What to check for when you’re test driving a used car

Getting a new car is always an exciting prospect, especially if you’ve been after one for a while, or you’ve got a great deal on a used car or a salvage vehicle from one of our online car auctions right here at RAW2K. But when it comes to the test drive, that same sense of anticipation means it can be easy to get ahead of yourself. 

The test drive is a vital part of the process if you’re planning on actually driving it rather than taking it to pieces for spare parts, and since you’ll probably only get a one or two chances before the seller expects you to close on it, you’ll need to make sure you’re pretty comprehensive. A used car requires particularly rigorous checks to ensure that it’s being sold in the condition that you expect, so here’s how to ensure you’ve covered the most important considerations. 

Before the test drive

Long before you start the engine, you’ll need to make sure that you’re properly prepared, and that everything with the car is as you expect it to be. 

Consider bringing a friend

We should start off by saying that if possible, there should always be some expert knowledge on your side when you turn up to the test drive. If you’re an experienced buyer or professional mechanic yourself, then you probably won’t need anyone with you. If you’re not an expert yourself though, it’s best to bring a parent or a knowledgeable friend with you, just in case they’re able to identify potential pitfalls that might otherwise escape your notice. 

Check your insurance status

This is a really important one, and one that a lot of drivers sometimes forget. While dealerships have special forms of insurance in place to allow you to go on test drives in their vehicles, you’re unlikely to be protected in the same way when you’re buying a used car from a private dealer. 

Inspect the car

This is obviously the bit that will take up a relatively large amount of time. We’ve detailed how to perform a proper inspection of a salvage car in a previous post, but the main things to check for include rust on the bodywork, and any signs of damage that the seller might not have explicitly disclosed.

Think about the practicalities

Once you’ve ascertained that the car’s in decent nick, don’t forget to think about how you’ll be using it on a day-to-day basis. Can you get in and out easily? Can the same be said for your regular passengers, like family members or dogs and other pets? How easy is it to load and unload? (You’ll need to bear that in mind for when it comes to putting shopping in it, or luggage for holidays.) 

Once you’re sitting in the car, it’s also a good idea to think about how comfortable the driving position is, and what the visibility is like. Double check whether you can adjust the seat and steering if you need to.

Oh, and one final thing before setting off – before you start the car, carefully make sure that the engine is cold. If it’s warm, that might indicate a starting problem. Plus, keep an eye out for any smoke emitted by the exhaust when you set off, or later in the journey. It could be a sign that your car’s burning something it’s not supposed to be. 

During the drive

Once you’re out on the roads, you’ll need to keep a weather eye not just on the highway ahead, but also all the different aspects of your car that could have an impact on how you drive. We’ve summed up some of the most important here for you. 

Performance and safety

It can be tempting to make it a nice and easy drive, but ideally you’ll actually want the terrain to be as varied as possible, so that you can test every aspect of the car. That means you’ll want to plan a route that includes a mixture of urban driving, A roads and motorways, so that you can really get a feel for the car.

Don’t be afraid to take it up steep hills either – better to find out its capabilities now than after you’ve already handed over the money for it! If you’ll regularly be carrying passengers, it’s not a bad idea to take them too. (Obviously, while taking into account that you’ve already got one adult there if you’ve brought a friendly expert.)

If you’re test driving a manual car, the gears shouldn’t be too notchy. Plus, if the biting point is particularly high, that can be an indication that a new clutch might soon be required – often an expensive and time-consuming repair. If you’re in an automatic on the other hand, the gear changes should be nice and smooth, and there should be a decent punch to it when you accelerate hard down the motorway.

Ride and comfort

Test the mettle of your potential purchase by taking it along some of the rougher roads you can find, just to see how well it absorbs the bumpiness. If the suspension seems particularly bouncy, or soft and floaty, that may be an indication that the shock absorbers are nearing the end of their useful lifespan.

All the while, make sure you’re alert for any unusual sounds or sensations you can sense through the car, like rattling or clicking or crunching. It’s also worth striking up a conversation while you’re out on the motorway, to make sure that you and your passengers can hear each other comfortably. 


It goes without saying that the steering of the car should be highly responsive, with no vibrations. Don’t be fobbed off with any excuses from the seller. The age of the car is no excuse – a car that doesn’t respond immediately to what you want it to do is one that’s highly dangerous to drive!

You can also pop into Tescos quickly (other supermarkets are available) and try to reverse it into a parking space. Don’t forget to check your blind spots, as it’s a good test of your overall visibility. If you’ve got the space, take the opportunity to turn it round on full lock as well, to check its steering capability.

Test the essentials

Make sure that at some point on the drive you use all gears, including reverse. And while you’re at it, both on the drive and before or after it, ensure that you’ve tested all the electricals, especially the most important ones like your windows and lights. 

And when you find yourself with a bit of space from other cars, don’t be afraid to brake hard when it’s safe to do so. If you find that the car doesn’t stop efficiently in a straight line, and it ends up pulling slightly to either side, that is a particularly dangerous problem. For example, when you’re trying to stop short of an accident up ahead, you could very easily end up veering into traffic on an adjacent lane. 

Above all, don’t be embarrassed to ask questions, or to have your reservations about the answers. If your seller’s got nothing to hide, then they shouldn’t be too worried about answering them. And of course, don’t be afraid to walk away if anything sets alarm bells ringing, or you’re advised by your friendly expert to do so. 

We like to make things a little easier for you here at RAW2K, as all listings for our used cars and vehicles include key information at a glance, which should give you a decent idea of what sort of condition the vehicle is in. (It’s still worth casting your own careful eye over them though!) We’ve got a huge range of choice here on our site, including models from leading brands such as Peugeot, Volkswagen and Citroen. Why not take a look around our site, and see what you can find?