bumps and observe handling around the tight corners.

On a surface with no road camber and when it is safe to do so, ensure the steering is still straight with your hands off the wheel momentarily. Check also when you apply the brakes.

A good noise test is to drive alongside a solid wall with your windows down.

Automatic transmission – Are all the changes up and down gears smooth and timely? Is it smooth on a hill start?

Manual Transmission – Do a hill start and notice if it is smooth and without clutch slippage. Check for clunky, noisy or difficult gear changes.

Straight braking – In an area of no traffic, get up to 60-70km/h and press the brakes hard enough decelerate rapidly but not enough to cause skidding or sliding (or ABS to kick in). The car should brake smoothly without swerving – but you may need to allow for road camber. You should not feel any vibration in the brake pedal and there should be no excess noise or squeaking.

Corner braking – Do both left and right hand 90-degree turns slowly. Listen for clunking noise or irregular sounds, which could indicate joint troubles.

On your drive, check all interior lights and instrumentation is working properly.

Monitor the engine temperature gauge throughout your test drive.

Have friend get out and watch the car driving. Does he/she see or hear anything unusual?

After the test drive:

Cap the exhaust pipe with the back of your clipboard briefly whilst the car is still running after your test drive. Are there any watery exhaust leaks?

Open the bonnet and look over everything again post-drive.

Check the engine oil and the transmission oil again for levels and condition.

Repeat the check underneath the car for oil drips or leaks again after the test drive.

After the engine is completely warm after your test drive, stand behind the exhaust and ask the seller or your companion to start the engine again. Then ask them to rev the engine up. Look for blue or white exhaust smoke. It is normal for a cold engine’s exhaust to blow some steam, especially in cold weather, but not when the engine is completely warm.