What to Look for when Test Driving a Used Car


Buying a used car can save you a heap of money, and provide you with a high quality set of wheels at the same time. Today’s models are built to last, so a car that’s three years old may run as good as new provided that it’s been well taken care of. Yet there is always the element of risk involved when you are buying a used car, so it’s vital to inspect any candidates thoroughly before making a purchase. This is particularly true if you are buying privately. Ask to take a test drive no matter where you’re purchasing your car and pay close attention to the following factors.

Image Source: Harry_NL/Flickr

Image Source: Harry_NL/Flickr

Signs of Poor Maintenance

Before you turn the engine on, start your road test by examining the car for any signs of wear, tear, or neglect. Open the hood and pull out the oil and transmission dipsticks to look for grime or low levels of fluid. Inspect hoses and fan belts for cracking, and check the tyre treads for uneven wear. Look under the car for signs of wear as well, and examine the lights and tailpipes.

Safety and Security Features

If you look at the top rated cars at sites like Carsales, you’ll see that many come equipped to a high standard of basic safety and security equipment. A car equipped with safety features like stability control, anti-whiplash head restraints, and multiple airbags will incur lower insurance rates and protect you in the event of a collision. Security features such as deadlocks and a visible vehicle identification number also score top marks. Inspect the car for these types of features before you begin your test drive.


Another factor to consider is the car’s performance. Cars with excellent performance that are able to zip around town with ease will be easier to resell down the road, and are generally more efficient as well. As you take your drive, take note of the engine’s flexibility and gearstick action. Rev the engine to test acceleration ability and test braking ability.

Ride and Handling

You want to strike the balance between comfort and control on the road, so take note of the car’s ride and handling on your test drive. Try driving the car on a range of different types of roads to see how well the car handles them, from old city streets to dirt roads and major motorways.


Take your test drive with the radio off so that you can hear the car’s engine and dynamics. Is there a lot of cabin noise on the road, or is it smooth and refined? Try shifting gears and driving in different conditions to test refinement.


Finally, keep an eye on the mileage during your test drive. The used car salesman may promise you a factory mileage of 55mpg on the motorway, but when you take it out you may only see numbers closer to 35mpg. Real life efficiency is usually different from manufacturer-reported numbers, so see where the used car stands. By paying attention to these different areas of the car on your test drive, you can make sure that it will stand the test of time and suit your lifestyle.

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