23 Essential Test Drive Tips

Taking a test drive can be exhilarating. Getting into that new car (whether it is actually new, or a used car that’s just new to you!) brings a feeling of excitement.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of being so enamoured by the experience that you just want to jump out and say ‘Yes!’ to whatever is being asked of you.

But don’t lose sight of the real purpose – to make sure that the vehicle you have researched and reviewed honestly meets your needs and expectations.

This is your chance to make sure a used vehicle is free of faults and in an acceptable condition. If you don’t feel knowledgeable enough to confidently give the car a once-over, then remember that both the AA and the RAC offer a service to do this if you are a member. Or you can book a qualified mechanic to check the car on your behalf.

Remember – you can always walk away to have a think and take a second test drive at a later date. Don’t be in a rush to seal the deal even if the dealer is. A second extended drive is a good way to make sure you are spending your money wisely.


  • Make sure you are insured for the test drive.
  • If you're taking a test drive from a dealer, they will have insurance in place, but any private deal will lean on your own insurance policy.
  • Contact your insurer if you are not sure. They will be able to offer you short-term cover that will allow you a period to test drive the cars you are considering.


  • Settle yourself into a comfortable driving position – move the seats and mirrors to suit you. Just because this is a test drive, doesn’t mean you should skip out on a good seating position.
  • Check any removable seats, making sure they fit securely and that all connections are in full working order.
  • If you intend to use additional child seats in your day-to-day use, then bring those with you and check that they fit.


  • When looking at a used or nearly new car, check before you get in that the engine is cold by placing your hand on the bonnet.
  • A warm car should be questioned – it could be because the seller is trying to mask a problem.
  • When you start the car, use the rear-view mirror to check for any signs of smoke.
  • Get a feel for the engine while taking the test drive – it should accelerate smoothly.


  • Listen to the suspension – make sure there are no unusual bangs or clunks.
  • Feel the suspension – check that there’s no bouncing or uneven rolling when turning corners.
  • Examine the suspension visually – look at the springs and make sure there’s no damage which may reduce the grip and braking performance.


  • When the car is stationary, turn the steering wheel from full left-lock to full right-lock to check that movement is smooth and resistance-free.
  • Take a minute during your test drive to turn a full circle in an open area, such as a car park. Make sure you are comfortable with the turning circle.
  • Listen and observe the wheels while driving on full lock, to make sure there’s no rubbing on the car's bodywork.


  • As a vital part of the car system, the brakes should respond immediately without any need for pumping or strained depressing to engage.
  • Brakes should be silent – at no point should there be any noise from the brakes, no matter how extreme the breaking.


  • All gears should be smooth to engage, without any inconsistencies in movement.
  • If the car is an automatic, listen to, and feel, the gear changes as you drive – these should be quick and smooth.
  • Get a good feel for the clutch. A clutch which doesn’t engage until the pedal is at the top of its travel may need to be replaced.


  • Take your family with you on the test drive if they are usually in the car – they will enjoy the experience and may have personal needs you are not taking into account.
  • Listen to your family – especially those in the back. They will help you find any problems with practicality and the versatility of the vehicle.
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