There is plenty of potential to get a good deal if you know how to shop for a used vehicle. Here's what you should look for when taking a used car on a test drive:
Before Open the hood and check the fluids. They should be full and look clean. Check tire wear. Worn treads don't have to be a deal-breaker. You can purchase a new set of General tires online and have them shipped to a local installer, and use the expense to negotiate the selling price.
In the driver’s seat Get into the car and try all the buttons, knobs and controls. If a switch doesn't make sense, ask about it. Adjust the seat and mirrors. Does the interior smell? Stains on carpets or upholstery can be difficult to remove. Try the radio, but leave it off during the drive. You want to hear any strange car noises during the test drive. Note any difficulties when starting the car. Put the car into gear and notice any late or rough shifting from park to drive or reverse. If there is any, you might be looking at major transmission problems soon.
On the road Drive on both smooth and bumpy roads. Notice the sounds and handling on each surface. Try the brakes. They should be silent. If the car doesn’t stop smoothly you may be looking at worn rotors and an expensive brake job. Drive up hills and let the car coast downhill. Listen to the transmission as it shifts. Any lunging or loud sounds when shifting could mean a transmission problem.
Any clicking from the engine or the smell of hot oil or other fluids is problematic, too. Take your time on the test drive and keep the car running for at least 10 minutes to heat up the engine. Accelerate and slow down. Notice any engine or transmission noises when doing this. If it sounds like they're working hard to make the changes in speed, there could be a problem.
Sense any vibrations in the steering wheel as you drive. When driving over bumping roads, listen to the suspension. Noisy shocks mean they'll need replacing soon. NADA recommends driving on a level surface at 20 miles per hour, then taking your hands off of the wheel for a few seconds. If the car pulls to the right or left, there could be wheel alignment, tire or steering problems.
Stay cool Approach a used car just like you were buying a new pair of pants. It has to fit your needs, fit your budget and not have any issues. Like the pants, if the car doesn't fit then move on to the next one.