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How To Evaluate a Car During a Test Drive

Buy a lemon and you'll regret it. Fortunately, we can help.


  • Step 1: Take someone with you. It helps to have an objective point of view, as well as another pair of eyes and ears.
  • Step 2: After you've adjusted the seat, sit for a while before taking off. Are you comfortable with the layout? How's the visibility? How's the size? Is the instrument panel layout simple and effective?
  • TIP: Sit in the back of the car to make sure it's comfortable for passengers.
  • Step 3: Turn the car on, noting if the car starts up promptly. Take a route that includes stop-and-go street driving as well as highway time.
  • Step 4: Listen for squeaks, rattles, and tapping in the engine compartment.
  • Step 5: Note if there is hesitation during acceleration. Listen for more pinging and knocking noises while doing this.
  • Step 6: Find a deserted place to check the brakes. Gain a good speed and then stop suddenly to see how well the car responds. Did it stop quickly, or skid?
  • Step 7: Take your hands off the wheel for split second (again, in a deserted area) to see if the car veers to the left or right. Repeat, this time applying the brakes.
  • Step 8: Test the heater, the air conditioner, the radio, the windshield wipers, and the automatic windows.
  • TIP: You'll need to run your air conditioning for several minutes to see if it has a problem, such as overheating the vehicle or drastically changing its performance.
  • Step 9: Allow the vehicle to idle for about five minutes. This will show if it runs hot or rough, or if the idle isn't set properly.
  • Step 10: When the test drive is over, turn the car off and then turn it on again to test its charging capabilities.
  • Step 11: Consider everything you've seen and noticed, and decide whether to make an offer or to move on to the next car.
  • FACT: Sixty-eight percent of people interviewed said they would not buy a car over the Internet because they like to test drive a car, according to a Consumer Reports survey.

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