The used-car test drive is an important opportunity to reveal potential problems with a vehicle you’re considering spending a lot of money on. Turn up your consumer instincts, remember these tips, and get ready to scrutinize.
• Get down low and have a good look beneath the vehicle. Check for excessive rust, dents, holes and leaks. Question any issues you may note, and get a mechanical inspection if you’re uncomfortable looking beneath the vehicle yourself.
• Considering a car with a manual transmission? Note any slipping or shuddering as the clutch engages. Shifting into third gear at a fairly low speed and applying full throttle may coax slippage out of a worn clutch, too. Be certain the seller isn’t trying to pass an expensive clutch replacement onto you.
• The vehicle should stop quickly with no unwelcomed vibrations. Stops should occur in a straight line, and the pedal should feel firm– not spongy. If the brake pedal sinks to the floor or the vehicle pulls to the side during a stop, its brakes need some attention. Be sure the parking brake holds the car from rolling on a hill, and remember that a squeaking sound from the brakes means the pads are worn out.
• Check for signs of moisture or mildew, especially on vehicles with a sunroof. Is there water or rust under the floor of the trunk beneath the spare tire? Are the carpets damp or musty in the front footwells? If so, you could be asking for a rust-bucket down the line.
• Check tire wear. A tread-depth gauge can determine how much life is left in the tires, and a visual inspection can help determine if the vehicle has alignment issues. Tread should be worn evenly across the whole width of the tire. A tire that’s worn more heavily on one side indicates that the vehicle’s alignment is out of whack.
• Turn off the radio and listen for unusual noises from under the hood or under the car’s body. Any clunking, rubbing or grinding is probably a sign of trouble.