The test drive is – literally – where the pedal hits the metal when you’re deciding on which used car to buy . If you’re not a mechanic, it’s probably the best way to ensure that the car is functioning properly, and that it’s in reasonably good shape.

So, in this article, we’ll go over the top 5 things you should do when you’re test driving used automobiles  – either from a dealer or a private seller.

1. Find A Bumpy Road Or Some Speed Bumps To Test The Suspension

The suspension is a critical part of the vehicle, and it’s responsible for giving you a smooth drive, and for proper turning and cornering. It’s also quite expensive to repair, so you want to test it out.

To do so, find an area with plenty of speed bumps, or that’s quite bumpy, and drive over them at a relatively high speed. It’s a good idea to tell the car seller that you’re going to be doing this, to be polite.

Then, listen for crunching noises, and analyze how the suspension feels. Is it springy and light? Did you feel a shock when you went over the bumps? Is the front of the car shaking excessively? It should feel relatively smooth, and you shouldn’t hear any strange noises.

2. Get It On The Highway – And Give It Some Serious Gas

After driving around a bit, head to a country road or highway, and accelerate to the speed limit as quickly as you can (safely), to rev the engine up. Again, inform the seller that you’re doing this.

Putting the engine under some stress is a good way to test it. It should feel smooth when accelerating, with no hops, skips, or jumps. Strange grinding noises or odd smells should also be a cause for concern.

3. Do A Few Emergency Stops

You want to test the brake system, so find an abandoned parking lot or quiet street, and do some emergency stops, from a speed of about 25-30mph. Again, you should tell the seller what you’re doing to be polite. They should have no objections.

You want to brake hard enough to engage the ABS (Anti-Lock Brakes), to confirm that they work properly. Braking should, again, be smooth, and you should not hear any screeching, squealing, or grinding. This could indicate worn out brake pads and rotors.
If the brakes feel “squishy” there may be leaks or issues with the brake lines, which you should take into consideration when buying the car. Brake repairs can range from quite simple – to very expensive.

4. The “Circle Test”

In a parking lot, turn the wheel as far to the right as you can, locking the car in a circle, and drive in a circle at a low speed. Repeat this process on the left.

This helps you assess the power steering systems. Is the wheel turning smoothly, even at extreme angles? Does it feel easy to move the wheel? Are there any strange noises that occur when you turn the wheel all the way to one side?

If not, these kinds of issues can indicate problems with the steering and suspension.

5. Test All The Interior Systems, Gadgets, And Technology

Throughout your test drive, you should be testing things like A/C and heat, power windows and locks, cruise control, audio systems and entertainment systems, power seats, and every other internal feature on the car, to ensure that they all work properly.

You may even want to consider doing this after the test drive is over, and you’ve parked the car. This will let you do a comprehensive test of every internal feature.

Recognize Any Issues? Consider Taking The Car To A Mechanic!

If you do all of these 5 things when test driving used cars and you notice one or more issues – but are still interested in the vehicle – you may want to ask to take the car to a mechanic for an inspection. The dealer or owner should agree to this, and if they don’t, walk away.

Hopefully, this guide has helped you understand a few of the things you should be doing on your test drive, and it will benefit you as you shop for used cars.


Published by Samantha Brown