What Does Drivability Actually Mean?

While searching for a new car, truck, or SUV to purchase, you may have heard the term “Drivability.” But what does this often-used term actually mean? It’s derived from two separate words – “drive” and “able” – but reversed to mean the “ability to drive.” This term typically describes a vehicle someone is considering to purchase.

There are about 9 general questions automotive mechanics and service experts ask to determine the condition of a vehicle while they are completing a pre-purchase sale inspection. Should the function not occur, the car is marked with a specific condition that could relate to weather operationality, starting, or another action. If any of the named issues occur, it will relate to a diagnostic OBD-II code to determine the likely cause. Each of the items listed below will be checked to determine the drivability of any car, truck, or SUV.

1. Will the vehicle turn over when the key is turned?

Known As: No-Crank Condition

When the key is turned to start the car, but the car gives no response, it is referred to as a no-crank situation. On the way to fully starting, a car’s auxiliary functions, such as air conditioning, heating, and radio, will turn on as the engine turns over. Should this fail to occur, it could indicate a number of causes, like a dead battery, faulty starter, or seized engine, that hinder drivability.

2. Will the vehicle start when the key is turned?

Known As: Crank-No Start Condition

Arguably, the most important aspect of any vehicle is its ability to start. To have drivability, any car, truck, or SUV needs to start correctly – meaning when you turn the key the vehicle should start without hesitation. Several individual components and systems must all work together seamlessly to start a vehicle. A professional mechanic will inspect these parts to ensure they are in good shape before indicating it’s a good buy.

3. Does the engine vibrate, stall or die after it’s started?

Known As: Starts and Dies Condition

Starting an engine is one thing – having it run smoothly afterward can be a challenge for many used cars. To determine if a car is a good buy and thus ‘drivable,’ a professional mechanic will inspect the engine after it’s started. They will verify that the engine does not stall, shake, vibrate, have inconsistent engine idle speed, or vacuum leaks. While several of these issues can be resolved through routine maintenance, if major issues exist, the vehicle will not be classified as drivable.

4. Does the vehicle come to a stop without dying?

Known As: Dying on Acceleration Problem

The brakes on your vehicle are vital for safe operation. If the brakes squeak, squeal, or grind when applied, it’s an indication of mechanical failure or a significant braking issue. Brakes can be repaired rather easily and without major expense, but they should be replaced or repaired before operating the vehicle.

This could also be related to dirty or worn-out components such as the throttle body, throttle position sensor, idle air control module, or an EGR valve.

5. Does the vehicle die, shake, vibrate, or shutter when gaining speed?

Known As: Hesitation/Dying on Acceleration Problem

If the car, truck or SUV you are planning on purchasing vibrates at speeds higher than 45 miles per hour, it will impact the drivability of the vehicle. Some of the most common sources of this issue include out-of-balance tires and wheels, damaged suspension or steering components, damaged or worn out wheel bearings, or warped brake rotors. Be smart about your car purchase; have the vehicle test-driven by a professional mechanic.

6. Does the vehicle start and run better when warm or cold?

Known As: Cold-Start Run Problem or Hot-Start Run Problem

Car temperature issues related to starting tend to be a result of fuel and/or ignition system problems. Failures of fuel injection can cause issues when warm or cold, but it would be more related to a failed sensor in the “hot-start” condition. Additionally, an overheated relay in the ignition system’s computer may also contribute to a “hot-start run” problem.

7. Does the vehicle periodically die and refuse to start?

Known As: Intermittent Dying Problem

Intermittent dying can be caused by a fault in the ignition system, such as the ignition switch or coil. It can also be caused by sensor malfunctions, loose connections, or connective relays issues — mostly wiring-related functions. Attempting to drive a car that seems to die randomly is not safe; it could shut down at inconvenient locations and contribute to an accident.

8. Does the vehicle lose power on long hills?

Known As: Lack of Power on Acceleration Problem

This issue tends to be related to emission system components becoming clogged or dirty, such as a fuel filter, catalytic converter, or air flow sensor damaged by a fouled air filter. The lack of power essentially results from a component becoming too blocked or plugged by debris build-up, and as a result, the car will not perform as needed on inclines.

9. Does the vehicle misfire when accelerating?

Known As: Misfires Under Load Problem

When a car misfires while trying to accelerate, it is usually also carrying a heavier load than normal. This is often related to poor ignition components or a faulty mass air flow sensor. These parts become blocked or corroded and end up causing an engine misfire or backfire when it has to work harder. A lack of oil changes can also contribute to this condition by allowing carbon deposits to get inside the hydraulic lifters.

Regardless of whether you’re purchasing a used car from a dealership or a private individual, determining the drivability of any car, truck, or SUV is important. By understanding what drivability actually means, you’ll be better prepared to buy a used car. For peace of mind, it might be best to have a professional mechanic come to your location to complete a pre-purchase car inspection to rate the level of drivability.


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Caz

17 years of experience
57 reviews
Caz
17 years of experience
Honda Insight - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Acworth, Georgia
Patient, thorough, professional and takes his time to explain things. This is the second time I have used Caz's services, and he consistently delivers. Look forward to working with him again.
Volvo XC90 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Alpharetta, Georgia
My husband and I are looking for a reliable used car for our teenage drivers. We had two that we were considering and wanted to have them inspected prior to purchasing. Caz did a thorough inspection of both vehicles and recommended we walk away from both. We really appreciated his transparency and knowledge. We will definitely use Caz again.

Chris

22 years of experience
2001 reviews
Chris
22 years of experience
Porsche Macan - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Irvine, California
Chris you as so knowledgeable and really out my mid at ease with the private seller purchase. Highly recommend to anyone shopping for a car :)
Lexus ES300h - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Temecula, California
Amazing guy.... called and gave me what felt to be his honest and straightforward opinion on my vehicle.... def will book him again in the future for work

Casey

19 years of experience
27 reviews
Casey
19 years of experience
Hyundai Santa Fe - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Katy, Texas
Casey is awesome. Helped me fully understand the health of the used vehicle I was buying for my mother in law. Great service and very knowledgeable for sure. Casey found only one issue we needed to deal with and was able to book the repair just a few days later.

Colby

14 years of experience
21 reviews
Colby
14 years of experience
Ford Ranger - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Longmont, Colorado
Colby called to notify me he was in route to the inspection--to ease my mind and to ask if there was anything in particular/extra I wanted him to check out. He was going to do a pre-purchase inspection of a 2002 Ford Ranger. He assured me that I hired the right guy since he'd worked for Ford for 13 years. An hour or so later, he called me while he was driving home to discuss his inspection. I could ask him everything I wanted as we dialogued. That was so helpful! And way more personable and real than just reading the report he emailed. The report was thorough and included a test drive. He had recommendations for some work to be immediately done; rotors & brake pads. Then, included the cost for him to do that work should I choose. The price was fair and not crazy expensive. I'm still deliberating on whether to have that done or to wait for my mechanic to do it once I have the truck. Thank you again Colby.

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