So you've scoured the classifieds, surfed the Web and darkened the doors of dealership after dealership, looking for the perfect used car. Now it's time to take your potential purchase out for a spin. A recent Maritz Research study found that 11 percent of car buyers bought their cars without a test drive. Buying a used car without spending a little time behind the wheel is a risky endeavor, as there's plenty about the average used car that could make or break your potential purchase. Many of these factors can be vetted out shortly before and during the test drive. The following is a list of things you should keep an eye out for on your test drive:
Take a Good Look
Before you hop behind the wheel, give your potential purchase a once-over. Check under the hood and make sure the belts and hoses are in good condition. Check the exterior of the vehicle for any visual flaws, and make sure the tires don't have dry rot or worn tread.
Some things needn't be a complete deal-breaker. For instance, bad tires might indicate a suspension problem waiting in the wings, or it could just be that the tires need replacing. A new set of tires from a reputable manufacturer offers peace of mind when you hit the road.
Listen and Note
Keep the radio down and your ears open for strange sounds. Listen carefully to the engine and be on the lookout for valve tapping, stumbling and misfires, as well as the unmistakable squeal of bad belts or a bad pulley. Take note of how the transmission feels on each shift—some cars shift firmer than others, but you don’t want any hard clunks or hesitant shifting. Listen for clunking noises within the suspension and take note of the ride quality; the car shouldn’t wallow overly and the suspension should not bottom out on bumps.
Take a Trip Down a Dead End
Now this might sound a bit weird. As you turn around at a cul-de-sac or a dead end in a used front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive car, roll the window down and keep an ear out for the tell-tale clicking or whining sound of worn constant velocity joints. Make sure to turn in slow, tight circles at full steering lock in both directions.
According to AA1Car, most CV joints are designed to last for up to 150,000 miles under normal use. But a lot of things can happen before the 150,000-mile mark to speed up a CV joint’s untimely demise, including excessive wear and tear, abuse and neglect. After the test drive, be sure to check the flexible boot covering the CV joint. If it’s torn, cracked or simply loose, it could allow lubricant to leak and outside contaminants to wreak havoc on the joint’s metal surfaces.
Take Your Time
The worst thing you can do is rush the test drive. Even if you feel pressured by the salesperson, don’t cut the test drive short. If you do, you’re likely to miss important details that could help you decide whether or not to go through with the sale. If the pressure becomes too much, don’t be afraid to put your foot down and walk away.