How to Test Drive a Used Car

Many car buyers find the test drive the most intimidating part of buying a used car. It's like when the waiter invites you to try the wine and you don't feel qualified to pass judgment. All you need is a little knowledge. Once you understand why you need to drive the car and what you should be looking for. You'll feel more confident about the whole process.

man test driving a used car on the highway | AutoCheatSheet.com

Why Test Drive a Used Car?

When you test drive a used car you're attempting to answer two questions: can you live with it, and does it have any problems? Many used car buyers think it's just about the last one. Looking for defects or faults is important, but it's at least as important to figure out if the car is right for you. A used car is a big decision and it's important not to rush. You may think you've found your ideal car, but if you're unable to live with it, you'll soon be out car shopping again.

Six Step Guide to Test Driving a Used Car

Today you can do 95% of your used car shopping online. However, before buying the car. You will still need to visit the dealer to visually inspect and test drive the vehicle. I've seen many people buy a car without test driving it. Personally, I believe this is a huge mistake. I mean, you will try on a pair of shoes before you buy them, right? Before you spend thousands of dollars on this major purchase. Do this quick six step used car test drive process to make sure you're buying a nice, trouble free used car.

Before you get to the test driving step of buying a used car. I'm assuming you have already vetted the vehicle by inspecting the used car vehicle history report. If you have not done this yet. Please visit my section on Vehicle History Reports. The last thing you want to do is test drive a car, fall in love with it and find out it's been in a bad accident.

While you're driving the vehicle you should pay attention to the mechanical aspects of the car. This is the time to key in on certain things like is the engine running smooth, does the transmission ship well, are the brakes mushy, etc. Even the smallest things, such as turn signals and windshield wipers should be problem free. Make sure you turn on and check everything before making a final decision.

Some questions your test drive should answer include:

1. Get Comfortable.

Settle in to the driver's seat. Set the seat height and distance from the steering wheel and pedals to where you feel comfortable. Adjust the mirrors then check the position of all the controls. Make sure you can find the pedals, the shifter and the turn signals. Turn off the radio to avoid distractions. Don't let the salesman or seller rush you through this. If you're not comfortable you're not giving the car a chance to impress you, and you may not be safe either.

2. Pick a Route.

A private seller will usually want to go with you, which should be understandable. A used car salesman may be more willing to let you go out alone. If offered that opportunity, take it! It's much easier to get a feel for a car without him or her babbling along next to you. If you do go out unaccompanied, be sure to agree a distance and/or return time, and don't cut either short.

If you're unfamiliar with the neighborhood, ask the seller or salesman to suggest a route. This should cover a mix of roads so you can drive at a range of speeds and get a feel for how the car handles different surfaces. Most test drives are probably less than 20 minutes, and that's really not long enough. If you can have the car for an hour you'll have a better chance of picking up on things you don't like.

Recommended Used Car Shopping Sites

Get free used car quotes from CarClearanceDeals.com

CarClearanceDeals will search clearance prices in your local area. Their huge dealer network will help you find your next used car quickly. Make sure you select all the dealerships in your area to make sure you maximize your discounts and savings.

Find a Used Car at CarClearanceDeals Here >>


Search used cars at CarsDirect

CarsDirect has been in business for over a decade. Their search tool makes it easy to find the exact car you're looking for.

Browse Used Car Inventory at CarsDirect >>


Click here for my full article on used car price quotes >>

3. How Does It Drive?

You want to get a feel for acceleration, braking, steering and ride quality, but don't push too hard while on public roads! Check that everything happens smoothly, the engine doesn't stall or cough, the brakes grip without juddering or grabbing and the car doesn't bounce around. You don't need to be a mechanic to spot when something doesn't feel right.

Insider Car Buying Tip

It doesn't matter if you're looking at a used car or certified pre-owned vehicle. I highly recommend you spend a little money and thoroughly inspect any used vehicle you're considering. By doing so, you're decreasing your chances of buying an unreliable car. Keep in mind a dealer doesn't want to be stuck with a bad car no more than you do.

Visit my detailed guide on Vehicle History Reports here >>

4. Ears Open and Listen Carefully!

While on the test drive listen carefully. It doesn't take special training to spot rattles, squeaks, knocks and grinding sounds, none of which should be there. If you can drive on the highway, make a note of how noisy the car seems. Performance cars are often quite loud inside, (a result of wider tires and a sporty exhaust,) and you might decide it would be too tiring on a long journey.

Trusted Used Car Auto Loan Sites

Get a car loan quote from myAutoloan

MyAutoloan allows you to submit your information once and they'll send you up to four offers for you to choose from.

Get pre-approved with myAutoloan.com here >>


Get a car loan quote from Auto Credit Express

AutoCreditExpress.com is one of the leaders for finding bad credit auto loans for people who've been turned down elsewhere.

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Get a car loan quote from instantcarloan

InstantCarLoan has been providing good people with a variety of credit backgrounds safe and trusted auto loans for over 10 years.

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4. Keep Your Eyes Open and Look Around.

On some modern vehicles the blind spots are surprisingly large, so make sure you can see out well enough. Sometimes windshield pillars can make it hard to see traffic at intersections while high side windows can make it harder to reverse out of a parking space. Have a good look round to see if you can live with whatever obstacles to visibility (blind spots) you find.

5. How Does It Feel?

It's important you feel comfortable in the car. If you find your back aching or knees rubbing after 20 minutes this is probably not a car you'll enjoy driving. Conversely, if it seems to fit you like a glove you may have found the used car for you.

6. Decision Time

When you finish the test drive it's time make up your mind. Either it's not the car for you, in which case you tell the seller or salesman and walk away, or you start negotiating. If the latter, it's time to bring up those problems you noticed during the test drive and see if you can get the price lowered or any necessary work done.

To learn more, read my step-by-step guide on How to Save Money Buying a Used Car.

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My Recommended Sites for Car Shopping

CarClearanceDeals and CarsDirect are the quickest way to check used car prices in your local area. These online sites will provide you with free, no-obligation quotes and the prices you're quoted are normally very good. You can also use this free information to negotiate a better price between dealers.

Share Your Tips - If you have any tips on how to correctly test drive a used car that will help others save money, please tell us about it in the comments below, so we can share it with everyone.

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Did You Know?


Every used car is different

A used car does not have an invoice like a new car. This makes it impossible to determine the exact amount a dealer may have paid for the vehicle.

I'll show you how to determine what a dealer should have in a used car, and you can start your negotiations from there.

Click here to estimate a used cars cost >>

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Used Car Buying Tip

When buying a used car, the two most important things you can do to protect yourself from making a mistake are:

  • Have the vehicle inspected by an independent certified mechanic.
  • Acquire and review a used car vehicle history report.

A mechanic will put the car on a lift and inspect the cosmetic and mechanical systems of the vehicle and the history report will disclose any discrepancies in the vehicles title history to guarantee you're purchasing a clean reliable vehicle.

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Get a free car loan quote from up2drive