Car buying guide - how to test drive a car

Testing out a car and how it feels to drive is arguably the most important process when deciding to buy a car, especially a used one. It’s your opportunity to see how a car handles and try out all the features – as well as discover if anything is not up to scratch. Once you’ve done your research and picked what models you want to test drive, take a look at our guide below for things to look out for on the day.
Drivers eye view of a hand holding a steering wheel

Check your insurance

Dealers will have special cover in place for test drives, but there's a good chance you won't be covered if you try out a car sold privately. Check with your insurer before setting off whether you would be able to add cover on a temporary basis.

Inspect the cabin

See how easy it is getting in and out of the car, try adjusting seats and inspect the cabin’s space and accessibility. It’s a good idea to get in the driver’s seat and see how comfortable it is, whilst also examining visibility and any potential blind spots. Check how spacious the boot is and whether it meets your needs (is it big enough for the weekly shop/your golf clubs /the family dog?).

Check the car's condition

This is vital when buying a used car, so look out for any issues with the steering, gearbox, electrical equipment and engine (which should be cold before you start). When taking the car out, make sure the steering is smooth and responsive, the gears engage easily and the brake pedal is sharp and effective; it should feel solid underfoot and you shouldn’t have to pump hard for it to work. Look out for excessive exhaust smoke and listen for any unusual noise like crunching or grinding gears (best to keep the radio off). Check all the features on the dashboard work correctly and all electrical equipment, from windscreen wipers to indicator lights, is functioning as it should.

Test on different types of road

It’s all very well and good doing a few loops around the showroom, but you need to venture a little further to really get a good sense of how the car drives, so ask the dealer for at least 30 minutes. It’s best to test the car on a variety of different roads, including motorways if possible, and attempt various manoeuvres to see how the car handles. Test the car on hills and over different road surfaces if you can to examine the suspension: if it bounces too much or the handling feels imprecise, this could indicate worn shock absorbers or joints.

Click on and print out our quick buying a car guide:

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