Buying a Vehicle

How to test drive a car

Paul Green, National Remarketing Manager, Wednesday, 03 August 2022
Updated: Friday, 27 January 2023

The importance of test driving a car

If you’re thinking of purchasing a new car, a test drive is a must. Whether the car is new or used, it’s an important part of properly testing a vehicle, checking if it’s reliable and making sure you really want to buy the car. You’re spending a lot of money on it, so you should do the most you can to ensure that you feel comfortable and enjoy driving it.

Always remember that a test drive is not a commitment to buy. Salesmen or private sellers may put pressure on you to make a purchase, but you should be honest and upfront with any concerns you have and be prepared to walk away if you are not totally happy.

The importance of test driving a car

If you’re thinking of purchasing a new car, a test drive is a must. Whether the car is new or used, it’s an important part of properly testing a vehicle, checking if it’s reliable and making sure you really want to buy the car. You’re spending a lot of money on it, so you should do the most you can to ensure that you feel comfortable and enjoy driving it.

Always remember that a test drive is not a commitment to buy. Salesmen or private sellers may put pressure on you to make a purchase, but you should be honest and upfront with any concerns you have and be prepared to walk away if you are not totally happy.

How to book a test drive?

Most test drives can be booked online for a time of the day that suits you on the dealer’s website, there are loads of dealerships across the UK, and it might be worth looking around the best cities to buy a used car too. However, if you’re looking for a specific model or buying from a private seller, it may be best to ring up to ensure you get exactly what you’re after.

For dealerships, most of the time it won’t be possible to fit in a test drive at short notice (although it’s worth a try!), but private sellers may be more inclined to be flexible.

How to book a test drive?

Most test drives can be booked online for a time of the day that suits you on the dealer’s website, there are loads of dealerships across the UK, and it might be worth looking around the best cities to buy a used car too. However, if you’re looking for a specific model or buying from a private seller, it may be best to ring up to ensure you get exactly what you’re after.

For dealerships, most of the time it won’t be possible to fit in a test drive at short notice (although it’s worth a try!), but private sellers may be more inclined to be flexible.

Stick to your specifications

When selecting which car or van you’d like to test drive, be aware that the dealer will likely try to get you to test drive a more expensive version of the vehicle, so they can try to convince you to spend more. If you have your exact specifications (and budget) in mind, make sure you ask to test drive the exact version of the car you are after.

Stick to your specifications

When selecting which car or van you’d like to test drive, be aware that the dealer will likely try to get you to test drive a more expensive version of the vehicle, so they can try to convince you to spend more. If you have your exact specifications (and budget) in mind, make sure you ask to test drive the exact version of the car you are after.

Do you need insurance to test drive a car?

Whenever you drive a car you need to have insurance, this includes when you go on a test drive. If you are buying from a dealership, you will be covered by the dealership’s policy. It’s always good to ask them that you will be covered though, just to double check. 

If you are buying a car privately then you most likely won’t be covered by insurance to test drive the car. Before going on a private test drive check your car insurance. If your policy says you can ‘drive another car with the owner’s permission’ then you have DOC or Driving Other Cars cover. If you don’t then you can ask to see if the seller has covered their insurance temporarily whilst they are selling the car to cover ‘any driver’. You can also arrange insurance for a short time period for any car you want to test drive. There may be providers who can offer short term insurance.

Failing all of the above, you can still test drive a private car, but as a passenger. It will still allow you to check for noises, understand how the car drives, check out the interior and do most of the test drive checks we recommend. 

Do you need insurance to test drive a car?

Whenever you drive a car you need to have insurance, this includes when you go on a test drive. If you are buying from a dealership, you will be covered by the dealership’s policy. It’s always good to ask them that you will be covered though, just to double check. 

If you are buying a car privately then you most likely won’t be covered by insurance to test drive the car. Before going on a private test drive check your car insurance. If your policy says you can ‘drive another car with the owner’s permission’ then you have DOC or Driving Other Cars cover. If you don’t then you can ask to see if the seller has covered their insurance temporarily whilst they are selling the car to cover ‘any driver’. You can also arrange insurance for a short time period for any car you want to test drive. There may be providers who can offer short term insurance.

Failing all of the above, you can still test drive a private car, but as a passenger. It will still allow you to check for noises, understand how the car drives, check out the interior and do most of the test drive checks we recommend. 

Driving checks

It’s not always possible, but try to drive uphill, as how a car pulls uphill can be very revealing. Try to get a feel for how the car might handle in an emergency by using plenty of hard braking where you can.

The test drive is also a chance to really think about your personal preferences. Does the car feel comfortable? Do you like the look and feel of the inside? Can you get into and out of the car easily?  Will you be able to fit all the kids (and dog) in the back? If you’re looking for a van, will it fit in any equipment you need to store in it? Does the vehicle have enough power to comfortably carry heavy machinery you may use?

Always remember: even if you think your mind is 100% made up – try a similar car or van for comparison. This will either confirm your first choice, or you may be surprised by the different experience.

For more information about car checks, visit our guide on what to check in a new car.

Test Drive Checks

Driving checks

It’s not always possible, but try to drive uphill, as how a car pulls uphill can be very revealing. Try to get a feel for how the car might handle in an emergency by using plenty of hard braking where you can.

The test drive is also a chance to really think about your personal preferences. Does the car feel comfortable? Do you like the look and feel of the inside? Can you get into and out of the car easily?  Will you be able to fit all the kids (and dog) in the back? If you’re looking for a van, will it fit in any equipment you need to store in it? Does the vehicle have enough power to comfortably carry heavy machinery you may use?

Always remember: even if you think your mind is 100% made up – try a similar car or van for comparison. This will either confirm your first choice, or you may be surprised by the different experience.

For more information about car checks, visit our guide on what to check in a new car.

Test Drive Checks

Test driving a new car

A brand-new car is a significant investment and you only have a short space of time to decide whether the car you’re viewing is right for you, so it is important to check everything carefully before agreeing to buy.

When you test drive a brand-new car, you know the car will drive correctly so it’s the small details you need to look out for to decide whether the car suits your driving style. Be sure to keep an eye out for things that are wrong mechanically or don’t feel right when driving.

Here’s a handy checklist you can refer to before or during the new car test drive:

Test driving a new car

A brand-new car is a significant investment and you only have a short space of time to decide whether the car you’re viewing is right for you, so it is important to check everything carefully before agreeing to buy.

When you test drive a brand-new car, you know the car will drive correctly so it’s the small details you need to look out for to decide whether the car suits your driving style. Be sure to keep an eye out for things that are wrong mechanically or don’t feel right when driving.

Here’s a handy checklist you can refer to before or during the new car test drive:

New car test drive checklist

  • Have a fiddle – Make sure you have a go at using all the different features the car has. Adjust seats, play with the buttons, see how easy the interactive display is to use. Play with everything the car has in your short window of time.
  • Parking – One of the main aspects of a test drive that is often overlooked is parking. Make sure you try parking the car during the test drive to see how it handles under low speed, how easy it is to park and what the visibility is like.
  • Listen – Once you’ve tested the radio and audio features, turn these audio distractions off so you can listen carefully during your test drive. Listen out for how the engine sounds at different speeds and when changing gear, as well as what the general noise is like in the cabin.
  • Bring someone with you – It is advised that you don’t test drive a car alone. Sometimes you can get carried away with the excitement of buying a new car. Having someone with you to help look over things and keep you grounded will help a lot. Also, if you are buying a family car, it would be wise to bring someone along with you in the car when test driving so, see how the car feels as a passenger.
  • Actually drive the car – What we mean is don’t be afraid to give it some! A lot of the time in a test drive you won’t get up to the speed that you usually would when driving normally. It’s important to test the car just as you would drive it day-to-day.

New car test drive checklist

  • Have a fiddle – Make sure you have a go at using all the different features the car has. Adjust seats, play with the buttons, see how easy the interactive display is to use. Play with everything the car has in your short window of time.
  • Parking – One of the main aspects of a test drive that is often overlooked is parking. Make sure you try parking the car during the test drive to see how it handles under low speed, how easy it is to park and what the visibility is like.
  • Listen – Once you’ve tested the radio and audio features, turn these audio distractions off so you can listen carefully during your test drive. Listen out for how the engine sounds at different speeds and when changing gear, as well as what the general noise is like in the cabin.
  • Bring someone with you – It is advised that you don’t test drive a car alone. Sometimes you can get carried away with the excitement of buying a new car. Having someone with you to help look over things and keep you grounded will help a lot. Also, if you are buying a family car, it would be wise to bring someone along with you in the car when test driving so, see how the car feels as a passenger.
  • Actually drive the car – What we mean is don’t be afraid to give it some! A lot of the time in a test drive you won’t get up to the speed that you usually would when driving normally. It’s important to test the car just as you would drive it day-to-day.

Test driving a used car

When test driving a used car, you must be aware that it is an entirely different scenario than test driving a new car. Some of the same tips will apply, but above all, you must make sure the car is in a decent condition.

It’s very important that you look over the car – both inside and out – to make sure that it is in an acceptable condition. This includes looking over the body itself, as well as under the bonnet, in the boot and in the cabin.

When you first start the car, make sure you listen for anything out of the ordinary. Any knocks from the engine can be a sign of costly engine repairs. Another tip is to look for any blue smoke coming from the exhaust as this could be a sign of an oil leak.

When you’re driving, be aware of any strange noises – especially any coming from the suspension when you go over bumps. These can be varied depending upon the issue and can come in the form of knocks, squeaks, rattles or rusty scraping. Also check that the car stays in a straight line when you are driving, without pulling to either side.

It is incredibly important that if you have any questions or concerns that you bring them up with the used car salesman immediately and before you part with any money.

Here’s a handy checklist you can refer to before the used car test drive:

Test driving a used car

When test driving a used car, you must be aware that it is an entirely different scenario than test driving a new car. Some of the same tips will apply, but above all, you must make sure the car is in a decent condition.

It’s very important that you look over the car – both inside and out – to make sure that it is in an acceptable condition. This includes looking over the body itself, as well as under the bonnet, in the boot and in the cabin.

When you first start the car, make sure you listen for anything out of the ordinary. Any knocks from the engine can be a sign of costly engine repairs. Another tip is to look for any blue smoke coming from the exhaust as this could be a sign of an oil leak.

When you’re driving, be aware of any strange noises – especially any coming from the suspension when you go over bumps. These can be varied depending upon the issue and can come in the form of knocks, squeaks, rattles or rusty scraping. Also check that the car stays in a straight line when you are driving, without pulling to either side.

It is incredibly important that if you have any questions or concerns that you bring them up with the used car salesman immediately and before you part with any money.

Here’s a handy checklist you can refer to before the used car test drive:

Used car test drive checklist

  • Take your time – Car salespeople can be extremely pushy when it comes to selling you a vehicle, but don’t let this cloud your judgement.  Focus on whether the car ticks all your boxes; how it will fit into your lifestyle and meet your driving preferences are all things you need to seriously consider.
  • Make mechanical checks – Turn the radio off so that you can hear any unusual noises or rattles and test the following:
    • The brakes – does the car stop in a straight line? 
    • Is the steering responsive without any vibrations?
    • Are they any unusual rattling sounds coming from the suspension?
    • Is the engine quiet and smooth?
    • Does the clutch hit the ‘biting’ point when the pedal is nearing the top? If so this could indicate a worn clutch.
  • Is the engine warm? If so, this may be an attempt to cover ignition problems – the engine should always be cold before a test drive
  • Check out the space – Look in the boot and make sure it will fit everything that you will need to be putting in there, whether that be a dog, a pram, or a big food shop
  • Do the gears engage smoothly?
  • Make sure you are comfortable whilst driving. Can you see all your mirrors? What’s it like to reverse and park? Is the seat easy to adjust? Those sort of things can really make the difference
  • Use your other senses – strange smells, sounds or vibrations could indicate a problem with the car
  • Are all the lights working, including fog lights and indicators?
  • Do the electrics work? Test all of the windows, the radio, air conditioning and other features of the car that may be costly to fix
  • Make sure you compare the car to others you’ve been in, or take another test drive in another of the same make and model car to compare
  • Check for any damage to the interior of the car that may be covered by furnishings.

Used car test drive checklist

  • Take your time – Car salespeople can be extremely pushy when it comes to selling you a vehicle, but don’t let this cloud your judgement.  Focus on whether the car ticks all your boxes; how it will fit into your lifestyle and meet your driving preferences are all things you need to seriously consider.
  • Make mechanical checks – Turn the radio off so that you can hear any unusual noises or rattles and test the following:
    • The brakes – does the car stop in a straight line? 
    • Is the steering responsive without any vibrations?
    • Are they any unusual rattling sounds coming from the suspension?
    • Is the engine quiet and smooth?
    • Does the clutch hit the ‘biting’ point when the pedal is nearing the top? If so this could indicate a worn clutch.
  • Is the engine warm? If so, this may be an attempt to cover ignition problems – the engine should always be cold before a test drive
  • Check out the space – Look in the boot and make sure it will fit everything that you will need to be putting in there, whether that be a dog, a pram, or a big food shop
  • Do the gears engage smoothly?
  • Make sure you are comfortable whilst driving. Can you see all your mirrors? What’s it like to reverse and park? Is the seat easy to adjust? Those sort of things can really make the difference
  • Use your other senses – strange smells, sounds or vibrations could indicate a problem with the car
  • Are all the lights working, including fog lights and indicators?
  • Do the electrics work? Test all of the windows, the radio, air conditioning and other features of the car that may be costly to fix
  • Make sure you compare the car to others you’ve been in, or take another test drive in another of the same make and model car to compare
  • Check for any damage to the interior of the car that may be covered by furnishings.

What to do after you test drive

It’s always a good idea to test drive more than one car, that way you get a real sense of what is right and wrong and what you like in a car! 

When you test drive multiple cars it’s important you take a few notes so that you can remember what you liked and disliked about each one. You should also make a note of any issues you see with the vehicle that you’d like to discuss with the dealer or seller. 

The salesperson could make you feel pressured to buy there and then, but do not let them. If you want to take the day to sleep on it, or test drive other cars, then make sure that’s what you do. That way you can have space to think about whether or not you really want the car, and it’ll mean you end up with a car that you know you want and love. 

What to do after you test drive

It’s always a good idea to test drive more than one car, that way you get a real sense of what is right and wrong and what you like in a car! 

When you test drive multiple cars it’s important you take a few notes so that you can remember what you liked and disliked about each one. You should also make a note of any issues you see with the vehicle that you’d like to discuss with the dealer or seller. 

The salesperson could make you feel pressured to buy there and then, but do not let them. If you want to take the day to sleep on it, or test drive other cars, then make sure that’s what you do. That way you can have space to think about whether or not you really want the car, and it’ll mean you end up with a car that you know you want and love. 

Frequently asked test drive questions

Frequently asked test drive questions

Usually you have to be at least 18 years old to be able to test drive a car. However different dealerships will have different age requirements, so make sure to ask the question when you are booking your test drive. 

You will need to have a full UK driving licence, as the dealership will ask to see this before your test drive. Make sure to take this along with you to save disappointment.

You are not able to test drive a car that has been registered as SORN. If you are wanting to test drive a car that is SORN then the registered keeper will need to tax the car.

It’s also important to find out why the car was registered as SORN in the first place. Most importantly, make sure it’s road legal and safe to drive before taking it on a test drive.

A test drive on average lasts between 15-30 minutes, but if you feel like you want to drive further then do not be afraid to ask, and take your time. A test drive is to make sure that you feel comfortable you know the car well enough to buy it, so if you need to try driving it on different types of roads then enjoy your test drive for a little longer. 

A test drive should ideally allow you to drive, park and reverse the car. As well as take you on different types of roads to get you up to speed. This will allow you to see the car in all it’s functionality. 

As long as possible ideally.

Test drives normally last between 30-60 minutes, and you ideally want to be driving it for the whole 60 minutes. If you can take it for a longer drive then you’ll have the opportunity to learn as much as possible about the car, but this isn’t always possible. Ask the dealership if they offer 24 hour test drives if you are wanting to test drive it on different roads, in different areas and to really get a feel for the car. 

You can, but ultimately it’s up to the dealership or private seller. 

Usually you will be go on the test drive with someone from the dealership so that they can tell you all about the car, inside and out. More and more dealerships are allowing customers to take the cars out on test drives alone, so it’s definitely worth asking the question. Often if they do let you take it out alone you may need to meet some further criteria to do so. There’s also the option of asking for a 24 or 48 hour test drive, but not all dealerships allow this. 

If you are buying from a private seller, then ultimately it’s up to them to decide whether they trust you or not with their car. 

The only legal requirements are that you have an in date driving licence, and that you are insured. Dealerships will have insurance for test drives, but private sellers may get around this by them driving the car on your test drive. You can also buy insurance to cover you for as little as 1 hour, so this may be worth looking into should you be interested in test driving a car being sold by a private seller.

Dealerships may also ask you a series of questions to establish how keen you are in purchasing the car you want to test drive. 

No it does not. If someone is going to run either a soft or hard credit check on your file, they have to explicitly ask your permission. The only thing that a you will need is a valid driving licence to take a test drive, and a dealership should not be running a credit check on your file to allow you to go on one. 

Usually you have to be at least 18 years old to be able to test drive a car. However different dealerships will have different age requirements, so make sure to ask the question when you are booking your test drive. 

You will need to have a full UK driving licence, as the dealership will ask to see this before your test drive. Make sure to take this along with you to save disappointment.

You are not able to test drive a car that has been registered as SORN. If you are wanting to test drive a car that is SORN then the registered keeper will need to tax the car.

It’s also important to find out why the car was registered as SORN in the first place. Most importantly, make sure it’s road legal and safe to drive before taking it on a test drive.

A test drive on average lasts between 15-30 minutes, but if you feel like you want to drive further then do not be afraid to ask, and take your time. A test drive is to make sure that you feel comfortable you know the car well enough to buy it, so if you need to try driving it on different types of roads then enjoy your test drive for a little longer. 

A test drive should ideally allow you to drive, park and reverse the car. As well as take you on different types of roads to get you up to speed. This will allow you to see the car in all it’s functionality. 

As long as possible ideally.

Test drives normally last between 30-60 minutes, and you ideally want to be driving it for the whole 60 minutes. If you can take it for a longer drive then you’ll have the opportunity to learn as much as possible about the car, but this isn’t always possible. Ask the dealership if they offer 24 hour test drives if you are wanting to test drive it on different roads, in different areas and to really get a feel for the car. 

You can, but ultimately it’s up to the dealership or private seller. 

Usually you will be go on the test drive with someone from the dealership so that they can tell you all about the car, inside and out. More and more dealerships are allowing customers to take the cars out on test drives alone, so it’s definitely worth asking the question. Often if they do let you take it out alone you may need to meet some further criteria to do so. There’s also the option of asking for a 24 or 48 hour test drive, but not all dealerships allow this. 

If you are buying from a private seller, then ultimately it’s up to them to decide whether they trust you or not with their car. 

The only legal requirements are that you have an in date driving licence, and that you are insured. Dealerships will have insurance for test drives, but private sellers may get around this by them driving the car on your test drive. You can also buy insurance to cover you for as little as 1 hour, so this may be worth looking into should you be interested in test driving a car being sold by a private seller.

Dealerships may also ask you a series of questions to establish how keen you are in purchasing the car you want to test drive. 

No it does not. If someone is going to run either a soft or hard credit check on your file, they have to explicitly ask your permission. The only thing that a you will need is a valid driving licence to take a test drive, and a dealership should not be running a credit check on your file to allow you to go on one. 

 
Paul Green, National Remarketing Manager
Bringing you expert advice on how to maintain and service your vehicle, so you can enjoy a stress-free life on the road.
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