15 Expert Tips: What to Look for When Taking a Test Drive

As has been the case since dealerships were invented, taking a test drive before buying a used car is an essential part of the purchasing process. It’s like sampling ice cream at the parlor (do those still exist?): both Pistachio Phudge Pizzazz and Very Berry Bananananza flavors sound right up your alley, so you taste each of them and discover that Pistachio Phudge Pizzazz is disgusting. The same logic can apply when test driving pre-owned vehicles.

Test Drive

Although today’s technology allows shoppers to research cars on this crazy thing called “the internet,” test-driving a vehicle at the used car dealership can’t be avoided – nor should it be! Review these 15 tips to find out what you should be looking for before, during, and after your test drive. 

Test Driving Tips & Advice

1. Do Your Research

Before you even think about taking a test drive, be sure to read vehicle reviews, check out features, compare model competitors, and create a checklist of your “must have” features and favorite models. Essentially, you want to figure out what type of vehicle works best for your lifestyle and budget. Do you need a fuel-efficient car or used hybrid car for long work commutes? Would a previously loved minivan be better for your family camping trips?

2. Check for Recalls

You should also review past safety concerns and recalls for each vehicle (by model year). Some recalls are negligible – for instance, an auto manufacturer may recall a certain model that has a faulty glove compartment latch – while others can be quite worrisome. Used car dealers should inform you of any issues with the vehicle, but don’t “ass-u-me” that’s the case. Visit the NHTSA website or check for recall notices by VIN.

3. Schedule Multiple Test Drives

Set up appointments to test drive at several local used car lots throughout the day. Give yourself 2-plus hours between appointments to ensure you have time to test each feature. Most used car dealerships allow you to request a test drive online, but you can always stick to the tried-and-true method of calling into the store.

4. Invite the Whole Gang

Friends and family members should come with you on your test drive. Why? They often have a different point of view and perspective, allowing them to offer insights you may not have considered. Also, if you plan on buying a vehicle for your family, they should be there to check out everything, too.

5. Bring Important Documents

Save yourself time and hassle by bringing everything you’ll need to your test drive, especially if you’re ready to buy. At the very least, you’ll want to have your valid driver’s license. Consider also bringing proof of insurance (if applicable), employment details, pay stubs, and utility bills as proof of residence. Better yet, take photocopies of all these documents.

6. Conduct a Walkaround

Used cars come in all shapes, sizes, and conditions. Before you jump in the driver’s seat, walk around the vehicle to ensure there are no major signs of damage, like rust, deep gouges, worn tires, or mismatched components (like bumpers).

7. Check Under the Hood

You can usually identify if a vehicle has been well-maintained by looking under the hood. If it’s filthy, scratched up, or appears to be missing important pieces, you should reconsider buying that used car. You should also look under the car itself, if able.

8. Inspect the Interior

Then open the door and check for odd scents, big tears in the upholstery, stains on the seats, and any discoloration caused by smoking. Lift up the carpets to see if there are rusty spots underneath. And don’t forget the trunk – does it have a spare tire or is there a mildew smell that could be the result of flooding? These are all important items to look for before taking a test drive.

9. Open & Close Everything

Test out every door, every compartment, every sunroof and window, every liftgate or trunk: do they function as intended? These are especially good ideas during the winter, as older vehicles can sometimes have issues with power locks freezing, which prevents doors from closing. If you’re testing a used SUV with a power liftgate, be sure it works with your key fob.

10. Test Every Seat

Starting with the driver’s seat, you’ll want to inspect every booty-cushion well. Squish around in each seat to test out the comfort level. Fiddle with reclining features, programmable memory settings, heating and cooling, and all levers.

11. Listen for Noises

As you start the car, be sure to turn the radio off and roll down the windows. Keep it idle for a minute; the goal here is to identify any odd sounds coming from the hood or under the vehicle. If the vehicle produces any rattling, screeching, squealing, or scraping sounds, you should walk away. If not, drive around neighborhood streets and keep an ear open for noisy signs of trouble.

12. Take to the Highway

When it comes to test-driving used cars, never settle for a simple trip around the dealership. You want to bring that sucker to 65 mph! This allows you to evaluate the vehicle’s acceleration, suspension, steering, and transmission. If the vehicle struggles to reach 65 mph, or it shakes violently, look elsewhere.

13. Try the Safety Features

If the vehicle has any advanced safety systems or driver-assist features, put yourself in a position to test them out. For instance, drive down a secluded street and slowly drift past the center lane (when no one’s around, obviously). Does the lane-centering or lane-departure warning activate? If so, thumbs up!

14. Get an Inspection from a Mechanic

If you’re ever in doubt, ask your salesperson if you can have a third-party mechanic inspect the vehicle for problems. You can receive a written quote and assessment of any trouble areas or faulty components, which will also give you some leverage at the negotiation table.

15. Don’t Forget the Vehicle History Report

As always, don’t even consider buying a used car, no matter how affordable it is, without getting a Vehicle History Report. These should be given to you, for free, by your car dealership, but be sure to ask for one prior to your test drive.

Schedule a Test Drive near Kansas City

Now that you’ve got your bearings straight, it’s time for your test-driving journey to begin at McCarthy Blue Springs Hyundai. Contact our Blue Springs car dealership at 816-224-7500 to set up an appointment or learn more about our monthly Hyundai vehicle sales and discounts.