When it comes to buying a car, new or used, a test drive is absolutely vital. This can give you a very good idea of whether you like the driving position, how the vehicle handles and, if it’s used, whether there are any faults with the vehicle.

Just because a car looks good and the manufacturer’s information is telling you everything you want to hear, it doesn’t mean that this is the right car for you. A proper test drive will confirm whether or not you really like the car and if it is right for you. Here’s what to look for when test driving a car.


Before you do anything else, it’s time to crack open the books (or open up your browser) and do some solid research. Try to stay away from manufacturer’s websites here, you’re looking for reviews from people and professionals – this will give you a real understanding of what the car is like.

Be wary here, if people have a bad experience with a car then they will go out of their way to slate it. Likewise, if the car has been ‘ok’ then to the average driver it will be amazing. Take all ‘driver’s reviews’ with a pinch of salt and balance them out with professional reviews in order to get a realistic expectation of the vehicle.


Once you’re settled that this is the car that you’re interested in, the next step is booking the test drive.  The worst thing possible during a test drive is to be rushing it and not having enough time to fully appreciate how the vehicle handles and drives, this means that you may miss important things.

If the test drive is with a dealership then their insurance will typically cover you, however with private sellers you may need to use your own insurance. Check to see whether you’re fully covered before you get behind the wheel.


A test drive isn’t just about how the car drives, you also need to have a good inspection of the cars condition – particularly for used vehicles.

With new cars this isn’t such an issue, instead you’ll just want to look at aspects like:

  • Boot space
  • Rear seat leg room
  • Do the seats fold down
  • Are the seats comfortable and supportive
  • What spec is included and what’s extra
  • Is it practical for your needs
  • Can you connect your mobile phone/ mp3 player to the car’s speakers
  • What multimedia systems does the car have
  • What are the standard security measures includes
  • Are there steering controls for the radio
  • Does the car have cruise control
  • Does the radio work – is it good quality

With used cars you should look at the items listed above and many more details, including:

  • Issues with body work – look for damage or signs of repairs
  • Does the engine start normally from cold
  • Are the tyres in good condition
  • Has any repair work been done to the vehicle
  • Is the vehicle taxed and has an MOT
  • How many previous owners has the car had
  • Is the mileage reading accurate
  • Are there any signs of rust
  • Are there any warning signs on the dashboard
  • Does the climate control work
  • Are any of the instruments damaged (pedal covers, gear stick, cockpit buttons, indicator stick etc.)
  • Is the engine oil clean – it should be a light amber colour and thin
  • Do all seatbelts work
  • Do the electrics items in the car properly work

Once you’re happy that everything is as it should be then you can go ahead and buckle up for your test drive. However, if anything seems untoward then it is essential that you ask the seller about it, if they can’t explain or if their explanation is weak then walk away and go back to looking at your other options.


Now you can sit in the driver’s seat and buckle up to hit the road, but that doesn’t mean you should stop from analysing the vehicle. For the first couple minutes you want to look out for any lights on the dashboard and keep an ear open for any unusual sounds coming from the engine or the rest of the car.

The handling, brakes and clutch are going to be different from your existing car, so you can expect these to be different but they should still work properly. Find the biting point of the clutch and hold it for a few seconds – if you hear any noises or the point is very high then it may require replacing. The brakes should stop you effectively, watch out for pulling to the side, strange noises or poorly working brakes.

Make sure that there isn’t any vibration or pull in the steering wheel. Try to turn the vehicle both ways at several different speeds, this will give you an idea of how the vehicle handles and whether the chassis rolls due to soft suspension.

What’s the visibility like? You should be able to have a good view of your surrounding from the driver’s seat using the mirrors. New cars tend to have large beams on the roll bar which can obscure vision slightly but are required due to new safety legislation.

When on the road, accelerate quickly and brake sharply to ensure everything works as it should. It is also important that you run the car in every gear to ensure that there is no grinding or difficulty trying to shift. If possible try to find a location where you can turn the car in a full circle to see what the turning circle is like.

Modern cars have a lot of electrical devices and these are typically the first thing that goes wrong. Make sure you turn everything on to ensure it works, including air-con, heated seats, windscreen wipers and all the buttons on the radio.

If possible take a friend or family member along with you and have them sit in the back. By weighing down the rear of the car you can find out what the drive will be like in normal, every-day conditions and can expose poor rear suspension.  This will also give you a good idea of what the passenger’s space is like and if the ride is still smooth with additional passengers.


Once you’ve completed the test drive it is a good idea to think about the ride and give the car another look over. Allow yourself time to think about whether or not this is the vehicle for you away from any pressure of the salesman. Don’t be afraid to walk away or ask for another test drive at this point, you’re under no commitment and nothing is expected of you just because you’ve been for a test drive.

If you’re ready to buy then that’s great! Go and talk to the seller about purchasing the vehicle.

Image Credit - Test Drive Subaru