Test Drive a Used Car

Test-driving a car is one of the most important steps to take when used car shopping, but it might be trickier than it seems. Be sure to know what to look for and think about when you're behind the wheel. The list can get long. Prepare ahead by making a list.

Consider What's Most Important

When you're evaluating different used cars, you'll have an idea of what you care about that may not relate to the mechanical reliability of the car. Perhaps safety will be more important than looks, or comfort more important than the model year. Either way, knowing what is important to you before you start test-driving cars is a good way to save time and find the right car for your needs.

If you're shopping with someone else, like a parent or partner, their desires will influence your decision, too. Syncing up with your potential co-owners around your wants before you start test-driving cars can also save time.

No matter what elements you prioritize, the test drive should be the place to see if this is the car for you. For instance, if you know you have a long commute every day, maybe the comfort of the seat is going to be very important. Make sure you test-drive the car in similar conditions to your commute.

How the car feels to you is going to make a big difference over the long run. If you're not comfortable either physically or mentally with the car, move on to the next.

Evaluate Mechanical Features

While you're judging the characteristics that matter to you as a driver, you'll also have to pay attention to the mechanics of the car. This ranges from the wipers and blinkers to how well the engine runs, the gears shift, and brakes stop.

Some questions your test drive should answer include:

  • Does the car start on the first try?
  • How easily and smoothly do the gears shift?
  • How does the car idle?
  • How well does the car accelerate?
  • Do the A/C, defroster, electric windows or seats, cruise control, and all the other knobs on the dashboard work?
  • Does the current owner have maintenance records?
  • Do you hear any unusual noises or see unusual exhaust?
  • Is there an unusual smell like mold or mustiness?
  • How smooth or bumpy is the ride?
  • In what shape are the tires?

Don't forget to take a look at the car separate from the test drive. Make sure the spare tire is there and in good condition. If you know your way around an engine, set aside some time to give it a look.

Seek Expert Advice

Even if you're buying a used car from a very trustworthy source, there are steps you can take to reduce risk. One idea is to consider paying a little extra to have an experienced and trustworthy mechanic look over the car for you.

You should also consider purchasing a vehicle history report. This step helps you know where the car has been and whether it was in any accidents that could impact its value and safety.

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