Used car test drive tips

The process of finding the perfect vehicle from thousands of used cars is no simple task, and even when you do find a potential candidate, there’s the small matter of performing essential car checks and a test drive to contend with. Of course, our vehicle history check can take care of many of the essential checks, but you should still go and inspect the car in person.    

It’s important that you take your time during a car test drive, making sure to tick all the boxes and access key aspects of the car before committing to a purchase. To help you on your way with dotting the right I’s and crossing the correct T’s, we’ve put together some essential tips for a test drive. 

What to look out for on a test drive

Conducting a thorough check and test drive is the best means of making sure that you’re comfortable with everything before signing on the dotted line. Of course, you will need to be insured before you get behind the wheel of your potential new motor, third-party insurance is fine and covers you for driving another car if the owner okays it. 

So, what exactly should you look out for when test driving a car?

Bodywork and chassis


Before you step foot inside of the vehicle, it’s best that you check the physical condition of the car, starting with the bodywork. We recommend bringing along some plastic gloves for this part, as things can get a little dirty and oily. 

Crouch down and check the panels at different angles for any dents and scratches that may be hidden by lighting conditions and reflections, next, look and feel for any uneven gaps between body panels – this could point to a poor repair job after a serious crash. 

You should also check the underside of the car and inspect the chassis and suspension. Those gloves we recommended earlier will come in handy here, as things will most definitely be a little dirty under there, but it’s important that you keep an eye out for any signs of damage, rattles and odd noises. 

Oil levels and leaks

Your next port of call should be the engine; start with feeling whether the engine is warm or not, if it has been pre-warmed, the owner or used car dealer may have done so to disguise oil problems. 

If the engine is cold, you should use the oil dipstick to check that the level in in-check, while the oil itself should be a light yellow-brown hue if the condition is healthy. Dark, dirtier oil is an indication that a petrol engine has been poorly maintained, the oil of a diesel engine will naturally be slightly darker in colour. 

Before you pop the bonnet down, don’t forget to look at the oil cap too. White deposits around the underside of the oil filler cap could be a sign of a serious engine problem, while oil and water leaks around the engine and the ground underneath could also be cause for concern. So you’re aware, leaking oil will leave brown stains, while water leaks will leave a white, chalky residue. 

All things electric

As reliance on technology becomes more and more prevalent in modern cars, the number of faults that stem from the vehicle’s electrics also increases. Non-engine related electronics are now the single biggest cause of faults on second-hand cars, so it’s definitely something that you should be checking on a test drive. 

This should include all of the interior and exterior lights, heated windows, sunroof, electric seats, air conditioning, radio, central locking and ABS. 

Keep an eye out for clocking

Though this problem is more widespread in older car models, it can still be an issue in modern cars too, so it’s best to be careful and keep an eye out. 

You should look for a correlation between the figure displayed on the vehicle’s odometer and the general condition of the car. For instance, the car tyres and giveaways in the general condition such as worn pedal rubbers could point to a fair amount of use, yet the mileage reading might read a low number – this is a strong indicator that the car may have been clocked. 

Remember the paperwork and records


Don’t get too carried away with checking the physical condition of the vehicle, because there’s also important paperwork to contend with too. It doesn’t matter whether you’re buying privately or from used car dealerships, it’s integral that you obtain the vehicle’s V5C registration logbook along with the car. This contains important information such as the colour, engine size and the date of registration, while you should also ask to see some proof of ID to make sure that the seller’s address matches the logbook. 

Servicing records are another important factor to check when you buy used cars, though not all vehicles will have a full history. Ideally, the owner or dealership will have a full service history including garage stamps and receipts for all servicing and repair work. If the car is more than three years old, the owner should also have a record of MOT certificates too. 


Don’t forget, that handy car history check that we mentioned earlier can tick most of the boxes, and it’s a must if you’re buying a used car. For more helpful tips and guides, head over to our blog page.

Happy car hunting!