10 Steps to Test Drive a Used Car Like an Expert

Modified On Jun 28, 2016 03:36 PM By Aman

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If you are reading this, you must have graduated from inspecting a finalized used car by now. But if you haven’t, you can always go check out our in-depth article on How to physically inspect a used car. Post examining your drive, you are now ready to take it out for a spin!

 A car is meant to be driven and when buying one, it becomes vital to drive it yourself first before making any decision. As this step can either make or break your deal, buyers should be alert and avoid falling into the trap of buying a faulty car. Through the course of this article we will help you sharpen your examining skills when going for a test drive. 

But before we begin, it’s also quite important to first throw some light on common dealer or individual seller tactics when going for a test drive so you don’t really get to the bottom of your car’s driving performance. 

Common tricks that a dealer would do:   

  • Allows you to test drive only for a small amount of time- By doing this, you won’t be able to test important areas of your car such as engine overheating and cars maneuverability which can only be checked if you drive it for some time.
  • Might take you through a dedicated route- A route which might not have any potholes or bumps. You won’t be able to test the car’s suspension and braking properly. 
  • Skip the test drive and assign a chotu instead- This will save him from the trouble of answering test drive related questions. Never trust the chotu here!  
  • Might not brief you on the car features properly- As most of us are not well equipped with car terminology and features. If a feature is not working properly in a car, it’s better for the dealer to neglect it completely and not share any info on that.

Common tricks that an individual seller would do:

  • Time kum hai yaar, drive it here only- Acting similar to a dealer, this is one common reason that an individual would give if he/she doesn’t want you to test drive the car thoroughly. This is done so that you don’t get to find out the actual flaw in the car’s engine or maneuverability if there is any.
  • It’s a customized car, it will drive better – You might come across a lot of customized if not completely modified cars when buying from individual sellers. This effects manufacturer approved driving dynamics. Changes done on the drive such as extra wide tyres, low profile or raised alloy wheels as well as an aftermarket exhaust system can be seen on many cars. All of these aftermarket modifications look good to the eye but they do have a negative effect on the drive. Fatter tyres are expensive and they also reduce your overall mileage. Alloy wheels are stylish but one should not go for an upper size low profile set (size should be approved by the manufacturer) as it effects cornering and can even break if you hit a pothole quite hard due to lack of sidewall tyre width.   

Be aware of these tactics! Now, let’s get down to business and discuss some important test drive pointers that will help you make a better judgment on the whole.  

1. First drive a same or a similar segment car if possible

Try driving a same or a similar segment car first, before you drive the actual test car. This gives you a fair idea of throttle response, driving ability like acceleration, braking as well as cornering. If you are someone who is not well acquainted with car segments, you can always go online and take help of auto portals such as CarDekho.com and Gaadi.com and find similar cars easily in the compare section on the model page itself.

For Example: Compare Hyundai Elite i20 and Maruti Baleno and Volkswagen Polo

Why is this step important? Especially if you are a first time used car buyer or suppose you are someone who has been driving a Maruti Suzuki Alto and is now looking to buy a used Maruti Swift or any other upper segment car, it can be of great help if you first get used to the upper segment cars before you test drive the car on sale. You can always look around in your social circle and ask friends or relatives if they own a same or similar segment car. You can even take help from car rental companies by renting either the same or similar car in the segment for a day and drive it to get a better feel. Getting your hands at a similar car will help you prepare better for the test drive.

Now, let’s get started with the actual bit. Follow the steps below to get the best out of your test drive. These steps will help you in the decision making process of buying or not buying the used car that you have narrowed down for purchase. 

2. Walk around and check the bonnet first

Before you step inside and start the ignition, do take a walk around the car first to check for minor dents or marks that are already present on the car. This is to assure the owner so you are not blamed for anything post the test drive if you are not accompanied by the owner and all you have is a chotu by your side. 

Next, you can open the bonnet and examine engine oil and other fluids level before you start the drive. This step is to cross-examine if all the levels are same post your test drive and there isn’t any leakage. Once you are done with the test drive, check the oil and fluid levels again for a comparison.    

3. Getting started

Start the ignition and let the car be on the neutral gear. Before you start moving, let the car be idle for a couple of minutes and check for engine noise or any other external noise that peeps into the cabin. Noise coming inside would normally mean either the cabin is not well insulated or there is some problem with the engine mounting or casing. 

Now gradually, rev the engine by pressing onto the accelerator pedal and listen to the sound of the engine. It should be a free flow sound without any rattling noise. Once the engine is touching higher rpm’s, do check if there is any abrupt vibration inside the car or not. Rattling sound from the engine can again be an issue with defective engine rubber mounting or the abrupt vibration can also reflect a faulty drive assembly. If you encounter any issues listed above, step outside and get it rectified from a mechanic. If the same continues, don’t go any further and just say NO to the purchase.  

4. Chalk out an ideal route

Before you take the car out of the parking area, inform the owner or the dealer that you would like to take a proper test drive which will take some time. Ideally, one should drive the car atleast for 10-15 kms at a stretch to judge how the car performs on the road. If required, you can even ask for a fuel top up if the owner doesn’t allow longer runs. If you know the vicinity, chalk out a route which has congested traffic, open stretches as well as some road bumps or pot holes. If you don’t know the area nearby, it is always great to take help of maps on your phone or ask the sales person to accompany you in driving through a similar route. 

Driving through congested traffic will help you judge the engine condition and overheating scenario. Along with that, you can also test if the gear shifts as well as the clutch pedal is smooth or not. Drive the car just like you would drive it every day during office hours so it undergoes the same amount of stress like it would do on a daily basis. While driving on open stretches, you can step onto the accelerator pedal and check the acceleration of the car. But make sure you drive within limits and do not exceed the speed limit. While driving through potholes you can check the car’s suspension and overall stability.  

5. Drive once with AC ON and once when OFF with all windows down

This will let you know how the car performs in multiple conditions and what the exact load on the engine is. First, keep the AC ON at minimum fan speed and drive for a couple of minutes. Post that, switch the AC to full power and then compare the difference in acceleration. Normally, modern day cars performance is not really effected by the AC fan speed. But a lot of old cars do encounter this issue. If you sense a sudden drop in power i.e. the car is not picking up speeds easily despite pressing the accelerator pedal, this means that the engine is taking up heavy load coming from the AC. If the difference is very minor it can be acceptable, but if you encounter a huge difference in performance, it’s time to notify the owner and get the car checked because this will hamper driving in future especially when driving in hot conditions. 

Now, after driving for a couple of minutes, pull all the windows down and drive between 20-30 km/hr to check for any outside noise from the car. With windows down and a fairly driven engine, you can now easily check the impact of driving on the car’s engine and other parts. If you are able to hear any clutter or knocking noise this means that the engine is taking up heat very quickly and there might be an issue with the coolant or the engine assembly. Do report it to the owner and get the same checked. 

6. Check steering and turning capabilities

Bring the car to a halt to make a U turn or a complete 360 degree turn if you come across a vacant area. First, make the steering turn towards one side completely and make a slow turn. Doing this, keep the windows down, feel the feedback of the steering and be on the lookout for any noise that comes from the suspension. A damaged steering assembly will make a noise and will offer a resisting feedback when making a complete turn.   

7. Drive once with full capacity 

This covers an important aspect that is normally ignored while test driving a used car. The suspension setup of the car has to be properly checked for both front and rear as well. To do this, get people to sit at the rear row so that the car is completely full (4-5 occupants in case of a hatchback). Now, when the car is fully loaded, drive normally through open stretches as well as road bumps and pot holes to check if the rear fender is not touching the tyres or if there is any fault in the suspension. This could be very fatal in case the rear fender touches your car tyres as it can damage the tyre completely from the sides which can even lead to tyre burst. If the car is sitting very low onto the ground when full, it can be a case of faulty rear suspension as well.    

8. Test the brakes as well

Braking of the car is as important as the acceleration is. Look for a spot that is free from traffic congestion and then drive at a suitable speed (between the 50-60 km/hr range) and press the brakes gradually at first and check if there is any vibration coming from the brake pedal or If the car is drifting towards the side or not. Make sure that the road is clear from the back as well for incoming traffic. Vibration would mean that the brake assembly is at fault or it can also mean that the brake shoes are worn out. If the car is drifting towards one side that means there can be a problem with overall car alignment and with the brake pads as well. 

Now, when driving at the same speed band of 50-60 km/hr, apply brakes firmly to check if the brake shoes are working properly and how much distance the car covers to come to a halt. This can be a little tedious job but if you really want to be sure about the brakes, you can go ahead with this exercise. You can even mark a reference point like a pillar or tree next to the open road which should ideally by 100 meters away. Now, drive at speeds of 50 km/hr before reaching the 100 meter mark and apply brakes firmly to see how much distance the car covers before stopping completely. In an ideal case, a Maruti Alto will cover 20-25 meters when going down from 50 km/hr to a complete stop. So you can have that mark as reference. An upper segment car will definitely stop before this distance mentioned.   

9. Switch to the co-passenger seat

Once you have driven the car properly, it’s time to sit at the co-passenger seat and ask someone else to drive instead. Once you are inside, check all the interior switches and dials thoroughly including seat belts, AC cooling, heater, audio system, USB support as well as Bluetooth (if any) to name a few. Look around the car and make a note of features which are not working properly or might need some repair.    

10. Drive to a stop for a post drive inspection 

Once you have driven the car for a considerable amount of time, you can now bring the car to a stop in an open area and step out. Before you come to any conclusion, check the car from the outside and see if you can hear any noise coming from the radiator fan or any other clutter noise under the hood. If the car that you drove was not driven for a longer duration earlier, the radiator cooling fan should not be functional then. If you continue to listen to the radiator fan, this can be a sign of engine overheating. Get the same checked by a mechanic and inform the car owner. 

After you have parked the car, bend down and examine the road beneath. If there will be leakage you will be able to see oil marks on the road easily. This can be a matter of concern. Get the same checked by a mechanic for the nature of leakage.  

If it passes all the tests, get a trusted mechanic for final inspection

Once you are satisfied with the test drive and if your car happily goes through all the steps listed above, you can now ask the owner to get it checked from your own trusted mechanic for a final inspection. If he also insists in getting a test drive, you can always ask the owner to go around for another spin accompanying the mechanic. If the owner knows that he/she is selling a trouble free car, he/she would not mind taking the car for another spin or a test.  

Testing a used car for above listed steps will insure that the car undergoes multiple driving scenarios. This will give you a clear picture on what to expect from the used car that you have shortlisted. If you feel that that the car that you have tested completes all the steps above with grace, congratulations! You have just selected the right used car for you.  

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