When you find a car you like, you’ll want to go and see it, check it over and take it for a test drive. To make sure that you can, ensure you’ve got the correct insurance cover to drive another car and take it with you. The seller will most likely want to see proof you’re covered before they let you behind the wheel. Always ask to take a used car for a test drive before you start haggling over the price.

While you’re driving, use all your senses to sniff out any problems it may have. Look for things like smoke, light that work and wear and tear on the interior. Listen for strange noises. Make note of unusual smells like burning oil or rubber. Above all, be open to your gut feeling about the car – your subconscious mind may have noted something that’s not quite right.

Before you start your test drive

Before you even hop in, take a walk around the car. Follow the basic car buying tips; check tires, run your hand over the body if you notice any rough patches or differences in the paintwork colour. You’ll also want to check over the paperwork to make sure it’s legal for you to take it out on the road.

Before you set off, make sure that the engine is cold – if the seller has started it up before you arrive it could indicate a known fault. Then you’ll need to adjust the seat and mirrors for your comfort. When you turn the key, make sure all the right lights come on the dashboard display, and there are no warning lights. You’ll want to listen to the engine at idle first of all, so you can hear it’s ticking over smoothly.  Keep the radio off while you drive so you can listen carefully for any strange noises.  

Don’t let the seller distract you on a test drive either, if they’re overly chatty it could be they’re trying to distract you from spotting faults with the vehicle.

Check everything is working well as you drive

Take the car for at least a 15-minute drive to make sure everything is functioning properly. If it’s a manual you’ll want to shift through the gears to make sure they all work smoothly. If it has cruise control or Tiptronic gears, check they work too. Don’t forget to test the car in reverse too.

Fit in lots of different turns to assess the steering.  You want it to be nice and smooth for a balanced ride.

If you can, drive on different types of roads and test the brakes on different surfaces.  This enables you to test the car in as many scenarios as possible to expose any faults and make sure it’s as described. 

During the viewing and test drive try to stay neutral and not be overly enthusiastic. Showing less emotion can work in your favour when negotiating the final price. If you seem overly enthusiastic the seller will use this to get you to pay more. 

Top things to check on a test drive:

  • Steering
  • Transmission
  • Braking
  • Clutch
  • Engine temperature
  • Suspension
  • Engine noise and behaviour
  • Performance

Common faults a test drive can expose:

  • Smoke from the exhaust can signal a big problem.
  • Unusual smells
  • Squeaks, knocking sounds or rattles coming from underneath can mean there are problems with the suspension, steering joints or other components.
  • Noise when braking can indicate an issue with the braking system.
  • If you can hear odd noises from the engine area then this could be a sign of expensive mechanical repair issues.
  • If you hear any wind noise or feel draughts inside the car, it could indicate the seals are degraded or windows are incorrectly fitted.

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