Test Driving a Used Car: What to Look For when Test Driving

Purchasing a used car can be an excellent way to save money while still acquiring a reliable vehicle. However, to make sure you’re making a sound investment, you need to conduct a thorough test drive. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll not only cover the essential steps for test driving a used car but also provide you with additional insights to ensure that you’re well-prepared to make an informed decision.

1. Extensive Research

Before heading to the used car dealership, invest some time in comprehensive research. Determine the make and model you’re interested in and find out everything you can about it. Read reviews from both experts and real-world owners to understand its strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the common issues associated with that particular vehicle model, so you can keep an eye out for potential red flags during the test drive.

2. Schedule a Test Drive

Once you’ve done your homework, get in touch with the dealership or seller to schedule a test drive. It’s best to plan this during daylight hours, as it provides better visibility to inspect the car’s condition. Try to choose a day when you’re not rushed, allowing ample time for a comprehensive evaluation.

3. Exterior Inspection

Before you even step into the car, take a walk around it. Pay attention to the following:

  • Cosmetic Imperfections: Look for signs of rust, dents, scratches, or any other visible damage. While minor cosmetic issues may not affect the car’s performance, they can be bargaining points when it comes to the price.
  • Lights and Signals: Ensure that all lights and signals are in working order. Faulty or dim lights can be a sign of electrical issues that need attention.

4. Interior Assessment

As you enter the car, closely inspect the interior. Pay attention to:

  • Seat Condition: Check the condition of the seats for signs of excessive wear or damage.
  • Dashboard and Controls: Look for any visible wear and tear on the dashboard and make sure that all buttons and controls are functional. Check for any cracked or damaged components.
  • Functional Features: Test all features, including the air conditioning, audio system, power windows, and other accessories. Make sure they all work as expected.

5. Engine Inspection

Start the engine and pay close attention to the following:

  • Unusual Noises: Listen for any unusual sounds such as knocking, clicking, or rattling. Unusual engine noises can be indicators of underlying issues.
  • Dashboard Warning Lights: Check the dashboard for warning lights. These lights may signal potential problems that need to be addressed.

6. Testing the Car on the Road

Now it’s time to take the car for a spin. Pay close attention to the following aspects:

  • Steering and Handling: Ensure that the car’s steering is responsive and that it doesn’t pull to one side.
  • Brakes: Test the brakes for responsiveness, and check for any unusual noises or vibrations when braking.
  • Acceleration: Assess the car’s acceleration, and make sure there’s no hesitation or stalling.
  • Transmission: Shift through the gears to ensure smooth transitions. Listen for any unusual sounds during gear changes.
  • Suspension: Drive over bumps or uneven surfaces to evaluate the car’s suspension. Listen for any unusual noises that may indicate issues with the suspension system.

7. Listening for Unusual Noises

While driving, stay attentive to any sounds that shouldn’t be there. Unusual rattles, clunks, or squeaks can be indicators of problems that need attention.

8. Testing Different Road Conditions

To get a complete sense of the car’s performance, try to drive it on various road surfaces. This includes city streets, highways, and even rough terrain if possible. Each road type can reveal different characteristics of the vehicle.

9. Testing All Accessories

Don’t forget to test all accessories and features in the car:

  • Radio and Audio System: Check the radio and audio system for clarity and functionality.
  • Air Conditioning and Heating: Ensure that the climate control system functions as expected.
  • Power Windows: Test all windows to ensure they go up and down smoothly.

10. Take Notes

During the test drive, keep a notepad or use a note-taking app to jot down any issues or concerns you encounter. This will be invaluable when you discuss the vehicle with the seller or dealer, allowing you to address specific points.

11. Ask Questions

Feel free to ask the seller or dealer any questions you might have during the test drive. This is the time to clarify any doubts or concerns you might have about the car’s history, maintenance, or performance.

12. Professional Inspection

Consider having a professional mechanic inspect the vehicle before finalizing your purchase. A professional inspection can reveal hidden issues that might not be evident during a test drive.


A comprehensive test drive is a crucial step in the process of buying a used car. By following these guidelines, you’ll be well-prepared to evaluate a used vehicle’s condition and make an informed decision. Remember, a thorough test drive can save you from potential headaches down the road, ensuring that your used car purchase is not only reliable but also satisfying.

Don’t hesitate to ask questions and address any concerns with the seller or dealership. With due diligence and a comprehensive approach to test driving, you’ll increase your chances of making a confident and well-informed decision. By investing time in the test drive process, you’ll be on your way to finding the perfect used car that suits your needs and budget.