Test Drives and Inspections

From the buyer's perspective, the most important aspect of buying a car is the test drive. The test drive is more than just a nuts and bolts experience to see if the car appears to be in good working order. It's also a time for the potential buyer to see how the car feels to him. As a seller, you want to make the test drive a pleasant experience for your buyer, as well as a comfortable and safe one for you.

To Prepare
Test Drives and InspectionsSome advance preparation before your first prospective buyer asks for a test drive is a good idea. First, determine where you'll meet. If you feel uncomfortable about meeting outside your home or workplace, then choose a public place where you'll feel comfortable, though not one that is so busy that you'll have trouble finding each other.

Keely Funkhouser, AutoTrader.com's Selling Adviser, met potential buyers at her house for test drives.

"It was just a gut judgment--did they sound ok?" Funkhouser says. "It's best to meet in a public place, but with my husband there I put some of my concerns aside. If I were single, I would have still met someone in a public lot. When I sold my first car, I met the buyer in a shopping center."

Once you've decided on your meeting spot, scout out a logical route for the test drive. Try to plan a route that travels on both the highway and surface streets so the potential buyer can experience different speeds as well as braking and cornering. Choosing streets that do not have a lot of traffic and planning a route with only right turns will help minimize the risk of an accident. Select a route that takes about 15 minutes to drive during typical traffic conditions.

After you've determined your route, test it out with a friend. Have the friend drive and make note of how long it takes. During the drive, ask your friend to point out anything about your car that might be a concern to a prospective buyer, such as a noise, vibration or other issues.

Sometimes it's easier to notice these things when you're not focused intently on driving. Many rattles can be eliminated by removing or shifting items in the glove box, trunk or other cubby. If you do find something that is a cause for concern, you may want to get a mechanic to look at it before you put the car on the market. Be prepared to explain any issues if your buyer comments on them.

The Meeting
When you meet a potential buyer, be sure to take note of his full name, street address, phone number, driver's license number and insurance information, including the company, phone number and policy number. Write this information down using the person's driver's license and insurance card. Be sure to note the expiration dates of both documents. While most people carry this information with them, you may want to mention you'll need these documents when you communicate with the potential buyer beforehand.

You'll need to decide whether you're more comfortable going with your buyer on the drive or staying behind. This is a judgment call on your part and may vary from one prospective buyer to another. If you're not comfortable going along on the drive, consider having someone else with you who would be comfortable going in your place or at least with you.

Make sure that someone staying behind knows your exact planned route, when you expect to return and your cell phone number. If you decide to let the potential buyer take your car by himself, ask him to leave his keys while you wait and be very specific about the maximum length of time you expect him to be gone.

While most people are good drivers, remember that it's likely that the acceleration, braking and cornering is different in your car than in the person's current car and these differences can create some surprises for drivers.

You'll want to take the opportunity during the drive to note any special features or other strong selling points about your car. While making a heavy sales pitch is not a good idea, the test drive is a good time to talk about your car's great condition, low mileage or creature comforts such as seat heaters or steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. Remember that features you take for granted may not be in the buyer's current car and may be something that gets him really excited about making the purchase.

Getting an Inspection
Some potential buyers will want to have a used car inspection by an independent mechanic before they decide to buy. It's safest if you bring the car to the mechanic, instead of the prospective buyer taking your car in alone. Stay with the car if you can, but if that's not feasible, do some investigation to make sure the mechanic is reputable, such as by calling the local Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce and perhaps checking review services like Angie's List or local message boards like Kudzu.com.

While you probably want to sell your car quickly and for its asking price, you don't need to do anything that makes you uncomfortable or requires a lot of legwork on your part. If, for example, the prospective buyer wants to bring the car to his mechanic in a different town and you don't feel comfortable with that, you can tell him that he'll have to choose a mechanic in your town to work with.

Often, you can avoid a used car inspection entirely just by reassuring the buyer your car is in good working order. One way is to provide copies of your receipts showing all the repairs and maintenance and to make those available for the prospective buyer to review. Another way is to take the car to a dealer or mechanic right before you put it up for sale, asking them to give the car a check-up and provide a report of their findings. Doing this in advance is also useful to help you learn any issues that may affect your car's sale or the price you select.

Remember that buying a car is a large, important purchase for most people, so be prepared for your potential buyers to be looking for issues and asking questions about your car during the test drive to use during the negotiation process later. If you're prepared to address any concerns and answer questions thoroughly, you'll be relaxed during the test drive and more likely to make a sale.

 

Tara Baukus Mello is a freelance automotive writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications including Woman's Day and The New York Times.

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