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Tips for Test Driving a Used Car: What to Pay Attention To

by | Sep 25, 2023 | buy car, How to Drive, offermore, Pinellas | 0 comments

We’re not saying that you can’t trust anyone selling their used car, but some sellers will pass off their vehicles as pristine – essentially passing off any upcoming repair bills to you. Hence, if you’re planning to buy a used car, test driving is a vital part of the process that should not be neglected. 

Test driving for a new or used car allows you to assess a vehicle’s overall condition, performance, and suitability to your needs. Although a vehicle history report can tell you all of these, only a test drive can give you a complete sense of the car’s acceleration, handling, and braking. A thorough test drive will also allow you to check for any indications of potential problems like odd sounds or smells.   In this article we will cover some tips for what to look for (and listen for) when test-driving your potential new vehicle.

One factor we won’t cover in this article, yet is crucially important to get a good deal on a used car; go with BUYING POWER.  That is, don’t plan to trade in your old car, instead, sell your old car, truck or SUV and bring the power of cash to the dealer to get a great deal on your new car.


Tips for Test Driving Before Buying a Used Car

If this is your first time shopping for a used car, you will find that test-driving different vehicles is exciting. However, avoid getting overly emotional and sentimental about the first few cars you test drive. Instead, test drive as many cars as possible within your price range. Buying a car is a significant investment, so you must be careful. Here are some tips to help you test-drive prospective cars and avoid purchasing a problematic unit:

Plan Ahead

Plan and research before even going to the dealership or meeting with a private seller. Know what you want and can afford – decide on your budget and what kind of cars you can afford within your price range. Create a list of your preferences in a used car – size, fuel efficiency, and features. 

Set aside some time to research the make and model of your prospective car. Look up information such as common issues, history of recalls, and reliability ratings. Next, set up appointments for test driving. Schedule test drives during the day and when the weather conditions allow for better visibility and traction.  However, be sure to check all the lights.  Most dealerships have bays for working on cars.  Ask if you can use this space to test the lights.

Check the Vehicle’s History

Ask for the vehicle’s maintenance records and the vehicle history report (if available) before the actual test drive. These records provide critical insights into the car’s ownership, accidents, and service history. You will also have a baseline of what to expect and watch out for when test-driving. 

Carefully Inspect the Exterior

Before the test drive, look at the car’s exterior. Check the paint condition and look for scratches, dents, or signs of repainting. These could be signs of past accidents. 

Next, you should take a closer look at the tires. Check that the tires have even wear and sufficient tread depth. Uneven wear on tires can indicate alignment or suspension issues. You should also check the exterior for signs of rust or corrosion. Poor maintenance and exposure to severe conditions can result in rust on the body and underneath the car. 

Carefully Inspect the Interior

Once inside the car, it’s time to examine the interior. Check the cabin condition and assess the overall condition. Take note of heavy wear and tear, which may indicate neglect from previous ownership. The condition of the seats should be the next thing to check. Tears, stains, and the functionality of the seat adjustments will tell you whether the car has been well taken care of.

Along with how the seats easily adjust, you should also check other features and controls in the car. Test all buttons, switches, and features like radio, air conditioning, and power windows. A vehicle in good condition should have all these working correctly. You should also check for any unusual odors that could indicate mold, mildew, and other issues that are not visible.

Start the Engine and Pay Attention

Now that you’re in the car start the engine and pay attention to what’s happening before hitting the road. Start the engine when it’s cold and listen for unusual noises like rattling and knocking. The engine should also idle smoothly without instances of stalling or surging. Also, as you start the engine, ensure all warning lights on the dashboard turn on without problem when the ignition is on and turn off smoothly after starting. Any lights remaining on may indicate some problem with the engine.

Note Your Driving Experience

Now that it’s time for the actual test drive consider factors such as acceleration, braking, steering, suspension, and transmission as you drive. Listen to any noises as you accelerate, and check the feel to see if it meets your expectations. The same goes for the brakes; they should be responsive and not squeaking or pulsating.

While driving, check for any vibrations in the steering; there shouldn’t be any feeling of pulling to one side, as this can indicate issues with the car’s alignment or suspension. Try to drive over speed bumps and uneven roads. When a car’s suspension works as it should, there will be no unusual noises or rough rides, even on bumpy roads. Lastly, if the vehicle is automatic, the transmission should shift smoothly without jerking. 

Test Drive on Various Driving Conditions

If you want to thoroughly check and test drive a used car, schedule your test drive on various driving conditions. Drive around the city and check how it handles stop-and-go traffic. Check the car’s stability at higher highway speeds and try hill climbing to gauge the engine’s power and ability to maintain speed. Most importantly, don’t forget to test drive in a parking lot. Check how the car handles when maneuvering and parking with wide turns. 

Check Handling and Ride Comfort

Assessing how the car handles and its ride comfort is also essential. As such, you need to check steering responsiveness suspension comfort, and test both parking and emergency brakes when you test drive. You and your passenger should still be comfortable even when driving on rough roads and over potholes. 

Don’t Forget to Ask Questions and Document Your Findings

Don’t forget to document everything – from entering the car to the actual test drives. Take note of everything you have observed from inspecting and driving. Also, never hesitate to ask questions. Clarify any concerns or doubts with the seller or dealer before you finalize your decision.

Pro Tip: Leaks

Extra important if the vehicle has a sunroof:  Take a hose and blast the roof for a solid minute.  Make sure water has plenty of time to enter all possible door jams and sunroof closures.  Wair a few more minutes and check the interior for leaks.  Also check the floor of the vehicle for damp or wetness.


You cannot be too careful when buying a used car. After all, it’s still a significant investment, even if you’re not buying a brand-new unit. Hence, ensure not to skimp on the time of test-driving potential cars on the market. Allot enough time for research and test drives so you can make an informed decision.

Are you looking to sell an old car to make way for a new one? OfferMORE is one of the most trusted used car buyers servicing the locals of St. Petersburg, Seminole, Largo, Pinellas Park, and the surrounding Pinellas County. Call us, and we will beat any dealer offer!


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