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Tips for taking a vehicle for a test drive

Tips for taking a vehicle for a test drive

Photo courtesy of America's Car Show

Tom T.

By Tom Torbjornsen
Tom Torbjornsen, Western New York’s automotive expert here, hoping you had a great weekend and drove safely! And now for my weekly auto tip:
When road testing a vehicle you’re considering buying, the vehicle test drive route should consist of secondary, highway, city and if possible rural roadways to see how the vehicle performs under all conditions representative of your real world daily driving experience. Here’s what to observe when driving the vehicle:
How the engine performs: Is it smooth and seamless or does the engine miss, jerk or stumble on acceleration? If it does, you need to know why. It could be due to a drivability problem in the performance system such as bad spark plugs or wires, fuel delivery problems or maybe even transmission problems. Get answers to these questions before buying.
Brakes: How do the brakes feel when stopping? Are they smooth and quiet? Any pedal pulsation, grinding or rubbing noise? Do they pull? Any of these issues could indicate problems with the braking system. A pedal pulsation means that a brake rotor could be warped or a brake pad has gone bad. Grinding could indicate that the pads might be worn out and are grinding into the rotors, or a brake caliper is stuck keeping it in the applied position without the foot on the brake. Pulling could mean that a brake is not working. The presence of any of these conditions is cause for the brakes to be checked before buying the vehicle.
Steering/suspension: Does the vehicle pull while driving? Are the tires worn? Does the steering wheel shake while driving or when braking? All of these conditions could mean worn steering or suspension components. At the very least, a need for wheel alignment.
Tires: What condition are the tires in? Plenty of tread? Cracks or bulges in the sidewalls? Tread wear could be an indication of misalignment, worn steering/suspension components or a combination of both. Cracked rubber is usually the result of a condition called dry rot. This happens when the oil bleeds out of the rubber carcass of the tire. It’s a breakdown of the vulcanizing or curing when the tire was made, and the tire is unsafe and should come off the vehicle.
Bulging sidewalls could be a natural condition called “dimpling.” This is where the sidewalls were overlaid in the manufacture process. When there’s an actual impact break in sidewall construction and a bubble pushing out of the tire, this could be a weak area in the sidewall necessitating tire replacement.
Transmission/drivetrain: This consists of the transmission, differentials, transfer case, drive shafts, wheel bearings, CV joints and virtually anything that drives the wheels. Note any whirring, whining or growling noises when driving. Any of these could point to a drivetrain problem. Strong body vibration under acceleration or deceleration could point to a bad CV or universal joint or a bent drive shaft. Growling noises while driving may indicate a bad bearing either in a wheel, transmission, differential or transfer case. Any anomalies should be pointed out and investigated before buying the vehicle.
Radio/sound system/climate control: Play the sound system to make sure all speakers work. Does the radio tune into and hold stations? Does the CD/MP3/Aux player work? Any buzzing in the system? Check all concerns before committing to buy as sound system repair/replacement could be costly.
Does the climate control work? Any putrid smells coming from the vents? If there are, get it checked before buying because it could be cause for concern. Mildew and mold could be festering in the HVAC system due to a bad evaporator or heater core, which can be a very expensive repair. Make sure all fan speeds work and that the duct system works on all modes (defrost, floor, vent, etc.).
Lighting, both inside and out: The cars of today use lighting modules to control lighting functions. Oftentimes lighting repairs can cost hundreds of dollars due to a bad lighting module or controller. Make sure all lights work both inside and out.
Door, trunk and hood latches: Make sure all locks and latches work as oftentimes locks and latches are combination units that are controlled electronically by remote. Vehicles use transmitters and receivers to control locks. Make sure they work before committing as repairs later could be costly.
The bottom line here is to identify and bring to the attention of the dealer (or seller if it’s a private transaction) any areas of concern before buying. Come to an agreement as to how the concern will be addressed and make sure before taking delivery of the vehicle that the problems you cited have been taken care of, or that the bill of sale reflects what you agreed upon as compensation for the defect.
It’s the holiday season, so isn’t it time you were good to yourself and purchased that present you’ve wanted all year? How about a new or pre-owned Hyundai? It’s a great time to buy as dealers are looking to end the year on a positive note! I know that for Hyundai, we have all kinds of “Holiday Cash” incentives to take advantage of, so I ask all my friends to look me up at Towne Hyundai/Autochoice on the corner of Southwestern Boulevard and Milestrip Road in Orchard Park. At Towne Automotive Group, we scour every pre-owned vehicle with our 115-point inspection before it goes on the lot for sale. We’ve been doing this for a long time with a stellar track record of happy customers, so you can rest assured you’re buying a solid, safe vehicle for you and your family.
When you come in, just ask for Tom T. You can also e-mail me at TomT@TowneAuto.Com or give me a call at 662-7400, ext. 534. I’ll help you find the exact vehicle you are looking for. Having been in the car business going on 30 years now, there’s not much I haven’t seen, so e-mail me, give me a call or stop by to take advantage of my expertise and the great Hyundai incentives for the holiday season! I’ll put you into the right vehicle for you, your family and your budget.
Keep rollin’!
Tom Torbjornsen

Tom Torbjornsen is an automotive journalist in good standing with the International Motor Press Association (IMPA) and the Motor Press Guild (MPG), Tom has been the repair and maintenance editor for AOL Autos, At Home Portals and many other websites. You can hear his radio show, “America’s Car Show,” locally on WKSN 1340 AM via the SSI Radio Network at 8 a.m. Saturday. Tom’s television show, “America’s Car Show,” can be seen on Buffalo’s WBBZ-TV. The show airs at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and is re-aired at 9 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday.
For more information, visit, follow America’s Car Show on Facebook for frequent updates, or email Tom at You can find Tom’s latest book, “How To Make Your Car Last Forever,” at Barnes & Nobel and


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