How to Take a Car for a Test Drive

When you’re buying a used car, going for a test drive is a really important step for making sure you’re comfortable with the car and that it’s in good working order. But what are you looking for? And what insurance do you need before you even get started? This comprehensive guide to taking a car for a test drive covers this and more. 

What insurance do you need to test drive a car?

If you’re buying a car from a dealership, they should have special cover in place for you. However, if you’re buying privately you should always check that you’re covered before you get behind the wheel.  

Check your own car insurance to find out whether you can drive another car with the owner’s permission. This is called ‘Driving Other Cars’ cover or may be abbreviated to DOC. Your insurer may offer cover specifically for test drives for a short period of time. Ask the seller if they have extended their insurance to ‘any driver’ to cover test drives. If you’re not sure, you can always talk to your insurer who will be able to advise you. 

Before you test drive the car

You’ll want to check a few things before you get out on the road to make sure you’ll be comfortable behind the wheel and that the car has ticked all of your boxes so far. 

  • Getting in and out. First things first, can you get in and out of the car without any difficulty? This may be an issue if you have any mobility issues.

  • Driving position. Are you able to adjust the driving position and the steering wheel so that you’re comfortable? You should be able to reach all of the driver’s controls easily and see the instrument panel clearly. 

  • Visibility. Check your all round vision. Can you see clearly in every direction? 

  • Children. If you have young children make sure you bring any child seats with you and make sure that they fit. 

  • Size. Is it big enough? It’s easy to overlook this in the excitement of the whole process, however, making sure that the car is big enough for your lifestyle is really important. Is there enough room in the boot for items you usually transport, such as food shopping or golf clubs? If you regularly have passengers, is there enough room for everyone to sit comfortably? It might be worth bringing the whole family along to make sure everyone is happy. If you have a dog, is the boot big enough for them to sit in comfortably? 

What to look out for when you’re test driving a used car

When you’re taking a car out for a test drive, it’s best to try the car out on several different types of roads. This will give you a better feel for how the car performs overall. Make sure you try the car out on hills and sections of road where there are a couple of good corners as well. You’ll want to get the car up to a decent speed, but also get a feel for how it’ll perform in slower areas with more traffic.

You should be able to get a good feel for whether the car is for you within ten minutes or so, but don’t be afraid to ask to keep going if you don’t feel confident you’ve tried everything you want to.

  • Before you get behind the wheel, feel the bonnet of the car to check that it’s cold. If the seller has been running the engine before you’ve arrived, they might be trying to hide an issue with the car starting. 

  • When you first get into the car, don’t feel pressured to drive off straight away. Give yourself a chance to adjust the seat and mirrors and familiarise yourself with the controls. 

  • Try out the gadgets. Make sure the air conditioning and heating work. If there are features such as seat heaters, sat nav or Bluetooth connectivity for your phone, try them all out. These can all be great extras to have, but can be expensive to fix. You could even try the sat nav out during your test drive. Ask the seller to show you how all of the gadgets work if you’re not sure.

  • When you start the engine, it shouldn’t be making too much noise and there shouldn’t be any smoke appearing from the exhaust. Take a look in the rearview mirror as you start the engine to check that a big puff of smoke doesn’t appear. A little white smoke or steam should be okay, especially if it’s cold but big clouds will be indicating a problem. 

  • As you pull away, the engine should stay relatively quiet and smooth. Make sure there are no unusual noises as you come off a curb, for example, that could indicate an issue with the suspension. 

  • Pay attention to the steering. Is it responsive? Does the car feel like it’s drifting off to one side when you’re trying to go straight? Does it feel heavy? 

  • Try out the handbrake on a hill start. You should be confident that it doesn’t slip at all.

  • Give the brakes a go. You should be able to stop the car with confidence and it should stop in a straight line. You might want to try out an emergency stop but make sure it’s safe to do so and that any passengers are aware of what you’re about to do. 

  • When changing gear, it should feel smooth and free of any unusual noises or crunching sensations. The clutch should ‘bite’ in a comfortable position that isn’t too near the top when releasing the pedal. If the clutch doesn’t bite until the pedal is nearly back in position, it may need replacing. Don’t forget to try the car in reverse too. 

  • If you’re testing an automatic car, listen and feel for the gear changes. Are they quiet and smooth? When you accelerate quickly, does the car shift gears? It’s also a good idea to try an automatic out on hills to see how effective the transmission is. 

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