23 essential test drive tips
Don't get caught out - our guide will help you get the most from your test drive.
Taking a test drive is one of the most important steps of the car buying process – it's your way of making sure that vehicle you have researched and reviewed meets your expectations.
A test drive also offers a first opportunity to check that you'll enjoy driving the car once you have bought it.
Taking a test drive is even more important if you're planning on buying a used, or nearly new car. It's your only chance to make sure the vehicle is in good condition and free of faults – if you don't feel confident doing this, we recommend you book a qualified engineer to check the car on your behalf. Organisations like the RAC and the AA both offer such services.
Don’t be afraid to ask to take a car out more than once. Dealers will be keen to close the deal, but If you’re close to making a decision, going back for an extended drive is the best way to confirm that those good first impressions are here to last.
- Before you even think of taking to the driver's seat, make sure you are insured to carry out the test drive.
- Dealers will have cover specifically for this purpose, but if you test drive a used or nearly-new car being sold by a private vendor, you’ll need to use your own.
- If you are unsure, talk to your insurer. They will be able to offer you comprehensive cover over a short period of time so that you can test drive the cars you are thinking of buying.
- Make sure you can adjust the seat and the steering wheel so you've got a comfortable driving position.
- If a car has removable seats, ensure that they fit securely and that none of the connectors are damaged.
- If you plan to use child seats, take them with you and make sure that they fit.
- If you plan to buy a nearly new car, make sure that the engine's cold before you start it - by placing your hand on the bonnet.
- If the car feels warm, find out why, and bear in mind that the seller could be trying to hide a problem.
- When the car starts, look in the rear view mirror to check for signs of smoke.
- On the road, the car should accelerate smoothly.
- Make sure there are no unusual clunks or bangs from the suspension.
- Check that the car doesn’t bounce or roll unevenly through corners.
- Broken springs, a fault you may find on a used car, will reduce road grip and braking performance.
- With the car stationary, turn the steering wheel from lock-to-lock to check that its action feels smooth and is free from resistance.
- Check the turning circle in a car park to make sure it meets your needs.
- Check that that the wheels do not rub on the bodywork while you drive forward on full lock.
- The brakes should respond immediately, and not need pumping or pressing very hard to make work.
- There should be no loud noises from the brakes, however hard you use them.
- Gears should be easy to engage, and the action should feel consistent.
- Automatic gearboxes should swap gears smoothly and quickly.
- If the clutch doesn't engage until the pedal has reached the top of its travel, it may need to be changed.
- Take your family with you if plan to travel with them regularly.
- They will help you spot problems with practicality and versatility.
Already chosen your new car? Read our car price negotiation tricks.