Test-Driving a Used Vehicle
If you are at the test driving stage, you should already have a short list of vehicles that suit you. You should be satisfied with the price the seller is asking for, the appearance of the vehicle, and its condition. During the test drive, there are a few simple rules that can save you time, money, and future headaches.
Before you even ask the seller for the keys, be aware of any legal issues involved in test driving a vehicle. If you break any road rules, you will be the one with the points on your license and the fine. So what if you're involved in an accident while driving the vehicle? Most dealers have coverage that pays in full for damages and most times you will not have to pay for the repairs yourself. However, the case might be different when purchasing a vehicle from a private party. You may be financially responsible for damages to the vehicle you're driving and any other vehicles involved in the accident. Be smart: ask about the liability before you get behind the wheel.
Bring a friend along. It's always good to have someone by your side when driving a new vehicle. You may be concentrating on the road and miss something important like a small noise or rattle. Remember—a small noise can turn into big trouble after you purchase the vehicle. So ask a friend or relative to sit next to you and pay attention to how the car operates.
Before you start driving, check all the controls (read our "Inspecting a Used Vehicle" section). Is the air conditioning working? Check if the lights are working. Listen to the engine when you start it. What about the radio? Do you actually get sound out of it or is it just noise? Adjust your seat, you can't drive if you can't sit comfortably or reach the pedals! You'll be spending a lot of time in the car, so try to familiarize yourself with how everything operates. Make sure you know where the controls are; you don't want to search for them while driving.
If you can avoid driving with the seller, do so. Most times, the seller of the car only serves as a distraction. If you have any remaining questions, ask them when you finish the drive.
For many people, test driving a vehicle means taking it around the block. This is not enough. Take at least half an hour and drive on different surfaces: suburban streets, major roads, and multi-lane highways if possible. The car might handle well when driving at an easy pace, but driving on the highway or a rough road might reveal potential problems. So make sure you take the car through as many driving situations as possible before you return to the dealer.
Another good thing to try is parallel parking. You'll find out if the car's size and handling is right for you. You should be comfortable with the range of the vehicle and feel confident parking it anywhere. Your first attempt will always feel awkward, so don't worry. The car is new and you'll need time to get the hang of it. However, if multiple attempts to parallel park create a traffic jam behind you, this is probably not your car.
Next, discuss the vehicle's performance with the friend or relative you brought along. Ask their opinion. What do they think of the car? What did they notice while you were driving? Before you go back to the dealership, you should decide if the car suits you or not—it's not a good idea to discuss all of this in front of the salesperson. You should be the final decision-maker.
And lastly, do not stop after test driving the first vehicle on your list! Tell the dealer that you'll think about purchasing the vehicle after you've driven some other cars. Test driving does not obligate you to buy the car. The next car may suit you better—and it's critical to compare and know the difference.
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