How to test drive a car

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 thoroughly testing a vehicle 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 Test Drive a car

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. 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.

What you should bring for a test drive

When test driving a car you potentially want to buy, there are a few things you should bring along in preparation. For legal purposes, you should bring your driver’s licence (both the paper and photo ID copies, if you still have both) and anything you typically need while driving. You can also bring items that you usually take with you on your usual car journeys (e.g. water bottle, sat nav and mount, boot organiser, child car seat etc.), so you can see how they fit in the car.


Do you need insurance to test drive a car?

If you are buying from a dealership, you won’t need insurance to drive the car. This is because when you take the car out, you are covered by the dealership’s policy.

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 new car checks page.

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:

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:


Used car test drive checklist

  • 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.
  • Do the gears engage smoothly?
  • Is the steering responsive?
  • Does the car brake without pulling to one side?
  • 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.
  • Check for any damage to the interior of the car that may be covered by furnishings.