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4 Things to Do When Test-Driving a Used Car

test driving a used car
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One of the most important aspects of shopping for a used vehicle is making the most of the test drive. Here’s what to look for when test driving a used car.

Buying used is a great way to get into a nice car at an affordable price point. After all, new cars depreciate by as much as 30 percent the moment they are driven off the lot, so why should you take that depreciation hit?

One of the most important aspects of shopping for a used vehicle is making the most of the test drive. This is your best opportunity to determine a car’s overall condition, as well as if you’ll be happy driving it.

What to Look for When Test Driving a Used Car

1. Take Stock of Your Needs

Before you test-drive anything, consider your lifestyle and personal situation. Do you have a family? Are you a fitness enthusiast? Do you commute long distances? Are you caring for an elderly parent? Transporting kids? All those concerns should factor into your purchase decision. After all, if you’re constantly struggling to get your car to fit your needs, you’ll eventually tire of the limitations it imposes upon your life.

2. Scrutinize Carefully

Once you’ve answered those questions honestly, look around to see what’s out there. However, before you drive any car, examine it diligently. Look for poorly repaired crash damage, excessive wear and tear, rust, worn tires, dirty fluids and smoke when the car is started. Do all interior and exterior lights and the windshield wipers work? Does the heat and A/C operate quickly? Check the condition of the pedals; if the odometer shows low mileage but the pedals have wear, something’s amiss.

Keep in mind, in addition to assessing condition and value, you’re also determining if it is safe to test drive. You should also compare car insurance to help determine the overall costs associated with owning each car.

3. The Actual Drive

If everything checks out, activate the audio system, run through all of its functions, then shut it off and listen to the car as you test-drive it. Try to replicate the type of driving you do most often. If you spend a lot of time on the highway, cover highway miles as part of the drive. If you do a lot of urban stops and go, duplicate that situation.

As you’re going along, listen for squeaks, rattles, grinding sounds and other untoward noises. Road noise is OK in lower-priced autos and engine noise is expected in performance-oriented models. But squeaks, rattles, and grinding come with price tags attached.

When you brake, does the car come to a stop quickly and in a straight line? Does it pull to one side or the other when you’re trying to go straight? Do you feel unusual vibrations in the brake pedal or steering wheel? Does the engine run smoothly at idle and continue doing so as you increase speed? Does the transmission change gears smoothly? Do you smell exhausted fumes or gasoline?

4. Get A Pre-Purchase Inspection

If you feel good enough after the drive to buy it, get the car inspected by an independent mechanic specializing in the make and model before you make an offer. This will cost you a couple hundred bucks or so, but it’s cheap insurance against buying a car with expensive problems (Read: Make $500 Fast).

Making the most of a used car test drive will ensure you get the best car possible at a price with which you can be comfortable. If you pay attention, the car will tell you everything you need to know to make a sound decision. The main thing is to avoid getting emotionally attached until you’re certain you’ve found the one. And whatever you do, always get a pre-purchase inspection by a qualified independent mechanic. Good luck with your future car and make sure you do these 4 things when test driving a used car to ensure top savings.

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