How far is too far for a used car test drive?
January 16, 2013 10:13 AM   Subscribe

I need to take the plunge and buy a new, used car and have never done the test drive before.

I need to take the plunge and buy a new, used car. However, I'm also interested in getting a preinspection done on the vehicle, and my garage is a solid 30-40 minutes away from the dealership.

So how far is too far for a used car test drive or should I just tell the dealer that in order to buy the car, I want it inspected by my garage?
posted by lpcxa0 to Shopping (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The usual test drive is around the dealership's neighborhood, call it 5-10 miles max. Yeah, just tell the dealer you want a check by a specific mechanic; if he doesn't agree, walk.
posted by easily confused at 10:18 AM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Go with the latter. If they have a problem with it, they're sketchy at best.

As for the basic question, two hours (30 minutes each way, 60 for a thorough inspection) is not excessive for a test drive.
posted by Etrigan at 10:18 AM on January 16, 2013

Best answer: You test drive a car to see if you like the feel of it. You have one inspected once you've test driven a bunch of vehicles to verify that there's nothing wrong with it.

So test drive around the neighborhood and take it on the freeway for an exit. If you want to buy it, ask to have it inspected by your mechanic.

That's it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:21 AM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

They should have no problem. We just purchased a (new to us) vehicle 2 weeks ago. I test drive it first for 20 minutes or so. A week later I came back and picked it up for a 24 hour test drive so we could throw the car seats in, drive it like we would normally, etc. Took it back the next day and bought the car. I see no problem in an extended test drive.
posted by NotSoSimple at 10:30 AM on January 16, 2013

When we were looking at used cars, we wanted to bring them by our mechanic, too. The dealer let us keep the cars for an entire day each time (early morning until they closed at 9pm). I have had dealers let me keep cars overnight in the past, too.
posted by TinWhistle at 11:00 AM on January 16, 2013

Best answer: One note of caution: Please be really, really careful about the extended or 24-hour test drive. Read everything before you sign - don't believe what the dealer says.

Long story short: My parents bought a used car from a supposedly-reputable dealer and were offered a 24-hour period to take it to their mechanic/see if it fit their lifestyle. Their mechanic pointed out that it was basically a hunk of junk. When they tried to return the car the dealership refused to take it back (basically they told my parents verbally that it was a test period, but my parents foolishly signed a document stating that they were giving a down payment, not a security deposit). It was resolved to my parent's satisfaction, but only after several months of stress.
posted by muddgirl at 11:06 AM on January 16, 2013 [6 favorites]

If the dealer won't let your mechanic look at the car, don't do business with them.

You don't necessarily need to do the mechanic check on your test drive. When I bought my RAV a few years ago the dealer actually drove the car about half an hour down the coast to my mechanic for me. It went a long way towards having good faith in the transaction.

Or you could try a private party buy if the dealers aren't cooperating. Mechanic inspection should be totally expected there.
posted by selfnoise at 11:23 AM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just to be a counterpoint - supposedly the supply of used cars is on the low side these days, possibly as a result of the stimulus incentives which took a lot of cars off the road. You may find that the dealership is unwilling to agree to taking the car off the lot that long if they think they can sell it anyway.

Which is not by any means to suggest you shouldn't do it; I would, and I'd likely be unwilling to buy if they didn't agree. But be prepared for that possibility and decide before you go whether it's something you're willing to compromise on. Then stick to that decision.
posted by phearlez at 11:38 AM on January 16, 2013

First car I bought I got completely ripped off. As something in the car heated up from driving, I would start to lose gears. After a while of driving, I wasn't able to switch into 1st gear. A little more driving, and 2nd was no longer an option, etc. The seller only let me drive around the neighborhood for my test drive.

I see absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to take the car for a several-hour drive. If seller balks, make sure seller knows you will pay for gas. If seller still balks, seek a different seller. Some problems just can't be found in a ten minute test drive.
posted by tllaya at 12:09 PM on January 16, 2013

The dealership can call your mechanic to verify if they have concerns. When I used-car-shopped, I used a closer mechanic, and they identified problems with some cars, and okayed the one I bought. Make sure you try some roads with hills, tight cornering, and some highway miles.
posted by theora55 at 12:28 PM on January 16, 2013

They should definitely not have a problem with you doing that drive to your mechanic. If they do, it's a red flag and you should walk away.

My husband and I bought two used cars in quick succession about a year ago. Our mechanic was also 30-40 minutes from the multiple dealers where we looked at cars. We took 3 cars from 3 different dealerships to our mechanic for pre-purchase inspections. None of the dealers even questioned it when we told them we'd like to take the car to our mechanic.

Two of the dealerships were smaller, independent used-car dealers. One was a big Toyota dealership (the kind that sells both new and used cars).

We did a standard, short, 10-minute test drive first for each car we looked at. If we liked what we saw during the test drives, we returned to the dealership and said "We'd like to take it to our mechanic for an inspection."

The big Toyota dealership responded to this request by offering to have us test-drive the car for 24 hours -- so we could drive it home, drive it out on errands that evening, then drive to our mechanic the next morning before driving it back to the dealership. They photocopied our licenses and had us sign some liability forms. We were not required to put down any kind of security deposit or to make any kind of commitment to buying the car. (In fact, that was the one we didn't end up buying. Our mechanic didn't like it, so I brought it back to the dealership, said "Thanks but no thanks" and that was the end of it.)

The smaller independent dealers just responded to "We'd like to take it to our mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection" with "OK, cool, about how long will you be?" We didn't even have to sign any forms.

I worried about this a lot before going car shopping, but it turned out to be a total non-issue. Asking to take a car for a couple hours for a pre-purchase inspection is a completely normal, standard, expected thing to do.
posted by snowmentality at 1:06 PM on January 16, 2013

You should really try to get it on the highway. A lot of old cars feel OK in town but can't cut it at 70 mph.
posted by scose at 4:20 PM on January 16, 2013

Test-driving, do neighborhood stuff including three-point turns and parallel-parking, then onto the freeway to cruise at 70 for a few minutes. There aren't a ton of different ways to drive.

As a compromise on the long-distance mechanic thing, maybe your mechanic can recommend someone closer to the dealership.
posted by rhizome at 4:30 PM on January 16, 2013

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