What to look for on a test drive
The test drive is one of the most important steps in buying a used car. You want to make sure the car is comfortable and has no underlying issues that would be expensive to put right.
Before you start
Where to drive
Let the owner know in advance that you want to choose the route, and make sure it includes bends, streets, hills, and a fast road like a motorway or dual carriageway.
You should allow 20 to 30 minutes for a test drive. Spend most of your time on the sorts of roads you're likely to drive on.
Make sure you're insured
Your own insurance may allow you drive other cars - but this is likely to be third-party cover only.
Sitting in the car
Make sure the car is comfortable to get in and out of. Then adjust the seats, mirrors and so on to suit you. Check you can see and access all the controls easily. Is the car comfortable? And is there enough legroom (front and back)? You might also want to check accessing the boot if you’re likely to use it a lot.
If you have children, you may want to take them with you to make sure they’re comfortable in the back and that your car seats fit (check they are designed for this model of car beforehand).
The car should start straight away, even if the engine is cold (it's best to tell the seller you don't want the engine warm in advance of the test drive).
Once it’s started, check there are no strange noises and then rev the engine. Any blue or black smoke from the exhaust is a sign of engine problems.
Now start the drive. Remember to concentrate on the car’s performance – ask the seller (politely!) to keep quiet if necessary.
Assessing the car
The gears and clutch
As you change gears, beware of:
- Any grinding or other noises as you change
- Any stiffness or difficulty moving the gear stick
- An abnormally soft or stiff clutch pedal
- The clutch only engaging when your foot's nearly on the floor.
There are a couple of other tests you can do to fully check the clutch, such as accelerating hard in top gear and changing down a gear at a higher speed than normal. Compare the noises to those on your current car.
Check the steering when turning, overtaking, doing a three-point turn and performing parallel parking.
The steering wheel should turn smoothly from left to right, and the car should respond straightaway. It should then stay in a straight line, without pulling to one side.
Brakes can be a lifesaver - so check them properly. The pedal should never feel spongy or go all the way to the floor. And the car shouldn't change direction or judder if you brake suddenly (if the car has ABS, you may feel the pedal vibrate as it applies).
It can be risky to test the brakes as if it's a real emergency, but don't feel uncomfortable about telling the seller you want to test them forcefully. Make sure you warn other passengers and that there are no other cars too close.
What it's like to drive
Handling and comfort
How does the car feel to drive? This is a matter of personal preference (as you'll usually sacrifice handling for ride comfort and vice versa).
But how does it feel to sit in, control, and corner in? See how it feels on bendy roads and turning onto side roads. When you drive over different surfaces, what can you feel from the road surface (try driving over both small and larger bumps)?
Test the acceleration in several ways - when pulling away, going uphill and overtaking.
Check you can easily see around you and that there are no blind spots. Parallel parking, reversing into a parking space, and a three point turn should highlight these. Remember to check what you can see directly, and what you can see in the side and rear view mirrors.
Check the noise levels when you're accelerating and driving consistently at different speeds. Listen out for engine, road and wind noise (as well as any squeaks inside the car).
After the test drive
Once you've finished, open the bonnet (with the engine still running). Make sure there are no odd noises, leaks or smoke.
And finally, don't feel like you have to give any sort of instant verdict or reach a buying decision there and then.
Any person buying a used car should also seek their own independent advice
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Help and advice
Some relevant frequently asked questions
When does the 60 days start? When I register, purchase or when I check the first vehicle?
The 60 days start from the date of purchase of the AutoCheck.
Can you buy a check over the phone?
This service is an online service only, so we are unable to carry out a check over the phone.
When do I get my check?
You report appears as soon as you have successfully made your purchase. The results are instant.
How much does the data check insurance cost?
There is no extra charge for the data insurance, it is included in the cost of your check.