We last talked about calling the seller to get an appointment in the fourth part of Buying a Used Car. Now that you’ve called, asked any pertinent questions, and arranged a time to meet, it’s time to go for a test drive. However, before you do, it may serve you well to think over all of the things that you need to examine on the test drive. So, let’s look at those things.
I like to think of the car in three zones: exterior, interior, and mechanical, so that’s how we’ll approach the vehicle. However, this approach will make this article too lengthy, so the test drive itself will be broken into three sections. Since you’re already on the exterior when you first walk to the vehicle, that’s the logical place to start. (However, the first thing you should do is start the engine. In this way, it can reach operating temperature while you’re examining the car.)
Obviously, you want the car to look well taken care of, but look for more than a nice paint job. Are there any places that reveal damage? Are there any places where the paint appears to be bubbling because of underlying rust? This often first appears at the bottom of the car panels immediately around the wheel wells. Is there rust on the undercarriage? I know, it’s no fun crawling around on the ground looking under a vehicle, but, hey, it’s a big purchase and definitely worth this aggravation. Are the headlights cloudy? Are any of the lights cracked or busted? Are there any chips or cracks in the glass? Do the seals around the windows appear to be intact? Is there an acceptable amount of tread left on the tires? Speaking of tires, do they reveal a tread wear pattern that suggests the need for an alignment or that the frame may be warped? Do all of the doors, hood, and trunk open and close smoothly? Once again, these can reveal bends or warps. Has the car been repainted (look around hood and trunk hinges)?
By inspecting each of these things, you can get a better idea of the car’s history even without a report. If nothing else, you can get a sense of the previous owner’s care of the car- if it has failing windshield wipers, what other maintenance may the owner have neglected? Once you’ve completed a tour of the car’s exterior, it’s time to get into the driver’s seat, which will be the topic of the next article.