What to Look for When Test Driving a Used Car | YourMechanic Advice

What to Look for When Test Driving a Used Car

When you buy a used car, you should pay close attention to the vehicle to know whether it’s a good deal or not. Ideally, the seller will allow you to take it to a mechanic for a car inspection if you’re buying from an individual or used car lot. If you’re buying from a dealership, you often receive a CarFax report, but you still may want to take it to a trusted mechanic for a professional opinion. You want to look over the car and see if it’s the one you want and if it’s a good value.

Before the test drive

Look the vehicle over carefully before you even get behind the wheel. Check the following to get a first impression about the soundness and care of the car:

  • Check the tread on the tires – do the tires match in brand and size and is the tread even?

  • Is there a quarter-inch tread at minimum left?

  • Look under the vehicle to see if any fluids have leaked

  • Open all doors and windows to make sure they work properly

  • Make sure all locks work from both the inside and out

  • Check all lights to ensure none has burned out or cracked

  • Lift the hood and listen to the engine. Does it sound rough or have knocking or other noises that indicate a problem?

You will want to walk around the vehicle and look at the paint job. Notice if an area appears to be a darker or lighter shade, which could indicate a recent paint job to cover up rust or recent body repairs. Search for scratches or dents, which could cause rust or corrosion. Look over the interior of the used vehicle. Check for tears or worn areas on the upholstery. Make sure gauges and all components are working properly. Lift up car mats and adjust the seats. Pay attention to hidden areas, which could be covering up problems you will have to deal with later.

During the test drive

When you take the vehicle for a test drive, try it out on the highway where you can accelerate and travel at 60mph or higher. Drive through town and around curves, over hills and make right and left turns. Turn off the radio and roll up the windows so you can listen to the sounds the vehicle makes. Roll down the windows at some point in the drive to listen for outside vehicle noises, especially around the tires. Pay attention to any vibrations and how the steering wheel and pedals feel. Notice how quickly and smoothly the car stops when you apply the brakes.

Here are some other points to notice as you drive:

  • Notice how the car switches between gears and accelerates

  • Does the vehicle pull to one side when you apply the brakes?

  • Is the steering wheel hard to turn or does it shake?

  • Do you hear squealing or grinding when you push down on the brake pedals?

  • The car should run smoothly even if a bit louder than a brand new vehicle. It should feel smooth and stable whether you are going in a straight line or turning

Don’t hurry through the test, but plan at least an hour or more to look over the vehicle and spend time driving. You want to know the car will perform adequately in the various ways you will use it.

For added peace of mind, have one of our mechanics perform a pre-purchase inspection before you agree to the purchase. Even if the issues aren’t deal breakers, they can influence the amount you are willing to pay for a pre-owned vehicle, since the mechanic will identify the cost and scope of necessary repairs, giving you greater bargaining power.


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Chris

21 years of experience
1852 reviews
Chris
21 years of experience
Mercedes-Benz SLK280 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Laguna Hills, California
I hired Chris to inspect a car I wanted to purchase. He arrived on time and gave me a very detailed report, took the time to call me after to review details, and share his impression of the car. He was great and very knowledgeable, I would highly recommend him!
Lexus IS250 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Irvine, California
Smooth experience, was able to communicate succinctly and arrived early to the appointment. Thoroughly completed the 50-point check and gave me his professional opinion. His report on the vehicle reflected knowledge on the vehicle, along with giving me his own estimate on the pricing. Definitely helped me with my purchase.

Jason

14 years of experience
222 reviews
Jason
14 years of experience
Honda CR-V - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Flushing, New York
Jason was great, prompt, and extremely helpful! He explained every aspect of his concerns with the car and answered all our questions in detail. Since I don't know much about cars, it was amazing to have someone who explained how things work in a simple but well rounded way. We are so appreciative of his help!
Dodge Charger - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Carteret, New Jersey
Jason came on time, explained the procedure and immediately started the pre-purchase inspection on my 2012 Dodge Charger. Very thorough, very knowledgeable! I’ll be using YourMechanic for the suggested maintenance and repairs.

Anderson

26 years of experience
67 reviews
Anderson
26 years of experience
Toyota Camry - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Jamaica, New York
Anderson was great! I was unsure about my purchase because of the year and the condition. Anderson's inspection really put everything into perspective. Thank you!
Land Rover LR4 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Little Neck, New York
Anderson is amazing! A previous mechanic was no-call/no-show through this site when I was at the dealership, so I was skeptical of the service. However, but I'm glad I gave it another go and Anderson came through the next day! HUGE thanks to him for arriving early, being thorough, and most importantly, communicating with me as I was not able to be in-person for the inspection. Thank you, Anderson!

Chuy

13 years of experience
202 reviews
Chuy
13 years of experience
BMW 330i - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Hinsdale, Illinois
Professional. Couldn’t be there to inspect with him and gave me a full detail inspection and his honest opinion ( which I asked for ) did an amazing job.

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