It’s Time to Test Drive (Part 4)

Welcome to the final installment of our blog series in which offers top tips and tricks for test driving used cars. Visit and use the site’s useful on-line tools for auto loans. You can also get pre-qualified for a car loan before visiting dealerships for test driving.

Your Time, Your Way

When going on a test drive, one of the most important things to remember is to take your time. Also, if at all possible, create your own test drive route. The dealer’s planned route may be too smooth or short to provide an accurate read on the car’s driving and handling capabilities. Let the salesperson know; whether they’re joining you or not, you plan to test different road, speed, and steering conditions.

Take It to the Limit

Test in multiple speed limits – in-town roads and freeways – and be sure to stay within reasonable, safe speed ranges. In general, it should be a smooth, consistent ride, but you should test both the vehicle’s performance and feel as you accelerate, brake/decelerate, and make quick turns. If the salesperson is with you, prepare them for these moves. Though it could be fun, now is not the time to try a Fast and Furious reenactment.

When on the highway, take the car up to 60 MPH to see how it handles at higher speeds. Many front-end issues aren’t noticeable until the vehicle reaches speeds of 60 MPH or higher. It’s important to note if the car shakes or the steering wheel vibrates or pulls to one side. An unsteady steering wheel is a red flag. There could be potential problems with tires, brakes, or the steering components.

Radio Silence

Hearing is an essential component of a test drive. It’s important to be aware of how handling feels, but also carefully listen when you go over bumps, accelerate, decelerate, and brake. Start the car, with the radio off, and listen for odd sounds that may indicate a problem.

Again, while listening closely, test the steering and joints by driving in slow, tight circles somewhere safe such as an empty parking lot or cul-de-sac. Turn the steering wheel completely to the left or right and then alternate. In general, be aware of ambient noise as you drive. Is the cabin quiet or do sounds from the car, street, or wind permeate the vehicle?

Be on the Lookout

Throughout your test drive, keep your eyes on the gauges and warning lights. Be aware if something is not operating correctly. Now that you’re driving, safely check for potential blind spots again.

Take a Brake

Testing the brakes is essential, however, before you do, it’s important to know if they’re ABS (antilock). If so, you may notice a slight pedal vibration upon braking. This vibration is typical only for antilock systems. Non-ABS brakes should react smoothly when pressure is applied.

Give the brakes a try by pumping them a few times and then pressing all the way down. Brakes should respond quickly, not slowly drift to the floor. Upon applying the brakes, does the car drift to the left or right? How quickly does the vehicle slow and finally come to a stop?

Pass or Fail?

Before you end your test drive, assess your ability to park the vehicle, both in a lot as well as parallel. Be sure to park between two cars to check the ease with which you can exit and enter the vehicle with partially opened doors. Also, check under the car again after you’ve driven – there should be no leaking fluid.

When you complete your test driving, if you’re pleased with the vehicle, it’s time to quiz the salesperson. Follow-up with any questions you may have had while driving. Also, consider asking:

  • What’s the maintenance schedule, including oil change recommendations?
  • What are the specifics of the warranty – term and items covered?

Now, it’s time to take the final steps. Finish completing your comprehensive checklist (from Part 1 of the series). Make notes about observations that didn’t correspond to items on your list. This may be relevant information as you compare automobiles.

Finally, don’t forget to get with your mechanic to thoroughly inspect your top selections.