3 things to check during a test drive

A test drive doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about how the vehicle runs, but it can be a good indicator of potential problems. For new drivers, however, it’s often hard to know what exactly to look for during this trial. The engine starts and the wheels roll forward. What else can you tell from the next 15-30 minutes?

This is your chance to pick up on the nuances of the vehicle before you buy it. If you’ve owned a car before, you know that any minor flaws can amplify to a huge annoyance over time. Below, we’ve assembled a few things to inspect while you’ve on the road.

  1. Brakes and acceleration
    • Some vehicles, especially older models, may respond poorly to your commands. Sure, the car slows when you press on the brakes, but is it choppy? How does it handle accelerating on hills and stopping quickly? Does it shift gears smoothly, or does it seem to lag? These can be signs of larger issues that might be expensive to fix. Perhaps the dealer “refurbished” the car with cheap parts that are destined to malfunction soon after it leaves the lot.
  2. Noises
    • For this step, you should turn off the radio and roll down the window. Sound can tell you a lot about the car’s health. For example, squealing might reveal a belt problem. Rattling inside the car can mean loose parts or poor construction. Even vehicles that look great on the road can create obnoxious noise pollution for your neighbors and other motorists. Other noises might be a result of the type of engine or tires, however, and each driver has their own volume preference.
  3. Features as advertised
    • If the vehicle includes a digital system for GPS or parking assistance, check that it works properly. Is it slow to load directions to your destination? Standard features, like heating and wipers, could also show that the vehicle was not well-maintained or designed. Wait for both the AC and heat to change the temperature so you can see how effective they are. Test drive long enough to check for engine overheating.

That being said, a test drive is only part of a full inspection. Even car shoppers who diligently check vehicle records and inspect the engine might not discover that the car is severely faulty. Luckily, California’s Lemon Laws protect consumers from bad new vehicles.