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Test Driving a Used Car

By: Scott McBride - Updated: 22 Nov 2010 | comments*Discuss
Test Driving A Used Car

There is not too much to worry about when buying a used car from a franchised dealer, as the car will have passed an inspection and be backed by a manufacturer's warranty. This peace of mind comes at a price, however, and bargain hunters buying from an independent dealer or private seller must be more careful.

If there is no warranty thrown in, it is vital to give the car a thorough inspection before parting with hard-earned cash. An important part of this process is taking the car for a test drive. Buyers must be fully insured to drive the car and should take proof, as most sellers will want to know a buyer is covered in the event of an accident.

When inspecting the car, check that the engine is cold. If it's not, find out why, as the seller may have warmed up the engine to disguise the fact the car has trouble starting. The car should start straight away from cold. If it takes too long, there could be a problem.

Check for Exhaust Blues

Once the car has started, check for excessive noise from the exhaust. If there are holes in the exhaust - known as a blow - the noise will be a giveaway. Take a close look at the exhaust smoke too, as bluish smoke can indicate an internal oil leak, a potentially expensive problem. White smoke is not a problem, unless there is a lot of it.

Check the temperature gauge once the engine has been running for a while - it should settle around about the halfway mark. While the car is still stationary, turn the steering wheel from one lock to the other and listen for any worrying screeching, banging or knocking sounds. Test the strength of the handbrake by trying to drive off gently with it pulled on. If the handbrake fails to hold the car back, it may need attention, although most handbrakes will lose in a battle with an engine.

Try to drive on as many different types of road surfaces as possible during the test drive and use all the gears - including reverse. There should not be any whining, banging or slurring sounds from an automatic car and in a manual, gear changes should be smooth and slick. The clutch pedal should bite between the top and middle of the pedal's travel. If it does not disengage until the pedal is near the floor, the clutch will need adjusting or replacing, which will be expensive.

Tough Test

The seller may suggest a route for the test drive, but speak up if it is not long enough. A buyer should not abuse the car, because it does not belong to him yet, but be thorough with the test. Accelerate hard and watch for smoke from the exhaust. Then check there are no cars following and brake sharply. If the car pulls to one side or makes noises, the tyres' tread and brakes have to be examined.

It is important to listen for any unusual noises during the test drive, so do not let the seller turn up the radio or be a distraction. Remember too that a test drive is not just about finding faults, it is a trial run to discover if the car is suitable.

Try to get a feel for how the car handles and whether or not there is enough head and leg room. If serious about buying the car but concerned about its condition, ask to take it to a trustworthy mechanic. A private seller will usually allow this, but if not be cautious and in these circumstances, do not buy a car that has had major engine overhauls, valve jobs or gearbox rebuilds.

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