How to Test-Drive a Used Car

3 min


Buying a car is a huge commitment. But it’s not just about having the money. It’s also about navigating around vehicles that you want to avoid. There are some tricks to doing this. Here’s how to test-drive a used car. 

Do Some Preliminary Research

Before you go out and test-drive any cars, you want to do some legwork to ensure it’s actually worth your time. There’s no reason to just be driving random cars around unless you’re actually somewhat interested in them. In fact, you can be responsible for any damage that occurs during a test-drive; so you don’t want to be doing them all the time without cause. 

There are several ways you can determine whether or not you should test-drive a used car. Really, you want to narrow down your search as much as possible from the get-go. The first question everyone should ask themselves when searching for a used car is “How am I planning to use this vehicle?”

When you start with understanding your desired uses for the used car, you work backwards from there by addressing all the problems that need to be solved. For instance, if you’re planning on using the car to drive kids around, you don’t want a two-seater sports car. It’s also important to know some of the big value indicators and red flags for possible damage. Here are a couple things to consider:

  • There’s a balance to strike between buying a car that’s only a few years old but has depreciated a good amount from its original price versus buying something that’s very inexpensive but will likely need many repairs due to wear and age. Future maintenance costs need to be considered when evaluating the price of a used car, especially when they require special parts or labor, or tend to break down. It’s wise to research estimated repair costs for a vehicle before buying it.  
  • Be suspicious of vehicles that seem too cheap. It’s possible these have sustained considerable damage—either from an accident or weather. Avoiding these will save you lots of headaches down the line. 

Once you’ve narrowed down your search to a few makes and model years, it’s time to start looking for that perfect ride. 

Find the Right Vehicle

Shopping for a used car has become a much better process since the invention of the internet. The best online car buying sites will allow you to filter out options that don’t fit your criteria. This helps you save tons of time once you’ve decided generally what kind of used car meets your needs. 

It’s smart to go to a used car website that has many options. This will increase the chances that there’s a vehicle that will fit your exact profile. When you find some that work for you, see where they’re located, and contact the seller for a test drive.  

Test Everything You Can 

Now that you’re actually ready to test-drive a used car, you need to know how to actually do it well. This has nothing to do with your driving skills. In fact, don’t be shy to give the accelerator and brake a little bit of a test. You don’t want to go overboard with this, but you need to ensure the car isn’t barely holding together and will break once you’ve paid for it. 

Look for any irregularities on the exterior or interior of the car. You should essential test every mechanical part you can see so you’ll know if anything is broken or if there are any patterns of malfunction. 

Know What to Focus on When Driving the Car 

There are additional things you’ll want to focus on when you’re actually out there on the road. Paying attention while you’re actually driving the car can tell you a lot about how well it’s likely to hold up over the long term. Here are some things to watch for:

  • Lights on the dashboard – It’s a definite red flag if there are check engine lights or other warnings coming up on the dashboard.
  • Listen for strange noises – Cars aren’t silent. But you can often tell when something doesn’t quite sound right. Stay alert for any noises you don’t think should be happening. 
  • Pay attention to how the steering wheel reacts – If the car is drifting on its own or the steering wheel is hard to manage, it could mean the vehicle has some underlying issues. They might not be dire, but it’s important to know potential costs and negotiate those with the seller. 

It’s important to prepare yourself for the process of buying a used car. There are many steps to it, and all are essential in different ways. If you stick to your guns, you’ll be more likely to end up with the right vehicle for you.

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