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On the road again - More Economical Motoring

The Test Drive
The test drive will help you make your final decision. You will be focussing on road-handling and overall performance. Even before you leave the driveway, you can check a few more things. Adjust your seat to your personal driving position; also the same with the steering wheel if the facility is available. Try turning the steering wheel gently a few inches left and right - there should be no excessive play. Keep an eye on the dash warning lights when you start up. Most of them should go out after a few seconds once the engine is running. The temperature gauge will probably be up to near half-way with a warm engine. Keep an eye on it while driving. Unless the day is an exceptionally hot one, the needle should stay round the mid-point. If it goes too high, there is a problem with the cooling system. Before you drive off, make sure the handbrake is on and try creeping forward and back. If the vehicle moves at all, it should only be in reverse. One last check - make sure you have enough fuel: sellers often keep it low so that they don't give too much away.

While driving, gear changes should be smooth and quiet. With manual transmissions, note how far down the clutch pedal must travel to effect a good gear change. If it's too close to the floor, you may be up for a new clutch. And if the gears are noisy, that's another problem you don't really need. With automatics you should barely feel the gear changes. Find a stretch of open road and try the kick-down. Another thing to watch is the speedo, for obvious reasons and to make sure it operates without sticking. You can also try out the air conditioner and the vents to make sure they are working properly.

When you are up to a reasonable road speed, make sure you don’t have a tail-gater, then apply the foot brake to see if there is any pull to left or right which is a sign of problems. If you feel shuddering when braking, this is most likely high spots on the discs. They will have to be machined or replaced – don’t let it be at your expense! Needless to say, you should find a quiet street where you can try an emergency stop. You also need to drive up a hill to see how the car copes. When you can safely get up a bit of speed on a straight road, see if the vehicle holds its line when not turning the steering wheel. Just remember that camber (the way the road slopes off to the side) will affect this, so find a stretch where the tilt is not too accentuated. If you can feel vibration beneath your hands which increases the faster you go, that probably means one or both of the front wheels are out of balance. Maybe they weren't balanced at all because they were originally on the back! If there is a cruise control you might want to try engaging and disengaging this, but make sure the road conditions are suitable. At some point, ask yourself: how is it so far? Would you be comfortable driving it every day?

One Last Thing
When you get back, leave the car running and have a final look for any oil leaks that may have started up. If you've had the air conditioner running, there will be some water dripping from the unit underneath - this is quite natural and nothing to worry about. Now switch off, leave it for a minute or so, then try starting the engine again while it is hot. By this time, you will probably have decided whether it is a good buy or not. If you are still in doubt, maybe you should just walk away - there are plenty more out there.

Weekly Check
For the sake of your safety, and your wallet, take a few minutes each week to make sure everything on your vehicle is as it should be.

TYRES: keep pressures at the recommended levels. If the car is left standing for extended periods, check and inflate where necessary before you drive, or as soon after as you can. Watch the treads for wear.

WIPERS and SCREEN: use a cleaner specifically made for removing bug-squash and road scum on both glass and wiper blades. If you like a one-step wash-and-wax, go over with screen cleaner before the wax dries and sets hard - it's almost impossible to remove once it has and it will impair vision.

UNDER the HOOD: check levels in the radiator and expansion tank, power-steering, brake and clutch fluid (if manual). Also check engine oil level and transmission (if automatic). Refer to the manufacturer's instructions because with some models the engine needs to be warm. Periodically, check belts for wear and hoses for leaks.

ELECTRICS: keep the battery terminals clean and tight, and top up the cells to the required level with distilled water when necessary. Get someone to operate the lights while you check that they are working properly.

SERVICING and REPAIRS: these are a necessary expense if you want to keep your motoring economical and your car in good condition. Putting them off until later is to invite major problems down the track.

There's not much more I can tell you except to say that your car will be no better than the care and attention it receives. Treat yours well and it is less likely to let you down.

We extend our grateful thanks for help with this article to Chris at Tyrepower Harvey, Western Australia
International Tyrepower Dealer of the Year 2012.

Next issue:   The Bottom Line – the real truth of the final reckoning

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