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How To Test Drive a New or Used Car

Test driving new or used cars is the only opportunity you’ll have before you part with any money to make sure you like the car you’re looking to buy.  It’s also the ideal opportunity to make absolutely sure that it meets all of your requirements of it and that there aren’t any major mechanical issues that need addressing.  The following guide is an extension of our post on Tips for buying a used car, providing more invaluable information on how to fully test a car before you buy.


One of the key things before you take a car on public roads is to make sure your legally insured to do so.  Most car dealers will have a policy that covers test drives by customers, however if you’re buying a used car privately it’s important that you contact your insurance company and make sure it covers you for test drives.  It’s illegal to drive on UK roads without a minimal level of insurance and also if you were involved in an accident, you could be left legally liable for some big costs.

Engine and Gearbox

Listen for any unusual noises from the engine, gearbox or suspensionBefore starting the car, touch the bonnet to check whether it’s been started up prior to your arrival.  Some unscrupulous sellers can warm a vehicle up before potential buyers arrive and leave it running to cover any potential starting-from-cold issues that the car may have.  If the engine is warm, re-arrange the test drive for another time and ask for the engine to be cold.

If the engine is cold, make sure it starts easily and listen for any worrying noises from the engine or exhaust.  It’s also worth looking under the bonnet (if you’ve not already done so) to listen closely for any engine issues that the car may have.  Revving the engine slightly and seeing how quickly it returns to idle can also be helpful for identifying problems with automatic chokes.    While the engine is running also check for any excessive smoke from the exhaust.

Check whether you can change into all gears smoothly and easily without any grinding or requiring excessive pressure on the clutch, if test driving a manual.

Suspension and Steering

Make sure to take the car on a variety of road surfaces (e.g. main roads and back roads that are more likely to be bumpy and potholed) and at a variety of speeds to full test the suspension and steering, listening out for any knocks or grinding from either.  Turning the steering on full lock both sides at slow speed (e.g. in a car park) can help identify any issues.  If the car continues to bounce excessively after hitting a bump, there may be a problem with the shock absorbers or springs.  Similarly when travelling at speed, make sure that the car doesn’t pull to one side of the other when you’re driving along as this may indicate tracking, tyre or suspension issues.


During the drive, make sure the brakes bring the car to a satisfactory stop without requiring excessive pressure and listen out for any unexpected noises and vibration.  Remember that some cars have different braking systems which may not be the same as your existing car, so leave plenty of braking distance to account for this if driving in traffic.  When braking, listen and feel for any grinding or pulling from either side of the brakes and if the car has ABS and you can find a suitable piece of quite road, test this by stamping hard on the brakes.

It’s also useful to test the hand brake by parking on a incline and resting the car on just the hand brake to see if it holds the car still.  Whilst this might not be a deal breaker, it may be something that needs to be looked at.  Also make sure that you’re comfortable with the amount of force required to pull the hand brake – again this may be different to your own car but if you can’t full engage the hand brake during a test drive, it may need adjusting for your requirements.


Make sure to test all of the interior features As you’ll be spending an extended period of time in the car while test driving it, make sure to test all of the interior features that the vehicle has to make sure they work.  Look over and check features like the windows winders, sunroof, windscreen wipers, interior blowers, air conditioning (if installed) and heated windows which are essential on frosty days.  Check the seatbelts to ensure that they kick in if pulled fast and that there is no fraying or wear on any of them.  Test the stereo (if fitted) to see if it works to your satisfaction and any built in functions like GPS or Bluetooth connectivity for mobile phones or other devices.

Buy with your brain and not your heart

Don’t feel pressured into buying a car from a dealer and make sure to test drive the car for at least twenty minutes to ensure you have a good feel for it both as a comfortable way to travel, but also a mechanically sound investment.  If there are any niggles that are bothering you on any aspect of the car, make sure to ask the seller about it and if their answer isn’t satisfactory, it may be necessary to get a mechanic to inspect the car, or worst case – walk away.  There are plenty of other cars out there for sale, so choose wisely because there’s nothing worse than the hassle of an unreliable car.

Buying from a dealer or car supermarket with a warranty in place can also help minimise problems after you’ve bought, as cars often undergo pre-sale tests to resolve any mechanical issues.  If you’re looking for a car supermarket in Peterborough, SW Car Sales offers a wide range of vehicles for sale.

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One Response to “How To Test Drive a New or Used Car”

  1. Hello,
    I like your thought testing the used car skill for not wasting money on it. I have been doing the collection of the cars whether used or new car. I love cars and I also want to have a look of yours too soon.

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