By: Sarah E. Sanuth, is an insider in the automotive industry  with many years of experience in the car dealership and repair business, is guest contributing an article sharing insightful tips on buying a good used car and what to look for in test driving a used car.

Taking a vehicle on a test-drive before buying it is a must. However, many of us don’t always know what we’re looking for; all we know is that we are supposed to. The following checklist / tips will help you make the most out of that test drive and buy a good used car.

1. Bring this checklist and a friend with you. The person doesn’t have to be a car guru but would be helpful in providing an extra set of eyes and ears. Have your friend write down the answers to the below questions and anything that you might hear, see or experience.

2. Make sure the vehicle is on a level, clean surface and start it. Allow it to warm up. Does it crank over right away? If it doesn’t, this indicates a starter or charging system failure.

3. After it is warm, while the vehicle is still running, check the transmission fluid. Does it read full and are there excessive bubbles on the dipstick? Bubbles could indicate excessive air or a breakdown inside the transmission.

4. Turn the vehicle off and check the oil. Is the level just right and does it look relatively clean with no lumps or debris? Oil changes are vital, it’s the vehicles blood; if it is dirty, oil changes weren’t done properly. If it appears milky, coolant is mixing with the oil in which case do not drive it; it means the head gasket or the engine is or about to go.

5. Start the vehicle again and take a walk around. Is there any overspray in the door jambs and do the hinges line-up properly? If you see these, this indicates that the vehicle has been in an accident and repaired; and should be priced accordingly.

6. Check underneath the vehicle. Look for any excessive rust or rot. Is there any fluid on the ground? If so, there is a leak somewhere that needs to be fixed.

7. Check all electrical components and accessories such as the HVAC system, interior and exterior lights, radio, power locks, windows, and seats. Does everything work properly?

8. Never use the radio while on a test-drive so you can pay full attention to the car and driving experience.

9. Drive a minimum of 30 minutes. You have to get the engine up to temperature in order for certain problems to expose themselves.

10. Drive off and on the highway. Do you like how the vehicle handles and steers?

11. Are all the gauges on the instrument panel working properly? Pay close attention to the temperature gauge. If it appears that it is not working properly, it could have either been disconnected to hide an overheating issue or the instrument panel needs to be replaced, which is costly. This could also mean the mileage is not correct.

12. Take plenty of turns, sharp and wide. On turns, listen for any whining and clicking sounds. These sounds will let you know there is a steering or axle issue. How does the vehicle hug the road?

13. Drive uphill and downhill. Does the vehicle lag or downshift properly? If it lags, the transmission may be on its way out.

14. Accelerate fast without flooring it. Does the transmission slam into gear or hesitate? This would also indicate a transmission problem.

15. Test the braking system in all scenarios. Slam on the brakes in a safe place. The vehicle should stop with no issues. Check the emergency brake. Does it hold the vehicle on a hill and stop the vehicle?

16. When you are done, while still in the vehicle take a look around, reach in the backseat. Is the vehicle comfortable? How was the ride itself? Was it too bumpy? Did you have a good view? Do you have enough head, leg and hip room? Sit in the back seat. Is there enough room back there as well? Check the trunk. Is there enough room to put what you need?

17. Make sure you write everything down. This will be your biggest comparing tool. If you’re going to check out another vehicle, do it right away while your thoughts are still fresh.

18. Don’t buy it right away. Wait until the next day and take it for another drive. This time, take it to an independent mechanic. Have them check out the vehicle and give them your list. This will aid them in either confirming your suspicions or putting them to rest.

Take the time to check every area of the vehicle. This will ensure that you make the right decision in buying a used car and leave nothing to surprise.

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