How to test drive a used car
How to test drive a used car

How to test drive a used car

5 August 2021

Test driving a used car is a bit different from testing a new one. There are more things you need to think about to check that it is in decent condition and know that it will be a good purchase. Below we give our top tips on how to test drive a used car.

Check for issues

Before you go out on the test drive, check the car all over to see if there are any obvious issues. Check inside the car, under the bonnet, and in the boot as well. If you do find anything, ask the owner about it. If you are worried about anything affecting the safety of the car, then do not test drive it.

Have a look at the tyres to see if there is enough tread on them. You can do this by using a 20p coin. Place it into the grooves of the tyre. If you can see the outer rim, then the tread is too worn down. It is dangerous to drive a car without the legal limit of the tread.

When you get into the car check that the lights and indicators work. Have a look at the mileage and see if this was correctly stated in the advert and also on any paperwork. When you turn the engine on, have a look for whether any warning lights appear. If there is, then you need to check these with the owner and see if it is still safe to drive.

Take a moment to see if all of the car extras work as they should do. Check things like the seat belts and whether they work correctly. Check the windows roll down as they should and see if the aircon and radio are in good condition.

The final thing you need to think about is whether there is enough space inside the car for you and your family. If you have children, will child seats easily fit in? Is there enough space in the boot to store everything you want?

Time for the test drive

When you start the engine, you should see how well the car starts up. If it is having trouble turning on, this could be a sign that the car is going to have some engine issues. If you are test driving in very cold conditions then it might just be the cold but ask the seller about it. When you start driving the engine should be quiet and feel smooth. If you can hear any unusual noises, rattles, or can see excessive smoke this could be an issue.

Think about the steering and whether it feels easy to turn the wheel. The steering wheel shouldn’t vibrate or feel lax. You also need to check that the gear stick is good. You shouldn’t hear or feel a crunch when changing gears.

The clutch should bite at a reasonable point and if it doesn’t, it could mean that the clutch is worn. The breaks of the vehicle should be very responsive and work effectively. When on a road that is quiet, try hitting the breaks in a controlled and safe manner to immediate an emergency stop. Warn anyone else in the car that you are going to do this first.

Where to test drive the car

If you are able to, try and drive a usual route of yours. As you will be familiar with the roads it will be easier to focus on how the car feels. When you are on the test drive, make sure you go on multiple different roads, including somewhere you can up your speed a bit. Try out some manoeuvres and parking if possible, to see how that feels. You need to check that you feel comfortable in the car.

What to check before I test drive


Before test-driving any vehicle, you need to check that your insurance covers you to do this. Driving uninsured or with incorrect insurance is illegal and can have some serious consequences. To help save money, consider comparing car insurance online.

Your car insurance should say that you are able to drive another car with the owner’s permission. This is normally referred to as third-party only.

If your insurance doesn’t say this, then you might not be liable to do a test drive. Ask the seller what insurance they have. If the seller has their own insurance, they might be able to extend it to allow you to test drive. You could also use temporary car insurance, to cover the test drive and the drive home.

The V5C Logbook

You need to check the V5C logbook to understand the basics of the car history, including any previous owners and information about the current owner. If the person selling you this car doesn’t have the same name or address then this could mean that the car is stolen or not theirs to sell.

MOT certificate

Before you take the car for a test drive you need to check that the car has passed its annual MOT. Ask the seller to see the most recent MOT certificate to double-check this. Driving a car that has not passed an MOT is illegal, so it is important to know. When they show you the certificate you can also look if there was any work that needed doing or if it had any advisories. This will give you an indication of what you might have to pay for at the next MOT if you do end up buying it.

If the seller doesn’t have the certificate, you are able to double-check that it is MOT’d by visiting the government website and entering the vehicle’s registration number.

Should I do a vehicle check before buying?

If you are interested in buying the vehicle then it would be worth purchasing a car check. This will help you be certain about the car’s history; its value and you can check that all the details provided are correct.

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