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.


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4,847
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Attila

19 years of experience
906 reviews
Attila
19 years of experience
Cadillac SRX V6-3.6L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Edison, New Jersey
Attila was great! Very knowledgeable and actually detected a fault during a pre-purchase inspection that would have cost me later.
Lexus ES350 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Fords, New Jersey
He is very good—offered all the significant details we needed from the inspection. Helped us figure out what needed to be fixed.

Shawn

12 years of experience
285 reviews
Shawn
12 years of experience
Chevrolet Impala V6-3.6L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Lansdale, Pennsylvania
Shawn was prompt, professional, and delivered the promised service as expected. This was a used vehicle pre-purchase inspection. Shawn also had to drive to multiple locations to perform the inspection, as the address listed that I provided him with was not accurate, but he still made it to the correct location within his time window and completed the inspection.
Toyota Sequoia - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Akron, Pennsylvania
Shawn was very prompt in communicating with me and was good at helping me decide whether to purchase a used car. He help me avoid a car with a repaired rusted frame that could be a danger to my family's safety since we were planning on using the car to tow a travel trailer!

Luis

18 years of experience
320 reviews
Luis
18 years of experience
Honda HR-V L4-1.8L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Warren, New Jersey
Luis was great. He showed up on time, acted professionally, and gave me confidence with a pre-purchase car inspection.
Acura RDX - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - South Hackensack, New Jersey
Luis did a thorough pre-purchase inspection for me, and found several major issues that made me pass on buying the car. Had I purchased the car, I almost certainly would have ended up paying thousands in repairs down the road. Thanks Luis!

Robert

20 years of experience
1089 reviews
Robert
20 years of experience
Hyundai Elantra L4-2.0L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Englewood, Colorado
He did a pre-purchase inspection for me. He was knowledgeable and fast, and knew what he was looking for. I really appreciate all the pictures and documentation he took of the state of the car before purchase. He noted potential issues with the car that I wouldn't have been able to notice. Would recommend.
GMC Savana 1500 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Golden, Colorado
I trust Robert. He gave me a list and we will take care of it the week of June 29. I will know then that my vehicle is ready for the winter and is safe to drive. I look forward to getting things ready for another winter of careful driving.

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