Test driving a car

Test driving a car is your only chance to make sure that you find one that is comfortable, in good condition, and free of faults.

Before the test drive

It’s important to make the most of test driving a car. Consider the following:

  • Choose a test route – Test driving a car should include the sort of driving route you will be doing every day. Drive on streets and duel carriageways, as well as country roads.
  • Are you insured? – If it’s a private sale, you will need to take proof that you have driver insurance. (If you don’t have car insurance, you might need to take someone with insurance to test drive the car for you.) If it’s a dealer sale, they will cover your insurance for you.
  • The driving position – Can you get in and out of the car easily? Your driving position must be comfortable. Adjust the seat and mirrors to suit you. Does the steering wheel need adjusting? Can you access all the foot controls (brake, clutch and accelerator)? Do you like the feel of the car? And a final point – do you have young children with car seats, and are they designed to fit this car?
  • The engine – Insist on starting the car when the engine is cold. This is when starting problems like excessive exhaust smoke and unusual noises are most apparent. You may need to arrange this with the seller before you visit. The engine should not sound different if the clutch is pressed when car is idling.

Whilst test driving a car

During your test drive, check all of the following things:

  • Gears and clutch – Changing gear should be smooth. Make sure there is no grinding noise when you change gear, and that the gear lever does not skip when you brake or accelerate. The clutch pedal should not be abnormally soft or stiff as you change gear, nor should the clutch only engage when your foot’s nearly on the floor.
  • Steering – The steering wheel should turn smoothly and the car should respond straight away. The steering wheel should not shake or vibrate. Check the steering when turning, overtaking, and doing a three-point turn.
  • Braking – When you brake, the car should not pull to one side and the brakes should not squeal. The pedal should not feel spongy or go all the way to the floor. When you brake suddenly, the car should not change direction or judder (but if the car has ABS, the pedal may vibrate as applied). Check the handbrake is tight and holds the car securely.
  • What it’s like to drive – Be happy with your driving position. Make sure you can easily see all around and that there are no blind spots. When driving, you need to feel comfortable with the controls, especially when taking bends and corners. The car should accelerate sufficiently both up hills and when overtaking. Check the car noise levels – engine, road and wind noise. Check for any squeaks inside the car.

After the test drive

  • Open the bonnet and let the engine idle. If the engine rattles or makes any other noise, check for water or oil leaks. Any blue or black smoke from the exhaust indicates a badly worn engine. Grey smoke from the exhaust indicates water leaking into the engine.
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