How to test drive a used car

Buying a used car without test driving would be like going to honeymoon before getting married. Test driving is the best opportunity to ensure that the used car you are buying is in good working condition and suits all your needs.

Let’s have a look at what you should check

You need to check the car’s interior and exterior and also test the engine, clutch, brakes, suspension and steering. If you identify any issues, you can simply walk away or bargain for a low price.

Interior and Exterior

You may want to hire an independent car inspector to check the vehicle as well. Remember any issues they find can be used for bargaining. Furthermore, they can be held accountable if additional faults crop up later.

· Look for scratches, dents, rust and chips on the body.

· Make sure that all the doors open and close smoothly and the panels fit properly. If they do not the vehicle might have been involved in serious accident.

· The windscreen takes hundreds of dollars to repair so check for cracks and chips.

· Have a look at the tyres. The tread depth must be at least 1.6 millimeters across the tyre width.

· If some of the tyres are torn and worn out unevenly, you may need to realign the wheel or it may be an indication of a serious problem.

· Check if the seats are loose or damaged.

· Excessive wear and tear on carpet, seats and pedal rubbers, may indicate that the vehicle is older.

· Check the lights and the AC if they are working properly

· Make sure that the car identification number has not been interfered with and matches the one in the log book.

You can find the vehicle identification number on the driver’s side beneath the carpet or under the bonnet just below the wind screen.

The Engine

· Check beneath the engine oil cap before turning on your car. If there is a thick sticky white substance, the head gasket could be faulty.

· Remove the oil dipstick and wipe it before reinserting it. Now remove it check if the oil is at the required level and if it is golden clear. If not, the vehicle needs a service.

· Make sure you start the vehicle when it is cold. If it’s warm its means it has been already started and the seller might be trying to cover up a problem.

· Watch exhaust smoke using rear mirror when accelerating and listen to any abnormal noises. When the car releases excess black, white or blue smoke it might be a sign of engine problem.

· A thick oily layer near the exhaust accompanied by excessive smoke can be a symptom of worn out piston rings.

· Check for leaks underneath the vehicle and its engine bay after test driving.


Listen for any judders and squeals when rotating the steering. The car should not go to one side on a flat road.


· The brakes should halt the vehicle in a straight path.

· There should be no rubbing noises or vibrations when braking.

· The handbrake should not slip.

Gears and Clutch

· Try all the gears (not forgetting the reverse one) and ensure there is no ‘crunching’.

· Clutch biting tip – the clutch biting tip should not be near the top since this an indication that it needs to be replaced.

· If the car is automatic, make sure its gear change smoothly and silently.


Ensure that the vehicle soaks up any bumps that are on the road i.e. The ride should be smooth not judder or bouncy.