Home Car Tips A Complete Guide To Test Driving a Used Car

A Complete Guide To Test Driving a Used Car

by Frank
used car test drive checklist

Having a used car test drive checklist is crucial for a successful test drive, especially when you’re dealing with automobile dealers who might try to rush you. This report reviews a used car test drive checklist and explains how to perform a test drive correctly so that it works for you and not the dealer.

Buying a used car can be tricky, but following a used car test drive checklist and performing a diligent inspection can significantly reduce your risk of buyer’s remorse. This checklist for test driving a used car sorts the ignorable details from the deal-breakers, and it’ll show you whether you are probably dealing with a lemon or a diamond in the rough.

Read Next:  How to Assess a Used Car Before Buying

Used Car Test Drive Checklist

Purchasing a vehicle is one of the biggest purchases you will make in your lifetime. Whether you choose to go for a new vehicle or save a little money and go with a used car, you’re laying down a decent amount of money for something that is anticipated to get you from point A to point B with no troubles.

Going the used car route can help you avoid the depreciation that all new cars get hit with when they’re driven off the dealer’s lot. But going this course also introduces an entirely new aspect. How can you know whether the vehicle you are looking at is in an accident? Or is close to getting a significant malfunction of a key element?

See also: How to Buy a Used Car on Craigslist

Adhering to a used car test drive checklist is not just recommended; it’s essential for ensuring you’re making the right purchase. So, how can you be sure you’re doing it correctly? It is all about being methodical, preparing well, and understanding precisely what a successful test drive should involve. Here is a used car test drive checklist of what to do.

See also: 30 Smart Used Car Buying Tips

Research Your Car

used car research

Item one on my used car test drive checklist is to find out more about the model you are interested in buying. Know which important features you will have to check out, and have realistic expectations about the amount of power, comfort, and so on the car will offer. This means that you can hit the ground running and assess the used car right from the start.

Whether you’re purchasing a used car that looks pristine or has been damaged in some way, you need to be certain you know the specific state of the car you’re purchasing. Not only can this help you avoid significant problems later on, but it also allows you to negotiate prices.

See next: Where to Find The Best Used Cars

Get a CarFax Report

A CarFax report is cheap. For less than $50.00, customers can learn everything they need to learn about a car before agreeing to make a purchase and signing on the dotted line. A CarFax report offers overall peace of mind in knowing that you did the study and aren’t relying on the vendor to present accurate information. An educated buyer is a smart one.


Before you embark on your quest to find and buy a used car, ask yourself if there’s a specific sort of vehicle you’re looking for. Deciding to have a look at midsize sedans brings up another list of inspection items than looking at sports cars.

Research the sort of car you want, and make certain to learn what the common issues are for the models you’re contemplating. This will play an integral role in your inspection procedure.

Related: How to Haggle Car Price During Negotiations

Check the Interior First

used car interior

As soon as you’re in the car, have a minute to inspect the inside properly before you consider starting the engine. Search for wear and tear, and assess whether the headlight and wiper controls function as expected. Test the sound system and air conditioning. Play with the seat adjustments, and ensure you feel comfortable in general.

A Few Things to Check

  • Test if all keys or key fobs work. Typically a brand new car comes with a few keys or key fobs; inquire how many come with the used vehicle you’re interested in.
  • Examine the state of the seats, and start looking for burnt marks and other damage. Minor damage can be repaired, ask whether the dealer can arrange for the repairs. Examine the status of the seat belts.
  • The rear wiper is another part that frequently has problems in older cars. Test how all wipers and the washer works.
  • Test power windows, power locks, and mirrors. Window regulator issues are common in many older cars. Sometimes a window goes down well but goes up really slow or crooked.
  • Issues with heated seats are extremely common and a heated part might be quite costly to replace. Test both seats.

Best Cars Under 5k: Your Ultimate Guide to Affordable Driving

Other Interior Checks

When you open the door and start looking inside, do a fast sniff test. If it smells like mold, must, or mold it could signal a water flow or flood damage. If you discover that, remove the floor mats and run your hands across the carpet to check for wet spots. Do the same sniff test with the trunk. If you smell something odd, remove the back mat and do some exploring.

Turn the ignition switch to accessory mode. All the lights in the instrument cluster should come on for a few moments before going off. After that, start the vehicle. If any warning lights remain on, there’s likely an issue that has to be addressed.

Examine the headliner and trim for any signs of staining or water leaking through a sunroof or window. If the vehicle has a sunroof, check to determine if it opens and closes properly.

Test The Tech

A modern automobile’s technology and its functionality can easily be a determining factor in your purchasing decision. Automakers have varying opinions about the very best and safest way to interact with the infotainment screen. Some use control knobs, while others use touchscreens, and a few have mouse pad-inspired controls. Ensure you are familiar with the interface and also consider these other things:

  • Bluetooth: Pair your phone and examine calling and audio streaming.
  • Infotainment display: How easy is it to use? Would you perform basic tasks like changing the radio station or switching audio sources?
  • Smartphone programs: If Android Vehicle or Apple CarPlay is a determining factor for you, ensure to test out a version that has it.
  • Backup Camera: Does the vehicle have it? Is the resolution grainy or clear? Does this have detectors or lines to indicate space?
  • Steering wheel controls: Would you like the design?
  • Navigation: How comprehensive is your map? Are the road names legible? Is it simple to enter an address? Does it have traffic info?

Ask Questions

used car questions

Asking questions of the owner is absolutely crucial and may be as revealing as driving the vehicle. You need to strike the owner with some fantastic questions, not just, “What will she do in the quarter bro?” You wish to buy a used car from someone you trust, and you wish to have a sense of what their tenure was like, and why the owner would want the automobile. Some important questions:

  • Why are you selling the vehicle? (If their response is rushing, pass)
  • Has it given you any trouble?
  • How often do you change the oil? (Each 3k miles is the best answer )
  • Do you have service records?
  • Where do you get it serviced? (A respectable shop is a great response, and you can always call them and ask their opinion of the automobile.)
  • Do you have the name? Is it clean?
  • Where did you purchase it?
  • Who did you purchase it from?
  • Does it have some problems now? Does it go through any oil/coolant?

Bear in mind, that nobody likes a jerk, so if the vehicle owner’s answers seem vague, sketchy, or do not match up with this used car test drive checklist, use it as an indication that this particular used car might not be for you.

Other Considerations Before the Test Drive

checklist when test driving a used car

  • Color: Does it look good in person? Paint colors can sometimes differ from how they appear in photos. If you are shopping at night, remember that the vehicle’s color can look very different under streetlights. You might want to come back during daylight hours before you make a final decision. Also, take a look at your second choice color. You’ll have more flexibility with pricing if you don’t limit yourself to one hard-to-find color.
  • Storage Space and Child Seat: Have you got a child seat in your current vehicle? Bring that in and test out how much space you need to install it in the new car. Similarly, in case you regularly have to take a large item to your job (musical instrument, massage table, property signage, etc.), bring it with you to check how well it matches. Is there a pass-through at the back opening for long products? Do the back seats fold down?
  • Measurements: Have you got a little garage, parking area, or driveway? Quantify your old car and bring the tape measure with you to the dealership. Do not forget to include the mirrors when measuring the car’s width. If you live near the dealership and ask nicely, the employees may be willing to allow you to take the car home to determine precisely how it fits.

As soon as you get settled into your test drive, ask yourself a few questions that will help you figure out your feelings about your car:

  • Entrance and exit: Is it effortless to get in and outside of the automobile without slamming or banging your head?
  • Seating and driving position: Is there enough room? Remember to sit in the back seat, too. Is the driving position comfy? Do you sit too high or low in the car? Can you telescope or tilt the steering wheel for a better match? Is the chair comfortable? Is it easily adjustable? Is there a lumbar support modification? If not, are the pedals adjustable?
  • Gauges and controls: Are the gauges easy to read? Do the steering wheel buttons feel intuitive? Is there a volume knob or do you need to tap a screen? Can you adjust the climate control easily?

Before you begin driving, adjust the seat, the seat belt, and the cushions. Turn off the radio so that you can listen to the engine and focus on the driving experience.

Start The Car

test drive a used car checklist

Start the car with the hood open. Listen for sounds that are funny.

  • Can it idle nicely?
  • Does it seem smooth?
  • Does this seem like the atmosphere is escaping?
  • Does smoke come from the engine?
  • Walk around to the trunk; does smoke come from the exhaust?

Really Drive The Car

You need to drive the vehicle in a means that will show any issues or maladies that might not be apparent if you drive it around the parking lot.

  • Go on the freeway and accelerate up to speed.
  • Brake harshly (just warn the passengers ) and listen to how the pedal feels and when the car pulls in either way.
  • Can the suspension create a good deal of crashing, thumping noises over bumps?
  • Can there be a popping noise as soon as you turn?
  • If it is a guide, does the clutch engage in a smooth way?
  • As you drive, focus on the senses in your steering wheel, the pedals, the shifter, and the seat of your trousers. You need to look for any signs of anything not working correctly. Do not be afraid to make notes and ask the owner why a car does something odd. If their answer appears satisfactory, that is a great sign. Otherwise, you can have your mechanic take a good look.
  • Does everything work? Windows, locks, stereo, lights, air conditioning?

Following the drive, pop the hood. Can you see any smoke? Is there a sweet odor? If so, that is not like your grandma’s cookies, that is coolant, and it is a terrible thing.

Negotiate Price

Car salesmen will nearly always counteroffer with a higher cost, so begin with a really low deal. Remember to stick with your budget and cost limitations. If the final asking price is unreasonable, you can always walk away from the offer.


When most dealerships offer financing options for auto loans, you are likely able to check several sources to find better rates, beginning with your own personal bank. It never hurts to compare.

Find Deals

Apart from dealerships, you can discover fantastic deals on used cars at local public auctions and on used car sites. Each source has its own values:

  • Dealerships: Dealerships are going to have the widest selection of used cars available. They also often offer extras like new tires, a second key, and floor mats.
  • Online: Sites like autotrader.com and eBay Motors have listings from private sellers all over the country. Search locally and you will possibly find a gem in your own area. Private sellers also give you the best chance to get a bargain because they are less likely to understand the car’s true value than a professional car salesman.
  • Auctions: Steep discounts can be had at auctions, but automobiles are sold with no warranties.

Listen to Your Gut

A little common sense can go a long way when buying a used car. Ask yourself whether the dealer appears trustworthy. Know about techniques that are utilized to hide flaws, like using air fresheners to mask strange scents and tampering with odometers.

Avoid making an impulse purchase just because you found a used car that looks nice from an external appearance, and do not give in to high-pressure sales tactics. Finally, as the adage goes, if it is too good to be true, it probably is!

Final Thoughts

Be reasonable with yourself and with the person selling the car. Not all “issues” you find ought to be deal-breakers. A car with poor paint on the trunk lid that’s priced hundreds below comparable vehicles might be a fantastic bargain, provided you are not bothered by its physical appearance. Conversely, a vehicle with an inoperative power window must result in a discussion whereby the seller needs to repair it first or decrease the price to cover the possible repair price.

The faults you find from this used car test drive checklist will fall into one of those 3 categories: a) cosmetic faults you can live with (and are reflected in the cost ) b) issues that will need to be fixed either by the seller or by you soon after purchase (again, using a negotiated cost ); and c) problems so significant that you walk away from the vehicle. By doing your research and sticking to your used car test drive checklist, you can take your time and make informed decisions, ensuring you find a pre-owned vehicle to enjoy for years.

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