How to test drive a used car: 27 hot tips to nail the test drive

Test driving a used car can be a challenge for even the most accomplished of car buyers. Its best to go in fully prepared, ensuring you’re  ticking all of the boxes from a legal point of view as well as ensuring that you don’t miss any critical pointers to the cars health. For many, the test drive is arduous and a little bit nerve wracking, but with the right tips, you can go in prepared.

There are slightly different challenges attached to private test drives verses dealerships

Below is our ultimate guide about how to test drive a used car:

Make sure you’re legal

Tip 1) Every year thousands of people get caught out illegally test driving cars. Make sure you talk to your insurance company in order to check your policy restrictions.

Tip 2) If you’re unsure about your policy and are unable to double check in time for your test drive – only test drive dealership sold cars. These are covered by the dealerships own insurance, meaning you can test drive without fear of running into problems.

Tip 3) If your current insurance policy doesn’t cover you, you can take out a short term fully comprehensive policy. This can be taken out over just a couple of days, allowing you to line up a bunch of test drives prior to choosing your next car.

Comfort is always an important factor in a car, especially if you’re going to be covering a lot of miles. Comfort can relate to the cars seats as well as the suspension strength. Watch out for sports suspensions, which often relate to a very stiff ride.

Tip 4) Check that the seats have a large enough range of motion to ensure that you can adjust them accordingly.

Tip 5) Check that the steering wheel can be adjusted as above, with the seats.

Tip 6) Some cars have removable seats, especially ‘people carriers’ and four wheel drive vehicles. If the car that you plan to test drive has removable seats, ensure none of the connectors are damaged which would put your passengers safety in danger.

Tip 7) Take any child seats that you may wish to use with you and ensure that they will fit safely and comfortably.


When looking to buy a new car, one area that you will want to check is the performance of the Engine. Whilst it’s hard for a novice to judge this accurately, there are some warning signs to keep an eye out for.

Tip 8) Look out for car engines that are warm when you travel to test drive the car. Touch the bonnet with the back of your hand and if it’s warm ask the owner why.

Tip 9) when you start the car, check in the rear view mirror for any signs of excessive smoke emissions. Even better, bring somebody with you who car check it first hand

Tip 10) the car should accelerate smoothly once you start moving. The engine should run smoothly, without any noticeable rattles or clunking sounds

The cars suspension is something that you need to test on the road, and this will make a huge difference to the cars ride comfort.

Tip 11) aim to take the car on a less than perfectly smooth road. Many country roads work well, allowing you to test the car on a rougher surface. As you do this, listen out for any sounds as you ride over the rougher surface. The suspension should make no noise at all.

Tip 12) Take the car on to an A Road with some high speed corners. Check for signs that the car lurches, bouncers or veers whilst cornering in this environment.


Check the cars responsiveness whilst Steering, enabling you to identify any problems early.

Tip 13) before setting off, turn the cars wheel from lock to lock in order to test that the steering works smoothly. You wouldn’t want to do this often on a car as it can knock the cars bearings out, but as a one off test, this is fair to do.

Tip 14) Take the car to a quiet car park and spin it around 360 degrees to test its turning circle. If you live in an urban environment, this can be an important factor. Make sure it will be sufficient for your needs. Some small cars can perform particularly poorly from this perspective whilst some larger cars are surprisingly good, so this is best tested.


Make sure that you properly test the cars Brakes thoroughly by performing the below actions whilst on your test drive.

Tip 15) take the car down a quiet road and perform an emergency stop. The breaks should kick in immediately with zero delay.

Tip 16) check for any spongy feel in the brake pedal, as this can be a sign of wearing breaks which could be an upcoming expensive fix and a short term danger.

Tip 17) Ensure the brakes make no sound, even whilst executing the emergency

The cars Gearbox is often taken for granted, but any fixes required here will hit you hard in the pocket.

Tip 18) Test that all gears are easy to engage. Test at the high and low end of the gears range. Automatic gearboxes should swap gears smoothly and quickly.

Tip 19) Check how the clutch engages. A clutch that won’t engage until the pedal reaches the top of its travel could soon be in need of a repair.


Over all points

Tip 20) Plan your own route. A savvy private seller may direct you on to roads that they now will show the car in a positive light. A dealer may ask you to drive on high speed roads because he knows the steering is heavy when travelling slowly. Therefore, plan a route which takes in plenty of different road types and environments

Tip 21) Take the car to a car park. Some vehicles have terrible visibility, or just aren’t well set up for your stature. Test how well the car reverses as well as the visibility through all of the mirrors by doing a couple of bay parks or parallel parks.

Tip 22) Four eyes are better than two. Rather than taking the whole family, take a trusted second pair of eyes who can take in different perspectives (e.g. from the back seat). Even better, take a mechanic friend if you have one.

Tip 23) check the cars buttons and switches to ensure that all are working well and functioning as they should. If for no other reason, a broken bulb or malfunctioning electric window can help you haggle if you choose to move ahead and buy.

Tip 24) Don’t rush, allow at least 30 minutes to properly test the car across a range of different roads and environments

Tip 25) check the storage – is the boot big enough for your needs? This is unlikely to be a problem is the car Is intended to act as a run around for the supermarket shop and school run, but could be a bigger problem if you frequently travel.

Tip 26) Remember that you’re are the customer and you set the agenda. All of the above points are perfectly reasonable road test tips, and if you meet resistance, then the alarm bells should start ringing.

Tip 27) Trust your gut – if anything feels fishy, then walk away. There’s plenty more fish in the see when it comes to used cars.