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16 Tips For Choosing Your Chariot

The best part of buying a new car is the test drive. As a way to help you choose your next chariot, we’ve brought together some helpful tips about inspecting and test driving vehicles.

Please note, while these tips will make you more knowledgable and confident, you won’t quite be a Red Seal Certified mechanic. When you are ready to buy a pre-owned car, we strongly suggest you see the Pre-Purchase Inspection certified pros at a BCAA Automotive Service Centre.

The Used Car Walk-Around

When you’re inspecting a car, you need to look at more than just the radio and spoiler:
  • Check the odometer: the average distance is 18,000 to 20,000-km per year.
  • Does the odometer correspond with the general condition? Excessive wear on the pedal rubbers, upholstery and carpeting could indicate a lot more use.
  • Inspect the car body along the sides for dents, ripples or signs of repainting which might indicate recent bodywork.
  • Check the body for rusting. Look on the bottom of all doors, wheel openings and lower body panels. Paint blisters or cracking could be signs of rusting under paint.
  • Check the tire treads for excessive wear. Is there a spare wheel, jack and wheel wrench? Are they in good condition?
  • Do the doors, trunk and hood fit and close snugly? Try the door locks and test the windows to see if they close completely.
  • Check for damp carpets or a musty smell inside the car. This could indicate a leak. 
  • Press down each corner of the vehicle. It should come to rest quickly. If it keeps bouncing, the shock absorbers probably need replacing.
  • If the engine is cold remove the radiator cap and check level and condition of coolant. Check the side of the engine or radiator for signs of corrosion or leaks. Re-check for leaks after road test. Do NOT remove radiator cap when engine is warm.

The Test Drive

Whether you’re buying a new or used car, be sure to put it through its paces with a test drive. Here are some tips to consider:
  • Start with a quiet, residential area or an open space where you won’t interrupt the flow of traffic.
  • Does the car start immediately and idle smoothly once warm? Are the engine gauges and warning lights operating? Check again while driving.
  • Try all the accessories, buttons and switches. Try the park brake and see if the brake warning light comes on.
  • On both smooth and rough surfaces, start and stop the car, drive forward and backward, make several turns in both directions. For most automobiles there should be no more than 50mm (2 inches) of play in the steering wheel. Listen for unusual noises.
  • Make several sharp turns at low speed. The steering shouldn't stiffen up and bind. If there is power steering, no squeaks, moans or sudden increase of steering effort should occur.
  • Either descend a long hill with your foot off the accelerator, or in a flat area, decelerate from 80km/h to about 25km/h without using the brake. Then step hard on the accelerator. If there is heavy blue exhaust smoke, the engine may need an overhaul.
  • Try several emergency stops to check the brakes. They should feel firm, not spongy and should not grab or swerve the car.


If everything checks out, you’ll feel a lot more confident but you’re not quite done. Remember to arrange for the right amount of insurance, like BCAA Optional Car Insurance, so that you’re covered once the transaction is done. Then you can drive off into the sunset knowing your new car has truly passed the test.