What to Look for When Test Driving a Used Car

August 31st, 2016 by
Used Car Test Drive in El Cajon

Test drive is a very important part of your assessment of a used car you may be buying. Learn what to look for in this article.


When you’re looking at a used car to see if you might want to buy it, the test drive is one of the most important parts of your evaluation of the vehicle, and there are lots of things to be on the lookout for both before and during the test drive.

Before even getting into the vehicle, pop the hood and check the oil. You want it to be clean and at the appropriate level. Also give a thorough look at the tires (see our previous article: Used Car Buying Tip: Check the Tires). After that, get in the vehicle and take a look around at the interior. Is it clean and in good shape? Fasten your seatbelt and verify that it works properly without any glitches. In fact, check all the seatbelts while you’re at it. Evaluate how the car feels as you sit in the driver’s seat. Is it comfortable for you? Do you fit well and have the visibility you need to drive safely?

Then you can go ahead and put the key in the ignition and start the engine. Did it start right away without any trouble? If the radio is on, turn it off. You want to be able to hear any strange noises as you operate the vehicle. Rev the engine slightly, again listening for any noises that don’t seem right. Look at the dashboard and make sure there are no warning lights on that indicate problems. Also verify that the airbag lights came on the way they should. If not, this could indicate the car was in an accident. Now you can test all the various items around you, including power windows, locks, mirror adjustments, seat adjustments, radio, headlights, interior lights, windshield wipers, heat, air conditioning, everything. While you’re checking all these, listen to the idle of the car. Is it smooth and without strange noises? Also while the car is park and idling, turn the steering wheel to verify there isn’t excessive play or clunking noises.

When you’re driving around, get to a place where you mimic what it’s like to have to slow down suddenly from at least 45 mph, as if there’s a sudden slow-down of traffic on a highway. As you break hard, pay attention to whether the car pulls to one side or the other, which might indicate loose calipers or not enough fluid. If there’s any shuddering, this could mean the rotors are warped. The brake pedal should feel firm, not mushy, when you depress it.

Also while you’re driving, make sure the vehicle doesn’t drift to one side or the other when you have a very loose grip on the steering wheel. If it pulls to one side, it could be an indication that the car has problems with its alignment. Also make sure the steering wheel doesn’t shake at all, which can indicate that the wheels need balancing.

If you’re able to find some bumpy roads, take the opportunity to see how the suspension performs and if there are any strange noises. Throughout the drive, pay attention to when the car shifts gears to make sure it is smooth and without any kicks or slips.

Those are all the most important things you should have in mind as you test drive a used car. It’s a lot, right? But this is a big purchase, and you want to make sure you get it right. If it’s helpful for you, make a checklist of these items to ensure you cover all the bases. If everything checks out, you may have just found the used car that’s right for you!