Test Drive Like a Pro: Things You Should Not Miss

By Angela Monroe - August 13, 2020

Test Drive Like a Pro Things You Should Not Miss

Other than making sure it drives – which most cars do – what’s the point of a test drive? Coming to the conclusion that ‘yeah, it went alright’ isn’t very helpful but you can actually find out a lot from a test drive.

In this article, we go over some things to check on a test drive.

Before test driving a car

woman getting into car

Make sure you’re actually ready to buy a car by knowing when to sell or trade-in your current car. Test drives come with their own risks as you’re driving someone else’s car. Especially if it’s a used car and a private sale, insurance concerns can come up.

Some online sales descriptions add comments such as ‘no test pilots’ or ‘serious buyers only’ in order to reduce test drives with buyers who aren’t likely to agree on a price.

Talk to the seller and make sure you and they are on the same page. You should both be aware of any consequences in the event of even a small ding or scratch.

Tip: If the car you’re test driving is parked in a tight space or you don’t feel confident backing it out onto the street, ask the seller to do it. 


Do your research

Do Your Research. Make sure you know exactly what features the car you’re going to test drive has. This will allow you to note all of the things to check on a test drive, just like you would place importance on a shopping list. The car you’re looking at might come with driver-assist technology like blind-spot monitoring, a reverse camera and adaptive cruise control.

Remember to note the exact make, model and trim level as different variations have different features. The features should match your requirements, especially for first-time drivers.

Tip: If you’re searching for cars online and find one you want to test drive, Google the exact model variant and read some reviews to find out the features it has. Make a list in your phone’s notes of the specific things you need to check.

Adjust the Seat and Mirrors

rear view mirror

You can kind of kill two birds here. Make sure the driving position suits you so that it’s a safe test drive and make sure all the adjustments work. This should include wing mirrors, reverse camera, steering wheel adjustments and any power seat controls.

Tip: When driving with the seat in the optimal position, ask yourself if you actually feel comfortable and confident – you might be in this position for a long time if you buy the car.

Interior Gadgets

car controls

With the engine on and in a safe location, check all of the usuals:

  • Windscreen wipers and spray – it can be easy to forget in summer.
  • Air conditioning and heater
  • Front and rear demister
  • Heated/cooled seats
  • Lights, turn signals and hazard lights
  • Radio and all speakers – you may have to adjust the audio settings with the seller’s permission

Tip: Your list should include the features you found when doing your research as mentioned above.

Acceleration and Braking

driving a car

Make sure the car does what it’s supposed to do. Check the acceleration from a standstill and while driving. Does it suit your driving needs? Often, drivers who may be testing a small city car after driving a more powerful vehicle, for example, might be disappointed. Remember to DYR and know what to expect.

The brakes should not squeal or make any strange noises. You should be able to bring the car to a comfortable stop without them being too bitey or needing too much pressure. 

Tip: Check the service logbook (which should be up to date) to see what’s been serviced or replaced and when it was done. Check if there are any notes on what might need to be replaced in the near future.


u turn sign

Make sure the steering feels right – not too heavy, even if you’re test driving a big SUV. Find a safe place and check the turning circle, making sure to full lock the steering. A noticeable whining noise can indicate the power steering pump may be on its way out or there are problems with the belts. 

Does the vehicle maneuver like you’d expect and will it match your home and driving needs? 

Tip: If you plan to carry kids or large objects, make sure the car will suffice. This may include anchor locations for baby seats too.

Dealing With Sellers on a Test Drive

two people discussing

Likely and understandably, the seller will accompany you on a test drive. Often they’ll want to chat about and advertise the history and key points of the vehicle while giving you directions and possibly feeling a little nervous themselves about a stranger driving their car. Some might even be trying to hide something or divert your attention away from damage.

It can be tough to listen to the engine and remember all the things you need to check and drive carefully and take note of what the seller is telling you.

Tip: Before test driving the car, let the seller know you have a list of things you want to check and ask if it’s ok to check everything.

The Bottom Line

paper checklist

If you’ve found small things that don’t work or need replacing, it may be a silver lining. Small problems like windscreen wiper blades that need replacing or a cracked taillight for example can allow you to barter the price of the vehicle down a considerable amount. As with any large purchase, it’s best to do your research and shop around.

Angela Monroe
Angela Monroe is the Community Manager at The Positive Group, specialising in giving people the information that they need when they need it, and putting you on the path to a fair financial future. She has 8 years of experience in helping Australians find the right finance solutions, and regularly contributes articles to empower Australians with the knowledge they need to become financially healthy.


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