What to Look for When Test Driving a Used Car

When you buy a used car, you should pay close attention to the vehicle to know whether it’s a good deal or not. Ideally, the seller will allow you to take it to a mechanic for a car inspection if you’re buying from an individual or used car lot. If you’re buying from a dealership, you often receive a CarFax report, but you still may want to take it to a trusted mechanic for a professional opinion. You want to look over the car and see if it’s the one you want and if it’s a good value.

Before the test drive

Look the vehicle over carefully before you even get behind the wheel. Check the following to get a first impression about the soundness and care of the car:

  • Check the tread on the tires – do the tires match in brand and size and is the tread even?

  • Is there a quarter-inch tread at minimum left?

  • Look under the vehicle to see if any fluids have leaked

  • Open all doors and windows to make sure they work properly

  • Make sure all locks work from both the inside and out

  • Check all lights to ensure none has burned out or cracked

  • Lift the hood and listen to the engine. Does it sound rough or have knocking or other noises that indicate a problem?

You will want to walk around the vehicle and look at the paint job. Notice if an area appears to be a darker or lighter shade, which could indicate a recent paint job to cover up rust or recent body repairs. Search for scratches or dents, which could cause rust or corrosion. Look over the interior of the used vehicle. Check for tears or worn areas on the upholstery. Make sure gauges and all components are working properly. Lift up car mats and adjust the seats. Pay attention to hidden areas, which could be covering up problems you will have to deal with later.

During the test drive

When you take the vehicle for a test drive, try it out on the highway where you can accelerate and travel at 60mph or higher. Drive through town and around curves, over hills and make right and left turns. Turn off the radio and roll up the windows so you can listen to the sounds the vehicle makes. Roll down the windows at some point in the drive to listen for outside vehicle noises, especially around the tires. Pay attention to any vibrations and how the steering wheel and pedals feel. Notice how quickly and smoothly the car stops when you apply the brakes.

Here are some other points to notice as you drive:

  • Notice how the car switches between gears and accelerates

  • Does the vehicle pull to one side when you apply the brakes?

  • Is the steering wheel hard to turn or does it shake?

  • Do you hear squealing or grinding when you push down on the brake pedals?

  • The car should run smoothly even if a bit louder than a brand new vehicle. It should feel smooth and stable whether you are going in a straight line or turning

Don’t hurry through the test, but plan at least an hour or more to look over the vehicle and spend time driving. You want to know the car will perform adequately in the various ways you will use it.

For added peace of mind, have one of our mechanics perform a pre-purchase inspection before you agree to the purchase. Even if the issues aren’t deal breakers, they can influence the amount you are willing to pay for a pre-owned vehicle, since the mechanic will identify the cost and scope of necessary repairs, giving you greater bargaining power.


Next Step

Schedule Pre-purchase Car Inspection

The most popular service booked by readers of this article is Pre-purchase Car Inspection. YourMechanic’s technicians bring the dealership to you by performing this job at your home or office 7-days a week between 7AM-9PM. We currently cover over 2,000 cities and have 100k+ 5-star reviews... LEARN MORE

SEE PRICING & SCHEDULING

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

Recent Pre-purchase Car Inspection reviews

Excellent Rating

(4,845)

Rating Summary
4,518
175
36
38
78
4,518
175
36
38
78

Chris

22 years of experience
2024 reviews
Chris
22 years of experience
Honda Pilot - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Laguna Niguel, California
got there on time. communicated great. did the pre-purchase inspection quickly informing us along the way. highly recommended.
Mercedes-Benz C320 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Laguna Niguel, California
Perfect expert inspection. Couldn't have asked for more. Chris did not let the dealer sweet talk or try to swindle his way out of mechanical issues. Loved it. Would recommend Chris 100%

Carlos

28 years of experience
404 reviews
Carlos
28 years of experience
Jaguar XJR - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Costa Mesa, California
Carlos was very professional good communication very detailed I couldn’t have asked for anything better
Jeep Wrangler - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - San Dimas, California
Carlos was great. On a pre-purchase car inspection he gave me a good summary of the pros and cons in easy-to-understand terms and was very helpful in giving me a balanced and intelligent overall view of the vehicle's condition.

Attila

19 years of experience
745 reviews
Attila
19 years of experience
Jaguar XE - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Springfield, New Jersey
unfortunately i could not view the car in person. But Attila made me trust and value his opinion not only thru his words but also his professionalism and service.
Toyota Avalon - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Midland Park, New Jersey
Atilla inspected the car and pointed out all the issues the car had, and why it was not worth purchasing.

Shawn

12 years of experience
163 reviews
Shawn
12 years of experience
Dodge Ram 3500 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Harleysville, Pennsylvania
Shawn was friendly, efficient and knowledgeable. He kept me informed as he went and did a satisfyingly thorough job. On top of that, he was fun to hang with! Would use him again, for sure.
Hyundai Elantra - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Chester Springs, Pennsylvania
I have put off buying a ‘new’ car because I’m not mechanical and couldn’t tell if I was throwing my money down the tubes. There was no more putting it off. Shawn was able to verify what I expected: the car in question has external issues but the engine, etc. was sound. The seller was impressed that he did not have to drive to a mechanic for a pre-sale inspection and appreciated the convenience. You have two new customers.

Need Help With Your Car?

Our certified mobile mechanics make house calls in over 2,000 U.S. cities. Fast, free online quotes for your car repair.

GET A QUOTE

Related articles

The Best Used Cars to Buy If You’re Shorter Than Average
Vertically Vertically challenged? Hate getting behind the wheel and having to crane your neck to see? There’s nothing wrong with you, but there is something wrong with your car. It might be time to trade it in and take advantage...
A Buyer’s Guide to the 2012 Audi A3
The The A3 takes advantage of the return of consumers’ willingness to consider a hatchback, despite its unusual appearance. This model brings functionality and style together with a variety of optional features that have captured the market’s attention. Key Features...
A Buyer’s Guide to the 2011 Dodge Nitro
While While the Nitro shares some typical crossover features with competitors like the Equinox and even Dodge’s own Journey and Jeep Liberty, what it doesn’t share is typical conservative styling. This boxy beauty (or beast, depending upon your point of...

Related questions

What does it mean when a car on Craigslist says "needs timing work" what does that mean, good? Bad? Expensive? Inexpensive?

The engines for this year 4.6 and 5.4 have a camshaft phasers that go bad, and also the timing chain guides may need to be replaced. In order to repair these items on these vehicle, the camshafts would need to...

Should i buy this Acura RSX Type S with a idle control valve that need to be fix?

Hello. This is a very low price for an otherwise great car. I would recommend having an expert mechanic inspect the car prior to the purchase to check for other potential issues. Although, the two issues you have described are...

there is sediment and rust on the dipstick.

The oil dipstick may get moisture rust damage on them which is normal. Make sure you check the engine by opening the oil cap and looking inside. If you see the same rust and milky looking oil, then there was...

How can we help?

Our service team is available 7 days a week, Monday - Friday from 6 AM to 5 PM PST, Saturday - Sunday 7 AM - 4 PM PST.

1 (855) 347-2779 · hi@yourmechanic.com