Used Car Test Drive Guide

A test drive is one of the most important aspect when buying a car, new or used. Taking the car on a short drive can reveal some important information that could influence not only the price of the car but also your own decision of buying the car as well. When taking a used car for a test drive there are some extra details you have to keep in mind in addition to the usual points to consider during a test drive. Here is a guide to take you through test driving a used car.

Pre-Drive Preparation

Have a route planned out. You should prepare a route that includes conditions that match the usage the car will see under your ownership. With that in mind, your route should include narrow streets, open highways and, if possible, a parking lot. The local streets will help you understand how the car performs in city driving while the highway will highlight issues related to high speed performance of the car. Your test drive should ideally take 30 minutes or more to evaluate the car thoroughly, so make sure your route takes this into account.

Spinny Test Drive Route

Plan your Route before doing the Test Drive

Bring somebody along. Never test drive a car alone. Taking a friend or a mechanic along will help you get a second opinion and also highlight some things that you may miss while focusing on the drive. A friend can also help you evaluate passenger comfort, which is a vital parameter to keep in mind if the car is meant to be used as the family car.

Finally before you head out on the drive, make sure you carry out a visual inspection of the car. If you’re wondering what you should be looking for in this inspection, then our handy used car buying checklist will help you inspect the car before you take the test drive. Also make sure that the car you’re interested in will sufficiently serve your needs. This means checking the boot space, ease of entry and exit from the vehicle as well all round passenger and driver comfort. Once all these points have been checked, you’re ready to take the car out on the test drive

The Pre-Test Drive

When you turn the ignition, let the car run on idle for some time. Running the car on idle will allow you to hear any sounds from the engine that may seem out of place such as a knocking sound which could indicate dirty cylinders and that engine has not been maintained properly. Another sound you could find is a high pitched screeching sound that just sounds wrong. That sound is related to the alternator belt which usually means a worn belt or pulley. Most of these issues can be solved with a trip to the mechanic but these issues can help you negotiate a better price.

Spinny Test Drive Dashboard

Make sure the steering, pedals, and buttons all function properly.

Press the three pedals and check their responsiveness. The clutch pedal should not be too stiff while the accelerator and brake pedals should not be loose. Once you’re satisfied with the pedals, it’s time to shift gears. While stationary, shift through all the gears to check if the gear lever moves smoothly. Once you’re through these checks, it’s time to actually drive.

The Test Drive

While test driving, new or used, it is best to avoid putting the pedal to the metal. Instead, drive the car as you would on a daily basis. This is where your planned route comes into play. Take the car through city roads to test the car at city speeds (50 km/h). Pay attention to the ride quality and how the car behaves when negotiating bumps and corners. If the ride feels too harsh, it could indicate a worn or ageing suspension. While taking corners, check the steering response as well as the feel. The car should change direction in relation to your inputs and should not be too heavy or too light when steering.

Spinny Test Drive City Road

The varying conditions of city roads will thoroughly test the car

Your next test involves the car’s performance at highway speeds (average 80 km/h). You should focus on how much power the car gives you while driving at high speeds as there is a marginal decrease in the power output of used cars. Make sure that the car has enough power to maintain a constant high speed and isn’t lagging when you press the accelerator. The highway test will also allow you to test the acoustics of the car, i.e. how much road noise filters into the car as well as whether there are some weak seals around the doors and windows that let in the wind causing that annoying whistling sound. The acoustic test is best done with all the windows up. In both the city and highway tests, pay close attention to the transmission. A well-maintained transmission should shift gears smoothly, barring driver error. A worn transmission on the other hand, might emit a crunching or grinding sound or may even slip into neutral from time to time.

Try to find an empty, open space like a parking lot to carry out the following tests. Assess the wheel alignment of the car by driving at a constant speed and letting go of the steering wheel. If the wheels are aligned, then the car will continue in a straight line. However, if it wanders left or right, then either a wheel alignment is required or the steering needs to be examined by a mechanic for damage. Evaluate the stopping power of the brakes by driving at a constant speed and then applying the brakes. If the car pulls towards the left or the right, the brake pads on the opposite side may be worn and need to be replaced.

The Final Word

Buying a used car is a significant decision that should be made after much deliberation, taking into account how you plan to use the car; whether the car performs to your expectations; and will the car require repairs to get it back to peak performance. Try to be as objective as possible when evaluating a used car and assess the car at face value to avoid making a prejudiced decision. Don’t be pressured into buying a car you’re not comfortable with. Always remember that you have the power to walk away if the car does not meet your expectations. And finally, have a friend or a mechanic take the car on a second drive. It’s good to have a second opinion to highlight something you missed or to corroborate your conclusion.


Used Car Test Drive Guide