Written by Ciaran Kelly
for The Kelly Report
In the third of a four part series, Ciaran Kelly will help Expats avoid the pitfalls and pratfalls of buying a used car in CR.
Today´s issue: how to take a test drive.
Test Drives and Putting the Car up on a Ramp
There is an old saying that goes something like this: Bums in seats sells cars.
I would like to amend that saying just a bit to: If you aren´t comfortable on a test drive, you will never be comfortable at all in the car.
Please, do not ever under value nor underestimate the importance of subjectivity in buying a car. For a vast majority of people, a car is the second largest expense/investment they will make in their lives (trailing only a home or flat). With that perspective, I would like to give you some ideas on how to increase the chances that you will be happy with your second largest investment
1—PUT THE CAR ON A RAMP
If you have the luxury of a car lift, actually grab the front tire in your hands and give it a good shake. The wheel must „feel“ firmly connected/secured to the axel. There should be no give at all between wheel and mounting to the axle.
Look under the body/chassis. All welds/joints should be same color. If not, the car has been very severely smashed. Most likely the car is now made up from two or even multiple cars.
Look on the underside of the motor. Look specifically for oil streaks or oil leaking from any of the engine joints. This reflects a car in need of major motor repair. You should also look to the underside of the transmission to see if any damage is noticeable to the eye
Look carefully at brake discs. You probably can‘t tell if they are sufficient thickness, but you can easily see edges, scratches or grooves in the discs that will assuredly affect negatively their performance
Shock absorbers should be dry, without any leaking from the filling.
Exhaust pipe must have No corrosion, and the joints/welds should appear the very same color as the rest of the underside of the car. Please note, new EU rules mandate that the catalytic converter must be functional or the car will not get the STK, as it will not pass emission standards. This is costly to repair and you will fail STK inspection
2-How to take an efficient and intelligent test drive
Test the motor first, start driving slowly, motor should be smooth and have no vibrations. Accelerate slowly up to maximum revolutions (but keep it below red line). The engine stroke should feature no delays or loss of performance. NOTE: if engine is equipped with turbo charger, it does take a moment or two to for the turbo to engage, then you can obviously notice the increase in engine power and performance.
All gears should be changed easily, smoothly and precisely. Test the gear shifting in a slow and calm drive as well as in sport or hard driving…in other words you should notice no difference in gear shifting at low and at high rpm´s.
Listen carefully when changing gears., if you hear total silence, that may mean response is not immediate. Shifts between gears should be smooth without vibrations. If you feel any vibration, there is a serious problem with the transmission or gear box
The oldest trick in the book is for a salesman to drive on a flat piece of road and take his hands of steering wheel and say „look, no drifting from side to side, perfectly balanced“ They invariably have the tops of their knees jammed up against the steering column.
Please do this yourself, drive the car on a flat piece of road, and drive with your hands off wheel (20 meters is enough), and make sure the car does not drag from side to side. Do not ever believe claims by salesmen of „it is only a low pressure tire or it needs balancing.“ You are asking for trouble if you believe him
Brake testing is vital part of test drive. Don´t let a salesman do this, you must (just make sure no car is behind you!) Get up to high speed on a flat stretch of road, and stamp hard on the brakes. Do not jerk them, but maintain constant pressure.
Be aware of knocks, vibrations and car pulling to one side or another. If any of this is apparent, expect high repair costs.
Again: Do not believe any story by salesman about tires or balance. Do not trust a car that does not brake straight on a flat road.
A tried and true test is to turn the car in circles as tight as possible. Hold the steering wheel tight and turn, around and around in 360s. First start slowly, then accelerate slowly to a fair speed. There should be no unusual sounds, if you hear clicking or cracking sounds the CV joint or half shaft are in need of repair Loud squeaking is a sure sign of trouble.. Make these 360s in both directions. All dealers buying cars do this, so should you.
Another old trick, drive at safe speed and swivel car from side to side, listen for a roaring noise, if observable, the wheel bearings need replacing
Exhaust and Catalytic converter
Listen for any clanging or ringing sound from under the car or from the rear, if you hear silence, everything should be ok, if you hear the clanging, that means loose or broken parts and you can be assured you will fail STK inspection
Before or after the test drive, step on the mud guard or step plate of the car as close to shocks as possible. Step on it as if you want to see it „swing“ from side to side. Step off and watch closely. If it stops swinging immediately, good. If it does rock back and forth a couple of times after you step off, you have a problem within shocks, stabilizers or suspension or pivots…in any case it is going to be expensive.