Before going on the drive, be sure you and the seller buckle your saftey belts, adjust your mirrors, and obey all posted signs.
Now comes the all important test drive. Before you perform this, it is best to ask the seller to correct as many yellow boxes as possible, such as low engine oil and low air pressure. The reason for this is if the car is low on air pressure for instance, it can have a negative effect on the car’s handling. Use checkcardna.com VIN decoder to familiarize yourself with vehicles history. While driving, it is important to ‘feel’ the vehicle. This means that when you press the brakes, feel the effects on the steering wheel and if the brakes themselves are making noises. Also, it’s best to keep conversations to a minimum as well as the radio turned off.
Press the brake pedal and place the car into each gear. Listen if the car makes any loud noises or if you can feel the car ‘slamming’ into gear. A properly maintained car should go into each gear relatively smoothly without any loud noises.
Press the clutch all the way down and place the car into each gear. Does it grind while engaging? Clutches are sometimes abused by previous owners and can be costly to repair. They shouldn’t make any grinding noises, and the car should go into gear easily without jumping back out.
Once you are on the road, listen to the engine and if it is being responsive to the gas pedal. If there is a hesitation, this might mean the car is in need of a tune up, or worse yet, it might need serious internal repairs. One common problem with older cars is lifter knock. This condition will sound like a ‘ticking noise’ coming from the engine. Repair costs will vary, so it’s hard to determine how serious the condition might be. An engine that ‘rattles,’ however, is extremely hard to diagnose without the advice of an auto mechaninc. It could be a loose motor mount or a connecting rod which has broken free. Either way, unless your are qualified to repair these conditions, it is best to avoid them all together.
While you are driving the car, feel how the steering wheel reacts. It should remain in the center while keeping the car going in a straight line. If there is a tire going down on air pressure, an alignment problem, or a suspension problem, the car will pull to one side or the other. When you press the brakes, does the steering wheel vibrate? This would point to a possible front end or brake problem, which might severely lessen the car’s safety. If the brakes ‘squeal’ when you press them, they probably need new pads; however, if they grind, major repair work is possibly needed.
When you are finished with the test drive, park the car and keep it running. What we want to test now is to see if the cooling system is working properly. This test will show you how the car will perform if you are stuck in traffic on a hot day. To do this, you will need to turn on the air conditioning, if equipped. Set the A/C on the maximum cold temperature. Let the car run for an additional 5 minutes. Be sure to watch the temperature gauge, if equipped, and if it begins to go into the red, or the temperature light comes on, immediately turn off the car. When finished, the last thing to check is if the radio is working properly.