The Test Drive


First Things First

Autocheck: Before actually cranking the engine, be sure to verify the car's 'Autocheck' system is working properly. When the key is turned on, you should get two red lamps for the handbrake/fluid level and the alternator output warnings. You should also see the yellow ABS lit for a second or two then extinguish, leaving just the two red indicators.

Warning Lamps

The Autocheck system will also perform various checks around the car and can indicate certain faults such as low coolant or washer levels.

Another key function of the Autocheck system is to check if the brake lights are working. The symbol for such a fault (looking like a light bulb with a X through it) is displayed until the brake pedal is pressed. You should then see the OK symbol displayed if no further faults are detected. Finally the OK symbol will extinguish and you can turn the key one more spring-loaded notch.

Autocheck OK

Crank It ! As you crank the engine, try to keep an eye on the oil pressure guage. The engine should burst into life with no hesitation or excessive cranking. The oil pressure on a cold engine should be almost immediately in the region of 4 bar. You should also see the alternator guage in the region of 14 volts at idle. A healthy engine should have a steady idle and exhibit no lumpiness when cold.

Alternator Guage

Listen: Other things to listen out for at idle, are that the exhaust isn't blowing out where it shouldn't, the fuel pump noise is nothing more than a background hum and there is no ticking sounds from the exhaust manifold. 

The latter is a tell-tale for a cracked exhaust manifold which is a time consuming and expensive repair. Nothing like as common a fault on the S2 as the Ur quattro, but it can occur if the engine mounts are excessively worn allowing the forward sections of exhaust system to flex much more than they should. The inevitable stress leads to cracks at the manifold.

Oh and listen for unusually noisy valve lifters at cold idle.


On The Road

Brakes: Just before driving off, be absolutely certain to satisfy yourself with a comfortable driving position and that the brake pedal feels firm.

If you are testing an early S2 you should test the ABS cancel switch in the centre panel and that the ABS lamp is illuminated until you press the ABS switch a second time.

Diff Lock: You should also test the operation of the rear differential lock before you drive off. Pressing the button (just beside the handbrake) will lock the rear differential and once again the ABS lamp should be illuminated. This condition will remain until the vehicle's speed exceeds 15mph and the rear differential lock is disengaged automatically.

Diff Lock Switch

Warming Up: As you drive the car whilst the engine warms up, you should check that the idle speed is steady as you slow down and declutch on the approach to traffic lights etc.

If the car tries to stall during the warm up sequence, then minor adjustments or repairs to the fairly complex idle management system may be required. Possible candidates are vacuum hose leaks, a sticky idle stabilser valve or a worn or badly adjusted throttle position switch. Seek specialist knowledge if its not posted on the Tech Info section of this site !

The car can exhibit unsteady idle when cold, hot, when warming up or any combination thereof depending on the actual faults.

Suspension: As you drive, ensure that the suspension and steering provide a positive feel and that the ride isn't choppy or sloppy indicating worn shock absorbers or bushes. Note that vehicles fitted with aftermarket polyurethane bushes will provide zero comfort on bumpy roads as they are designed primarily for the race track where compliance to optimal suspension settings is more important than comfort.

At some point on the trip, embark on some low speed loops or figure-8's on full steering lock, listening and feeling for knocking. This generally indicates wear in the steering gear, balljoints, bushes or CV joints.

Check also that the steering does not pull to one side and there is no wheel vibration at low or high speeds on the road. Could be as trivial as wheels off balance or more serious with a bent alloy or worn out wheel bearing.

The Guages: Keep an eye on these whenever possible. The coolant temperature should stay close to 90 degrees at all times. Too low, and the thermostat is perhaps stuck open. Too high, and more serious faults are possible. Listen for the radiator fan cutting in if the coolant temp starts to climb in heavy traffic at low speed.

The oil pressure should be in the region of 4 bar when the revs are above 2000 rpm, and between 1.5 and 2.0 bar when idling.

Oil temperature should stay comfortably between the 90 and 130 degree marks unless the vehicle is driven at very high speed for prolonged periods on a hot day. 

Oil Temp (Cold)

Performance: Obviously I'm not going to tell you to floor a strangers car on the vague notion of testing the turbo, but you should certainly satisfy yourself that the acceleration of the car is up to scratch.  But alas, the S2 doesn't have a boost guage so you might want to partake of some wise overtaking manoeuvers to test the 'surge factor'. You should feel strong acceleration when the engine speed is in excess of 2500-3000 rpm.

As you accelerate through the gears, you should keep an eye in the mirror for blue or white smoke. If its blue it can indicate high piston or cylinder wear, whilst white smoke is more often associated with excessive wear on the turbocharger. Worn turbos often whine under duress also. Should you detect a lack of power under throttle, or flat spots in the engine's range on what is basically a tidy car it would be worth having a specialist retrieve any fault codes from the cars ECU. Look out for more info on fault codes in the Pet Projects section. These fault codes greatly assist the diagnosis of faults in the engine and its breathing apparatus.

Also verify that the gearchange is positive and smooth with no nasty grinding or whining noises from the transmission. The 6-speed is especially pleasing to shift. More positive than 5-cog. 

Brakes Again: As the front brakes on the S2 are known to be the car's weak point, you should check their performance at sufficient speed to determine their effectiveness and pedal feel.

If the front brakes are any way worn, it is common to feel vibration through the steering wheel under hard braking. This will of course be exacerbated by incorrectly balanced wheels.

An S2 fitted with standard brakes doesn't stop as swiftly or as smoothly as most would like, so don't expect to be impressed by the brakes unless they are of the upgraded aftermarket variety - such as the monster conversion shown below.

Massive brake conversion

Keep an eye on the Pet Projects area for a feature on S2 brakes...

Cool the engines: After the drive you'll want to keep the engine running and have another quick look under the hood for leaks or listen for any nasty noises. Be very wary of the radiator fan - it is thermostatically controlled so don't be getting fingers, clothing or hair anywhere near the fan or other moving parts.

You might detect the after-run cooling system kick in. This prevents heat build up in the turbo bearings. At time of writing I do not know a good way to test this, which is a pity, but I'll work it out eventually !

On shutting off the engine, you should test the brake pressure accumulator. It's function is to retain a decent amount of brake servo assistance in a stall or emergency situation. With the engine off, count the number of pedal pumps required to drain the vacuum assistance. If more than 25, the system is in good shape. If more than 10-15 then some attention is required, but if its below 10 there is a fairly major fault and should be repaired very soon.

Accessories & Gizmos: It is wise to check that all the car's many standard and optional accessories work - you can do this on the road or later, but many are best checked for effectiveness whilst stationary at the end of the test drive so as not to distract.

Check the air conditioning for icy cold air AND toasty warm air at both extremes of the temperature dial. Check the blower motor works at all speed settings and don't forget to check the recirculation system (REC switch). Engaging the REC mode, shuts off the fresh air entering the system. You should be able to hear the motor moving the flap(s) which control this airflow when you select and cancel the REC switch. Air conditioning can certainly be expensive to fix, but it can also be fairly easy to diagnose if you know how to identify main faults and  not get ripped off. Watch for upcoming air-conditioning features here at S2 Central...

Another accessory that is tricky to test when the weather is good, is the electrically heated door mirrors. Both are activated with the rear screen demister. After a minute or two you should  be able to feel the warmth on the mirrors with your fingertips.

Check the sunroof, electric windows, alarm, all the lights, the headlamp washers, headlight adjusters, window wipers & washers front & rear and any other gizmo fitted to the car. The ambient temperature display should be on all the time, but faults are not uncommon. Worst case reckon on approx 80 quid for a new display or more likely 60 quid for the sender. Or both ? :( I'll try to figure a way to test this trinket one day - Mine doesn't work yet !

One more thing - try to establish that all the instrument backlighting works. Its not rocket science to fix, just an arse having to remove the steering wheel and instruments to change a two bit bulb.

Always ask the owner about any hidden switches for an aftermarket alarm or immobiliser system. These can be a real pain if you don't know where or how they are fitted.

Last Updated 19th July 2001