Top tips for test driving a car

Top tips for test driving a car

motomatch / 10 March 2022

Test driving any car – whether brand new or used – is a must if you’re looking to purchase a vehicle. Of course, you’ll want to ensure that the car looks the same way it does as it was advertised, and you’ll also want to check that it’s in good working shape. Testing whether it is a comfortable drive is also really important.

What to check when test driving a car

There are a lot of things to check when test driving a car, especially if it is used. Make sure you take your time, and don’t be afraid to ask tough questions. It’s your money on the line and any respectable seller will be confident enough to let you ask as many questions as you need to!

Here is a really helpful list to take with you on your test drive:

1. Start with this:

  • Check that the car has been accurately represented in the photos. Discrepancies should raise red flags.
  • Cosmetics. Check that there are no serious dents and scrapes. Was the car in any accidents? Is there any rust? A little bit of rust can be fixed, but if there is a lot of it, or if you are based on the coast, it’s going to ravage the exterior of the car and can eventually become dangerous if it eats at the supporting structure. If you’re going to fix a chunk of rust, ensure that you know what that’s going to cost you.
  • For the interior, check that every looks neat and appears relatively well looked after. Also check that the carpeting is the same throughout – a drastic change in carpeting or seat coverings could indicate that the car was in a major accident or that there was a big spill inside.
  • Check that door hinges and window mechanism all work as expected.
  • Check that you can adjust the seats to your preference.
  • Reverse park to check that you can test your all-round vision.
  • If you have children, take their car seats with you to check that you can fit them in the back.
  • Test all the seatbelts.

2. Next, test how the car drives

  • The engine should be cold before you start so that you can be sure the car doesn’t have a starter problem.
    • Make sure there’s no smoke coming from anywhere.
    • The car should be quiet and pull along smoothly without any shuddering.
    • Listen for any strange rattles or banging.
    • Check that the steering is responsive, that there is no vibration and that it doesn’t pull away from you or veer in a certain direction without your handling.
    • Test that the brakes are fully responsive, and that the car stops in a straight line.
    • Move through all the gears to make sure they change smoothly.
    • The clutch needs to “grab” or “bite” almost immediately.
    • Take the car on different kinds of roads. If you’re testing a 4x4, take it off-road somewhere to check that she handles nicely.
    • If you’re looking at an electric car, check the range and charging time. Can you get to and from your work/home/holiday destination without needing to charge the car?

    3. Documents

    • Check that the car has service history documents.
    • If the seller is claiming that they have replaced anything (tires, shocks, etc.) confirm that they have the receipts to back this up.
    • Check that all registration documents are in order.

    Am I insured when test driving a car?

    Something that many people fail to check, is whether or not they are covered if they should have an accident while test driving a car. Usually, dealers have cover in place, so confirm this with them if you are planning on test driving a used car at a dealer.

    However, if you are buying from a private seller, it is unlikely that you will be covered by their personal insurance. Check your insurance policy for the clause that says you “can drive another car with the owner’s permission.” This is formally known as Driving Other Cars (or DOC) cover. Note that this type of cover is usually third party-only. Call your insurance provider if you are unsure.

    How to book a test drive

    Most dealerships allow you to book a test drive online, which is really convenient. If you’re buying privately, you will need to contact the seller directly and ask them about test driving the car. Some sellers may be nervous about a stranger test driving their car but offer to have them stay in the car during the drive if it makes them more comfortable. For your own safety, always have a friend with you or waiting for you, just in case.