Checklist For Used Car Test Drive

Written by Danny Collins
Last updated: October 12, 2023

Are you in the market for a used car? If so, you’re probably wondering how to go about the whole process. After all, you don’t want to end up with a lemon! 

When you are looking for a used car, it is important to take the time to do a test drive. This will help you determine if the car is right for you. In this blog post, we will provide a checklist of items to look for when you are test driving a used car. By following these tips, you can be sure that you are making an informed decision about your next vehicle!

Am I Allowed To Test Drive The Car Alone?

Sometimes. If you’re buying from a dealer, be sure to inquire about their policy. When purchasing privately, the seller is likely to come along for the ride.

Most car dealers provide insurance for your test drive. However, if something goes wrong with the vehicle, you’ll be responsible for an excess. So it’s only natural to urge caution while driving! Also, find out how much the excess will be and what is covered by the insurance should anything go wrong. You don’t want to be caught out with a huge bill!

If you’re purchasing privately, make sure your vehicle insurance covers Damage to Others (DOC) as well. Take your driving license with you when going for a test drive so that they may verify your identification because some sellers will be reluctant to let you drive their car without seeing some form of identification first.

Do I Need To Take Anything With Me?

Yes, you will need to take your driving license and insurance documents with you. If the car is being purchased from a dealer, they may also ask for your proof of address and ID.

If you’re test-driving a car that you’re thinking of buying, it’s also a good idea to take along a friend or family member. Not only will they be able to offer their opinion on the car, but they can also act as a second set of eyes and ears.

What Should I Look For When I’m Test-Driving?

There are a few things you should keep an eye out for when test-driving a used car:

  • How does the car feel when you’re driving it? Does it feel comfortable? Is it difficult to steer?
  • How does the car handle when you’re driving it? Does it feel stable? Are the brakes responsive?
  • Is there any strange noise coming from the car? This could be an indication of a problem with the engine or exhaust system.
  • Do all of the features in the car work as they should? This includes things like the radio, air conditioning, and power windows.
  • Be sure to test the car in a variety of different driving conditions. This includes things like city driving, highway driving, night driving and parking.

How Long Should I Test Drive the Car?

Ideally, you should plan to spend at least 30 minutes test driving the car. This will give you enough time to get a feel for how the car drives and handles. 

Allow at least 90 minutes for the whole process of getting there, driving the vehicle, and discussing possible contracts after. We recommend at least 30 minutes of real-world driving time. This will enable you to drive the automobile on a variety of road surfaces and weather conditions. If you’re going to use it on the highway, there’s no sense in only driving it in the city! If you’re still undecided after the test drive, don’t be afraid to ask if you can take the car for another spin. 

How Do I Inspect The Car?

When you’re inspecting the car, you should take a close look at the bodywork. Look for any signs of damage or rust. Check that all of the doors and windows open and close properly.

It’s a good idea to check the following areas before even getting behind the wheel:

Examine the vehicle around

  • Is there any rust around the underside of the car, wheel arches, or sill edges? Rust is formed when steel or metal becomes rusted. If rust is discovered, ask when it was last repaired. If the rust is recent, this could be an indication that the car has been in an accident.
  • Look for any dents, scratches, or other damage to the bodywork. Note that even minor damage can affect the value of the car.
  • Check that all of the lights (headlights, tail lights, brake lights, and indicators) are in working order.
  • Check the condition of the tires. Are they inflated properly? Do they have enough tread? bald tires will need to be replaced soon and can be expensive.
  • Now is also a good time to check the fluid levels (engine oil, coolant, power steering fluid, and brake fluid) and the condition of the battery.
  • Examine the exhaust pipe for any holes, cracks, or bends. Is it securely and correctly supported?
  • Examine the colour of smoke produced by the exhaust pipe. If you observe blue-coloured smoke, your car may be having an oil burning problem. Diesel automobiles are notorious for producing black smoke on cold days. On a chilly day, you might see white steam instead of black smoke.
  • Are the seatbelts in good working order and are they properly fastened and retracted?
  • Is the distance feasible for the car’s age? To calculate what the mileage should be and whether the odometer has been tampered with, multiply the car’s age in years by 10,000.
  • Are the lights functional? Test windows, heaters/blowers, air conditioning, wing mirrors, central locking, windscreen wipers, and the horn.
  • Be sure to ask about the car’s service history. If possible, get a copy of the car’s service records. This will give you an idea of how well the car has been maintained.

Open the vehicle’s bonnet:

Check to see whether the engine has previously been maintained. Check to see if the oil is at the proper level. Is there any evidence of a leak or buildup? Pull out the dipstick and check the oil condition. If it’s golden and young rather than black and aged, it implies that the car has recently been serviced.

Look for a yellow mustard-coloured deposit, especially around the oil filler cap’s interior, which might indicate head gasket issues. Check the water expansion tank. The contents should appear to be coloured water if everything is in working order. If there are floating particles, it might be an indication of a head gasket failure.

Ask for paperwork:

Check for previous MOT warnings; they’re an excellent predictor of future problems you may need to address. Furthermore, verify the V5C and MOT Certificates. Check for prior MOT remarks – they’re a good indicator of potential issues down the road. Ask to see the logbook to verify the service record. you can also run a free car check with Reg Car Check to get more information about the vehicle.

Important Tips to Remember During Your Test Drive

Here are some things to look for and keep an eye out for throughout the test drive.

Before you start the engine:

  • Don’t get sidetracked by the individual selling the vehicle while you’re assessing it.
  • To detect any unusual noises, turn off the radio. A squeaking engine might signal a fraying auxiliary or cam belt.
  • Is it simple to start the engine when it’s cold? A new battery or alternator may be required if the starter does not start easily. Alternatively, the starter motor might be broken.
  • Keep an eye on the caution lights – do they go off shortly after the engine starts? Are any warning lights activated while you’re driving?
  • Is the speedometer and rev counter functioning properly?

During the test drive:

  • Is the car able to accelerate as you would anticipate?
  • Is there little effort required to move the steering wheel? Is it possible that your car’s suspension is defective if it drifts to one side? There might be an issue with the automobile’s suspension if it drifts to one side.
  • Are there any unusual noises when you turn the steering wheel to ‘full lock’? This may be a sign of an issue with the power steering or suspension.
  • Keep an eye on the temperature gauge. If the car overheats, there could be a serious issue. Allow the vehicle to sit for a few minutes after conducting the test drive.
  • Is it simple to engage the clutch in a manual vehicle? When utilizing the clutch pedal, listen for unusual noises. Is it easy to shift gears?
  • Is the vehicle able to come to a halt without delay or significant effort? When braking, does the car drift to one side or travel in a straight line? Can you hear any unusual noises (such as metal on metal) when you brake?
  • Test the handbrake on a hill, if possible. Is it working properly?
  • Take this test to see how the car handles bumps and dips. Listen for strange noises, such as dings and clanks.
  • Turn on the radio and the air conditioning. Do they work as they should? Are there any strange smells coming from the vents?
  • Test the automatic window buttons and the sunroof, if applicable. See if all the doors open and close easily.
  • Is there anything in the glove compartment or boot that shouldn’t be there? Check for any sign of forced entry, such as a damaged lock.
  • Finally, take note of the car’s mileage and fuel level. If the car is running low on gas, ask the seller to fill it up before you leave.

After the test drive:

After the test drive, wait a few minutes and then attempt to restart the car while it is still hot. Failing to start may be costly in terms of time and money.

Is it safe? Is the car legal to drive in your state? How far can you go on one tank of gas? Are there any additional costs or fees that I should be aware of before purchasing? Was the vehicle easy to drive, and did you enjoy driving it? Is it suitable for your family and yourself? What about the trunk size; is it large enough to accommodate your needs?

Additional Tips:

  • If you’re not mechanically inclined, it may be worth your while to bring a friend or family member who is. If you want to be certain, request for a car check to be carried out by a professional.
  • If you’re not sure about something, ask the seller questions or clarification. If they are unwilling or unable to answer your questions, it may be an indication that they are hiding something about the vehicle  – remember, you’re the one making the purchase, not the seller.
  • Be cautious of sellers who are too eager to get rid of the vehicle. If they’re in a hurry, it may be because they’re trying to get rid of a ‘lemon’. If you have any doubts about the vehicle, don’t hesitate to walk away from the sale.
  • A test drive should only be conducted during daylight hours on dry pavement. If the seller refuses to let you take the car for a spin, walk away.
  • If everything goes well and you’re satisfied with the car, be sure to haggle over the price before finalizing the deal. You might be able to get a lower price if you’re willing to negotiate.
  • Keep in mind that a used car is just that – used. It’s not going to be perfect, no matter how good of a deal you think you’re getting.
  • Finally, don’t forget to have fun! Test driving should be an enjoyable experience, and if it’s not, move on to the next car. There are plenty of used cars out there to choose from.

These are all important questions to ask yourself before purchasing a used car. By following this checklist and taking your time during your test drive, you can avoid making a mistake that could cost you dearly. Good luck!