You’ve scoured the internet for weeks and found the perfect car that matches all your criteria – the right make and model, the right condition and mileage, for the right price. There is also enough information in the description to get your mouth watering. So where do you go from here? Read on to know exactly if this car is for you.
Even before you contact the person or dealer selling the car, do your homework and get some quotes on insurance for the car you’re interested in. If you’re after a modified sports car such as a Nissan Skyline with accessories, you will be paying a premium in insurance compared to a more sensible car like a Toyota Corolla or Mazda 3.
Once you’re happy with the insurance, the next thing is to call or talk to a family member or friend to take along with you not only for moral support (to stop you getting carried away and buying it on the spot before you’ve even test driven it), but also to get someone who has been driving for a while, and who knows what to look for or listen out for when going for a test drive. Ask them when a good time is for them before organizing a time with the seller.
If you need the vehicle for carting large or long items around like gold clubs or equipment for work, then take down the measurements and take a tape measure with you so you can get an idea of what will fit.
When you arrive, ask about the history of the car to get an idea of what’s been done to it (if anything), when the last service was, and why the person is selling it. Then take a really good look at the car. Before starting the car, check that everything works as it should like trunk release and bonnet release, lights including indicators, headlights (low and full beam) as well as brake lights (you can use the person you take along to help with this), seats adjust or fold down accordingly, sun visors and doors work without falling off, windows go down and up without any effort, make sure the seat belts all work smoothly and the steering wheel tilts to how you like it (if the car has this feature). You could also test the car stereo as well so you aren’t distracted by it while driving. Then check the body and exhaust pipe for rust, leaks and signs of water damage – specifically on the trunk floor, around the door jambs, feel for moisture on the floor carpets, and check around sunroof rims (again if the car has one). Look under the car for any wet spots on the ground or underneath the engine bay. Are there any dents or scratches you didn’t notice in the online photos? Sometimes they can be hard to see in photos unless the owner has mentioned them and you know what to look for. Also check the tires for decent tread and pressure.
Now you’re ready for the test drive. Get a feel for the driver’s seat and adjust to what you’re comfortable with before setting off. Check your rear view mirrors and adjust accordingly. Start the car and listen for any odd noises or rattles. Typically the owner or dealer will ride along with you, but don’t let them distract you. They want you to buy the car so allow your tag-along family member or friend to distract them while you concentrate on driving.
Once you’re on the road, make sure you spend a decent amount of time getting to know the car. Is it easy to see enough out the back from your rear view mirror? Does the car turn easily around corners and does it accelerate as it should (if you’re looking at a turbo – get a feel for when it kicks in). Cars with smaller engines will be slower to get going due to their size, so don’t expect a race car experience from a Mitsubishi Mirage or 1.2 liter Fiat 500. Do a U-turn so you can listen for any knocks which could spell money needed to be spent. If the car pulls to one side instead of straight ahead, it could need a wheel alignment (which isn’t a big cost but they owner may offer to do this before you pick it up). Drive on different road surfaces such as rough roads, highways to experience the faster ride, and any streets with speed bumps to test out the suspension.
Test drives on average take between 15-20 minutes. Once back to the starting point, you have a good idea of where you want to take this decision. You can politely say you’re not interested or would like to think it over if you’re not interested. Even if you are keen, don’t jump the gun and say yes straight away. Explain you’d like to discuss it over with your tag-along family member or friend over a coffee and get back with an answer. They should allow you to do this – even if other people are interested. Revising the good and bad points about the car with a trusted person is the best way of clarifying your answer.
Good luck, and remember there are other cars of the same make and model for sale, so trust your instinct.