The Meaning of Drivability

Automotive mechanics and service experts alike determine a car’s drivability through a 5-point checklist.

Purchase, you may have heard the term “Drivability.” But what does this often-used term actually mean? It’s derived from two separate words – “drive” and “able” – but reversed to mean the “ability to drive.” This term typically describes a vehicle someone is considering to purchase.

There are 5 general rules automotive mechanics and service experts follow to determine the condition of a vehicle while they are completing a pre-purchase sale inspection. Each of the items listed below will be checked to determine the drivability of any car, truck or SUV.

1. Will the vehicle start when the key is turned?

Arguably, the most important aspect of any vehicle is its ability to start. To have drivability, any car, truck, or SUV needs to start correctly – meaning when you turn the key the vehicle should start without hesitation. Several individual components and systems must all work together seamlessly to start a vehicle. A professional mechanic will inspect these parts to ensure they are in good shape before indicating it’s a good buy.

2. Does the engine vibrate, shake or stall after it’s started?

Starting an engine is one thing – having it run smooth afterwards can be a challenge for many used cars. To determine if a car is a good buy and thus ‘drivable,’ a professional mechanic will inspect the engine after it’s started. They will verify that the engine does not stall, shake, vibrate, have inconsistent engine idle speed, or vacuum leaks. While several of these issues can be resolved through routine maintenance, if major issues exist, the vehicle will not be classified as drivable.

3. Will the vehicle shift into gear smoothly?

Regardless of the type of vehicle you have, if it will not shift smoothly, you’ll have a hard time driving it. Testing the operation and efficiency of a transmission is a major factor when determining the drivability of any used car. It is common for transmission fluid to become old or for debris to become trapped inside inner hydraulic lines, which can be removed by having the transmission fluid flushed. But, if inner seals are damaged, it will require major repairs before becoming drivable.

4. Does the vehicle come to a stop easily and without noise?

The brakes on your vehicle are vital for safe operation. If the brakes squeak, squeal, or grind when applied, it’s an indication of mechanical failure or a significant braking issue. Testing the efficiency of the braking system and whether the car stops smoothly is critical to determine the drivability of any vehicle. Brakes can be repaired rather easily and without major expense, but they should be replaced or repaired before operating the vehicle.

5. Does the vehicle shake, vibrate, or shutter at higher speeds?

Finally – if the car, truck or SUV you are planning on purchasing vibrates at speeds higher than 45 miles per hour, it will impact the drivability of the vehicle. Some of the most common sources of this issue include out-of-balance tires and wheels, damaged suspension or steering components, damaged or worn out wheel bearings, or warped brake rotors. Be smart about you car purchase; have the vehicle test-driven by a professional mechanic. Many of us might notice the symptom, but not recognize the severity or source of the problem.

Regardless of whether you’re purchasing a used car from a dealership or a private individual, determining the drivability of any car, truck, or SUV is important. By understanding what drivability actually means, you’ll be better prepared to buy a used car. For peace of mind, it might be best to have a professional mechanic come to your location to complete a pre-purchase car inspection to rate the level of drivability.

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