What to do on a test drive

You’ve found the right car, visually inspected it and now it’s time to take it for a test drive. Depending on your insurance and the seller you should always try to test drive a car, or at the very least ask the seller to take you out and put the car through its paces.

While it’s important to put the car through the stresses of everyday driving remember it’s not your vehicle so be respectful. The old cliche “No test pilots”applies as much to a super-mini as a performance car.

If the car has a trip computer that indicates miles per gallon you may want to reset this for the test drive to give an idea of fuel consumption.

Before pulling away check the handbrake works by gentling loading it as if doing a hill start. You can check it on an incline out of gear if safe to do so.

When pulling away make sure the clutch biting point is not to high and does not slip after release.


When safe to do so accelerate the car through rev range feeling for any flat spots. Engine management and ignition timing problems can cause hesitation at certain RPM’s.

Checking no one is behind you, apply the brakes hard. The car should not pull in either direction and should stop evenly. A slight ABS shudder is perfectly normal under hard braking, if the ABS warning light has come on it should go out. Under gentle braking there should be no shudder or shaking, if there is the brake discs may be warped.



With a manual make sure each gear is present and accounted for. On automatics and 4×4 with different transmission modes, select these when stationary to check for any warning lights.

If possible find some speed humps to drive over, these are great for hearing and feeling any suspension issues.



Check the car drives straight with the wheel aligned at 12 O’clock. The car should not have a tendency to pull either way on a flat level road and should require minimal inputs to drive straight.

Listen for any low droning noises at A road speeds which could indicate a worn wheel bearing.

Turn the steering wheel to its extremes while manoeuvring the car at low speed. Listen for any knocks or rattles. A driving test style 3 point turn in the road should be sufficient.



During the test drive make sure the car comes up to temperature and also doesn’t run too hot.

At the end of the test drive, turn off and restart the engine. It should fire again without issue.

Assuming the car hasn’t set any alarm bells ringing take time to consider other aspects.

  • Is it comfortable to drive?
  • Is the ride quality acceptable?
  • Is the cabin noise tolerable?
  • Is it’s performance adequate for your needs?


If you’re happy the car meets your requirements it’s time to make an offer. In my next article I discuss how to negotiate the price.