Important vehicle tests and checks to perform at the dealership

Researching automobiles and testing vehicles of interest are two of the best things you can do to make an informed car purchase. But, you also need to do some things at the dealership as part of your evaluation process. This article comprises a number of important vehicle tests and checks to perform at the dealership before you buy!

It’s important to get your mind in the right place before setting foot in a dealership. No matter how good the dealer is rated as a company and/or how reputable they are, they still have one objective in mind: Sell YOU a car. Because of that, when you come to a dealership, you need to make a rule for yourself:

You are NOT going to buy a vehicle until you complete your research!

Make it clear to the person serving you that you are only there to review vehicle information, inspect certain vehicles, and test drive the car (or cars) you are interested in. Make it clear to him/her that you will not be making a purchase during this visit (remember your rule). By doing this, you will manage the salesperson’s expectations and help you to better focus on making sound car comparisons.

You should also take note of how you have been received by the salesperson at the dealership. Some dealerships are truly interested in serving a customer while others are all about “making the sale.” Knowing how the dealership treats customers when they walk in the door may give you some clue of how they’ll treat you in the future after you’ve bought a car from them.

Check out the car you like

Spend some quality time carefully looking over any vehicle you are interested in. Do you like the car as much in person as you did in advertisements and photographs? Does the car have the look and feel that you want? Is the paint nice and smooth, of good quality, and with a nice reflection? Does the “feel” of the car give you confidence in the quality of workmanship? Are the seams between the body panels and doors even and clean – or are there irregularities? Are the seals neat and perfect? Make sure you view the car outdoors and not just on the showroom floor… Do you like the color of the car in the light of day? Most cars today are constructed in robotic factories so overall quality has improved significantly in the last two decades. That said, there are still quality differences between models and makes of cars. So look it over carefully to see if you like the quality of the exterior.

Next, check the interior of the car. Because this is where you’ll interact with your car the most, it’s important that the interior be right for you. How comfortable are the driver and passenger seats? Are the back seats comfortable as well? Is the cabin roomy or cramped? How’s the headroom? Are the controls hard to use or not intuitive? Overall, does the interior fit your lifestyle? And, if you will be keeping the car for a while, will it fit your lifestyle in the future? Those tiny back seats may be fine for your kids when they’re two and three, but what about when they’re six and seven? And what if you add another child in the next year or two… will the car still work for you? Are all the features you want available and as you expected?

Remember that it’s inside the car that you’ll spend the most time. No matter how good it looks on the outside, if it doesn’t fit you and your needs on the inside, it isn’t the car for you.

How does the car work for you?

The initial part of a test drive has absolutely nothing to do with physically driving the car. It is a chance for you to check and test the internal features of a vehicle of interest. By spending time sitting in and adjusting the driver seat, and checking out the interior layout and comforts the car you are interested in, you can get a better feel for the car before the purchase. Some car features you may want to look at include the following:

  • Console controls and displays
  • Stereo and DVD
  • Advanced electronic systems such as Bluetooth, voice controls, entertainment systems, or navigation systems
  • Trunk space
  • Window retraction
  • Door handles and locking mechanisms
  • Lights (including brake lights and signals)
  • Storage compartments and accessories (cup holders and the glove compartment)
  • Mirror, seat, and steering wheel adjustments
  • Sun-roof operation or convertible-top retraction
  • Overall comfort and convenience
  • Driving position
  • Visibility
  • Child seat compatibility
  • Heated seats/cooled seats

As you sit in the driver’s seat, adjust the seat and put on the seatbelt. Adjust the steering wheel and evaluate your driving position. How’s the headroom and legroom? Will you be comfortable on a long drive? All of these checks will make your choice easier when you’re evaluating the current vehicle versus other cars you’re considering.

Next, once you’ve spent some time getting a feel for the driver’s seat, be sure to sit in each of the other seats to better assess how your passengers will enjoy the ride. Make sure that child seats can be easily secured and that there are enough places to store drinks, games, and other items you and your family use regularly. Ask yourself… does the car fit you and your regular passengers? Will it work for your particular situation?

Look in the trunk and under the hood

Now that you’ve completed your inspection of the inside of the car, it is a good idea to take a look at the trunk/cargo area. Does it have enough space for you and your needs? Is it conveniently organized? Will it “grow” with you and your family or will it only accommodate you for a short while (while the kids are little for example)?

Next, lift the hood and take a look at the engine. Though most folks don’t know a lot about modern engines you can still see if all of the wiring, belts, engine and such look well put together. Is it easy to add water and windshield fluid? How simple is it to do minor repairs and tune-ups? Some cars are very expensive to maintain due to the configuration of the engine. Ask the salesperson how easy maintenance on the car is and what it costs to do oil changes and tune ups.

Be thorough when checking the engine

When test driving and inspecting a vehicle, you should perform a fairly thorough investigation of the vehicle’s engine. Check the fluids, looking not only at the level on dipsticks or container gauges, but also at the cleanliness of the fluids. Motor oil should be nearly full and more amber in color than black. The transmission fluid should be red to pink, and similar to oil, not dark in overall color. Some other fluids you may want to check include power steering and brakes, clutch, and coolant. It is also a good idea to inspect the exhaust system from muffler to tailpipe, before you take the test drive. Also, check the axles and joints. Be wary of any vehicle seller who is reluctant to show you the engine, trunk, or any other part of a vehicle.

Check for evidence of flooding

For used cars, looking for evidence of flooding is becoming increasingly important – some vehicles are being taken from disaster-affected areas and sold to unwitting buyers. By looking for water lines on the inside of the vehicle body, in the trunk, or even in the interior, you can save yourself a lot of trouble. If any mildew or moisture is in the interior of a vehicle, it should be avoided.

Pay for an auto inspection

In the case you feel unable, or simply not qualified, to assess a used vehicle with merit, it may be worth your time and money to have an independent mechanic inspect the car and engine for you. Most reputable mechanics will provide this service to you for $100 or less. In almost every case, an independent inspection should be done on a used vehicle you are considering buying.

Get on the road today.


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