Tools For Your Test-Drive Kit

Test-drive kit from household items

Items from your junk drawer can help you perform the visual inspection portion of your test drive.

If you have a junk drawer, chances are you can find the raw goods for a basic test-drive kit. These items will help you look for potential trouble spots and help you to to rule out beaters, junkers and other automotive  nightmares.

A visual inspection is a key component of your test drive.  While nothing will replace a thorough pre-sale inspection by an automotive tech., a visual once-over will help you decide whether or not to road-test the car and move forward with a pre-sale workup.

Pencil and notepad:  Take some time immediately afterward and write down your initial gut reactions to the car. Make note of any trouble spots to discuss with the seller or dealer (these trouble spots can also help with negotiating your final price). As an alternative, use the voice memo feature on your cell phone or tablet.

Coin: The perfect cheapie tool for measuring tire tread depth. You’ll want to aim for 2/32 inch at the very least. Take the coin and place it upside down, with the head side facing you. If Abe Lincoln’s head is completely visible, the tires are shot.

Flashlight: This is the ideal  tool for peering into nooks and crannies of engine compartments and other hard to see areas. It’s perfect for spotting cracked/swollen hoses, leaky fluid reservoirs, loose fittings,  and other potential trouble spots.

A clean cloth: Grab one that has enough space for you to test both the oil and the transmission fluid. The condition of both fluids is a good indicator as to the overall health of the car, and whether or not it has been regularly maintained. If fluids are sludgy or discolored, you could be dealing with a car that’s been neglected.

Magnet: Take a kitchen magnet and place it along any metal surfaces on the the car’s body that activates your “it’s been in a wreck” radar.  The magnet will fall off  any areas that have been patched or resurfaced. Areas that are dimpled, rough to the touch, or uneven are tip-offs. A magnet coupled with a thorough visual inspection will help you rule out beaters in disguise.

Tire gauge: Tires that aren’t inflated properly can affect the car’s handling and tracking. Tire gauges are relatively cheap and you can grab one for a few bucks at your local auto supply or on Amazon. Look on the sidewall of the tire for the manufacturer’s recommended inflation guidelines.

Mirror: Perfect for peering into engine compartment nooks and crannies to get an additional view. You can buy one for a few bucks online or at an auto supply store. I lent mine out, (and have yet to get it back) so in a pinch I glued an old compact mirror to a ruler. The seller had a good laugh until I spotted some serious trouble spots, nixed the road test and walked away.

If the thought of performing a visual inspection leaves you cold, bring a mechanically-inclined friend with you. You’ll get help in determining which cars are worth a second look and which cars to strike off your list.


How To Borrow a Car Without Borrowing Trouble

There are times when mass transit or hoofing it just won’t do. Here’s how to borrow a car and save everyone’s sanity.

car-key-842107_1280Let’s face it. Services such as Uber and ZipCar are expensive or non-existent in some communities. If you’re staring down the barrel of a job interview or an important appointment, borrowing a car can help you arrive in style and on time with very little cash outlay.

Here’s how to borrow a car and keep everyone’s sanity intact:

Choose wisely: You stand a much better chance of scoring a borrowed car from someone who knows you well.

Be specific: Instead of “May I borrow the car on Tuesday?” try “May I borrow the car on Tuesday for a 2:30 job interview?” That demonstrates you respect the other person’s time and gives them an idea as to how long you’ll have the car.

Don’t be funky: Don’t eat or drink in the car. Some food smells can nauseate people. Same goes for strong fragrances or colognes. Leave them at home.

Offer to do a walk-around: Make note of any paint damage or windshield cracks. Ask about use of the audio system and ask for a quick demo of any tech suites you’re not familiar with.

Better yet, put things in writing.

Be polite: Be on your best driving behavior. If you’ve been without a car for a long period of time, it’s tempting to wring that car out for all it’s worth. Don’t do it. It’s not worth the possible ticket and bad blood later on.

Drive the car around the block to get used to its handling and brakes before hitting the open road.

Offer something in return: Offer cash for gas or replace the fuel you used.

Offer to dog-walk or babysit for the car owner in exchange if money is an issue. Agree on this up front before you use the car.

Leave it better than you found it: The old camping rule applies to cars as well as the Great Outdoors. Leave no trace.

Even if you’re borrowing a car from a family member or your best friend, treat the car like gold  even if it’s a beater.  Pick up after yourself and discard any wrappers, cups or other detritus before you return the car.

The other aspects of your relationship may be more fun and  relaxed, but borrowing someone’s car is a business transaction.

If you’re transporting a sick person or pet, make sure you get permission to do so. “Abby yakked all over the back seat..sorry!” is something no one wants to hear.

Borrowing a car for a key appointment is a sure bet for arriving stress-free and on time. Borrowing a car and treating it like a professional transaction will preserve your relationship with the car’s owner.

Who knows? You may be able to use the car again in the future. Sure beats transit or hoofing it.