Figuring out how to test drive a used car can be daunting, especially if you’re looking to buy a second-hand car. You will quickly have to adapt to how the car handles. On top of that you will also have to watch out for any signs indicating a problem with the car. That said, there is a couple of easy steps to take that can help pin-point potential issues on the used car you’re looking to buy.
1. Check over the car before setting off
Once having checked over the car that you’re looking to buy inside and out it’s time to test drive the car. Once you take place in the driver seat familiarise yourself with the car. Start the car and check the instrument panel and all the switches to test if everything works. Make a note of any warning lights that show up. Also check for excessive smoke or noise coming from the bonnet.
Turn on the lights and check if they all work. Often it’s also worth pumping the brake pedal to check if it holds its pressure well. A ‘sinking pedal’ could indicate that there is a hydraulic issue (see our advice on brake problems). A final step to take before setting off is too turn the steering wheel left and right. Listen for any squeaks or clunks and make sure if everything is smooth.
2. Setting off on the test drive
Often sellers will insist on driving along when you’re on the test drive. This can be distracting of course. It’s worth to take someone else with you to keep the seller busy. That way can you can concentrate on finding faults on the car.
When driving the car, speed up slowly and listen to any strange noises like squeaks or clunks. Any noise can mean that there is something wrong with the suspension. Once you’re up to speed take note of how the car handles and whether it’s smooth. Especially when going through corners. If the car pulls to one side or doesn’t go over bumps smoothly can be signs that something isn’t quite right. Same goes if the car shakes or becomes unstable when braking.
When taking a car on a test drive always make sure to test it on a variety of roads. Try and seek out roads with good and bad road surfaces. Drive the car on the motorway and try to find roads with lots of start-stop traffic. That way you can build a better picture on how the car performs under different circumstances.
4. After the test drive
Once you have driven the car it’s important to check the car over again and check for any smoke, leaks or strange smells. It can be that some issues on the car were just not visible before you set off. If there is a burning smell it may be that there is an oil leak somewhere. If there is any smoke it may be that the engine has overheated.
One very important thing not to forget when taking a used car on a test drive is to ensure that the car is insured. Remember, if the owner of the car is a private seller it’s likely that you will have to arrange insurance to drive it yourself. If you’re looking to buy from the motor trade then it’s likely insurance has already been arranged.
Often car dealerships can cover you on their insurance for the duration of the test drive. It is of course important to discuss the terms with the dealership or the private seller before the test drive.
5. Top tip
Once you have test driven the car make a note of any faults found. If you do decide to buy the car despite these issues, then use them to bargain. Make the seller aware of the problems you found when negotiating to buy the car. That way you may be able to bring the price down or get the seller to repair these issues.
That said, it might be that you do not have the confidence to test drive a used car. In that case it’s worth getting a pre-purchase inspection with a professional mechanic. Mechanics will be able to check over the car in detail. Using the expertise they have built up over many years to give an accurate appraisal of what is wrong with the vehicle.