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Iceni Magazine | August 14, 2022

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How to test drive a used car

How to test drive a used car

As purchases go, buying a car is one of the big ones – and not just because most cars cost a lot of money either. Here we explain how to properly test drive a used car.

We spend a lot of time in our cars and we rely on them to take us to places in comfort and safety, so making sure you pick the right car is obviously rather important. To help you undertake this important task, we’ve compiled our top test drive tips to help you decipher whether a vehicle is for you, and what to look out for when you test drive a used car.


Illustration by Guillermo Almagro

#1: Preparation

This is the most important part of your journey towards buying a used car.

We won’t lie, it’s going to take a little bit of time for you to find out exactly what you’re looking for, but that is time well spent. The number of resources available to you online through, for example, dealership websites, forums, and manufacturers home pages should aid you in finding the type of car you’re looking for.

At the end of this stage, you should really have a strong idea of what it is you’re after. Marques, models, engines, possibly even transmissions and trim levels. With each new decision you make, you’re likely to be able to dig deeper and find even more info on what you’re chasing. It’s at this stage that you’ll probably find forums and social media accounts extra useful, especially if you’re chasing something that’s got a bit of pedigree.

Tim says:

“Go to an owner’s club forum as they often prove to be a treasure trove of technical information.”

– Tim Barnes-Clay, Motoring expert, Twitter

The more exotic used cars, try a site like, or if you’re seeking something very specific, go direct to an owner’s club forum as they often prove to be a treasure trove of technical information. Likewise, there are a lot of helpful official Twitter accounts by the official manufacturers who are particularly helpful – Nissan, Ford, Skoda and Toyota are very good at this.

However, before you go and test the car you’ve got your eyes on, it may be wise to get a data check. With just the vehicle registration, you can use any one of several services to get a data check on the car you’re planning on seeing. What will a data check clear up, exactly? Well, it will clear up things like: Whether or not the car you’re checking has any outstanding finance

  • If that car has had a plate transfer
  • If that car has ever been reported stolen or missing
  • Whether the car has ever been recorded as written off

It may well cost you a little bit to get this done, but its certainly worth doing when considering buying a used car.


Illustration by Guillermo Almagro

#2: Test drive a used car

Now, before we tell you what you should be looking out for when you test drive a used car a used car, you need to check that the car you’re about to drive is definitely the one you want.

By this we mean, if you’re shopping at a dealership, it’s no use them giving you a car with an automatic gearbox if you are specifically looking for a manual, for example. Don’t hurry into trying a car if you’ve already decided it isn’t right for you. You’ll have covered that during your research stage.

A test drive should be carried out on your terms, not the terms of the seller. If necessary, arrange short-term insurance on the car and carry proof with you, so that you can take the car on your own route. You should also drive the car alone, or with a friend as a passenger as having an existing owner or dealer in the car with you can be distracting and off-putting. You’ll need time to evaluate the car yourself, so make that be known, because you need to do that without somebody alongside you telling you what to do and where to go.

Tim says:

“Faulty brakes are a deal-breaker – don’t even continue the test if the brakes aren’t responding normally.”

– Tim Barnes-Clay, Motoring expert, Twitter

When you first get in you should check to see if you can get comfortable. You may well have researched your perfect car, but it won’t be so perfect if you can’t get into the right position to drive it. You’ll want to check all the electrics inside too, but stop somewhere on your route to test these – and make sure you press every button in the cockpit – especially the hazards, aircon controls, and less frequently used buttons, such as the fog light switch. Trust us, there’s nothing more infuriating than electrical demons – they are often very time consuming and fiddly jobs to repair.

During the drive, you’ll need to be tuned into the feedback the car is giving you. One of the most important features to test are the brakes. Do they feel sharp, and does the car stop quickly? Does it stop in a straight line without tugging on the steering wheel? Faulty brakes are a deal-breaker – don’t even continue the test if the brakes aren’t responding normally. Then you’ve got the other obvious flaws to seek out. The steering should be aligned properly, and the car shouldn’t drift off in one direction or another. Unless you’re buying a beefy performance car, the engine should be fairly quiet too, anything too noisy or rattly may need a professional to look over it. You also want to keep your eyes open for abnormal noises from the wheels and suspension, listen carefully when you go over bumps and rough surfaces.


Illustration by Guillermo Almagro

#3: Get along with the seller

Any business deal requires two parties to come to a consensus.

Failure to get on with the person or company selling the car will do you no favours when it comes to doing business. You may need to ask for something from this person, so it’s obviously important you form some sort of relationship. If you and the seller fall out, the chances of any deal being done will decrease significantly.

The bottomline

Buying a used car with confidence can take a little while, so you’re going to have to invest some time into this.

By the end of it all though, we’re confident that it’ll have all paid off. If you can prepare and execute in each of these areas we’ve helped outline for you, the chances are that by the end of your search, you’ll be holding the keys to a car that runs smoothly and is right for you.

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