Understanding What To Look For When Test Driving A Used Car

Posted Thursday, May 09, 2024

When you're buying a used car, one of the most important things to do is take it for a test drive. But to make sure you make the most of your test drive, there are some things you should do before, during, and after driving. Being prepared can save both you and the seller from wasting time on a car that does not meet your requirements. Here is a detailed used car test drive checklist to help you make an informed decision.

Importance of Test Driving

Many buyers believe that reading online reviews and checking specifications is enough to decide on a car. However, they are mistaken, as taking a test drive is crucial. Surprisingly, only 32 percent of buyers know which vehicle they want initially, yet 55 percent only test drive the car they end up purchasing.

Driving a car yourself provides a unique experience and involves various factors. Only through a test drive can a person truly understand features such as comfort, safety, acceleration, noise level, and overall smoothness of the car on the road. Now it’s time to learn how to test drive a used car!

Pre-Test Drive Preparation

Before test driving a car, make sure that the preowned car fits within your budget. Consult with local lenders or explore online financing options to determine your affordability. Honest Autos provides comprehensive financing solutions, including prime interest rates for customers with good credit, and Buy Here Pay Here programs for those seeking to establish or rebuild credit.

Thoroughly inspect the vehicle's exterior before going for the test-drive. Check body panels for consistent color, as uneven paint could indicate collision damage not captured in history reports. Look underneath for leaks, and examine tires to ensure they match and aren't overly worn. When starting the car, inspect lights and listen for unusual noises or smells from the exhaust, as these could signal potential issues. If you notice anything dangerous, it's best not to proceed with the test drive to avoid accidents.

Don’t forget to examine the interior of the vehicle before hitting the road. Adjust seats, mirrors, and steering wheel for comfort and visibility, ensuring you can see clearly and have ample legroom in the back seat. Test the lighting, heating and air conditioning system, listening for any unusual noises or smells. Pay attention to moldy or mildew smells, which could indicate flood damage. Confirm the functionality of power features like door locks and windows, and check for signs of leakage around the moonroof. Finally, ensure seat belts click securely into place before proceeding with the test drive.

Ask for a vehicle history report to ensure the vehicle is free of title issues and to understand how many owners and accidents the car has been in.

During The Test Drive

Now, it's time to test drive the used car to assess mechanical issues, fit, and comfort. Try driving during both the day and night to evaluate visibility and lighting. It is recommended to bring along a friend or family member for additional perspective.

Drive Without Listening to The Radio/Music

Turn off the radio or music while you drive. Loud music can mask small sounds that might mean something is wrong with the car. Listen carefully for any strange noises or vibrations. Pay attention to sounds from the engine, transmission, brakes, and suspension.

Test Drive a Used Car in Various Conditions

When test driving used cars, try them on various road conditions, including highways, bustling city streets, and rough roads. Pay attention to how the transmission shifts on various terrains and listen for any unusual noises when accelerating or braking. Additionally, if applicable, experiment with different driving modes or settings during the test drive.

Assess Acceleration at Varied Speeds

Test the car's performance at both low and high speeds to assess its acceleration. Smooth pickup at various speeds indicates good performance. Additionally, some front-end issues may only become noticeable at higher speeds, so it's important to drive the car at different speeds to thoroughly evaluate its condition.

Evaluate Brake Function

Test the brakes in several ways throughout the drive. Perform hard stops at different speeds and listen for strange noises or any pulling to one side. When going downhill, ensure the brakes stop evenly without any sudden direction changes. Additionally, check for brake fade by applying continuous pressure on the brakes for 30 seconds to ensure there are no leaks in the brake lines.

Check The Transmission

By accelerating and shifting through all gears, you can carefully assess the transmission performance. Take the car through various scenarios, such as moderate acceleration in lower gears, vigorous acceleration from a stop in higher gears, and gradual stops to check for smooth downshifts. Finally, park the vehicle and pay attention to any odd vibrations, as they could be a red flag for transmission issues.

Observing for Red Flags

Serious issues like engine malfunctions, oil leaks, or extensively worn brakes are warning signs. Either negotiate a significant reduction in the price to accommodate repair costs or don’t purchase the vehicle. Don’t overlook problems or make a decision hastily as it can lead to additional expenses.

Post-Test Drive Assessment

Even if a used car seems fine on the first test drive, it's important to inspect it again after the engine warms up. After parking, take another look at the vehicle to check for any new leaks, changes in fluid levels, or unusual noises that may have appeared when the engine reaches operating temperature.

Additionally, it's advisable to request the dealer to put the car on a lift after the drive, allowing for a comprehensive examination of the underside. This step can reveal any hidden issues such as leaks, rust, damage, or worn components. Discuss any concerns from the test drive with the dealer and trust your instincts before making a purchase.


In summary, test driving a used car is essential for a smart purchase. In Central Florida, Honest Autos offers top-quality used cars at great prices. We pride ourselves on transparency, upfront sales, and complimentary auto check reports. Plus, enjoy a 30-day/1,000-mile warranty on the powertrain and A/C (*excluded on vehicles over 200,000 miles). Get in touch with us to book your test drive today!