Test Driving a Used Car: Use Your Senses
You probably don’t want to sample milk at the grocery store before making a purchase. That could prove a bit awkward, especially if you drink it straight from the jug.

Still, there are other purchases that not only deserve a sample, but it is highly encouraged. A car is definitely on that list. They cost slightly more than milk and, hopefully, have a much longer shelf life. So, it is a purchase that merits close study and research.

Test driving a car starts from the moment you get out of your car at a used car dealer. Take a look around the parking lot and the building and pay attention to your gut instincts. The presentation and atmosphere can give you some information before you even get to the car.

Once you get to your prospective car, get ready to use all your senses to explore the car and make sure it is a good fit.


Approach a used car with eyes wide open. Take a good walk around the outside. Look for dents, damages, and discoloration. Are panels different colors? That could mean it was in an accident. Ask questions about that.

Take a good look at the tires as well. Are they evenly worn? Will they need to be replaced soon? Check the windshield for cracks and splits and take a gander at the condition of the windshield wipers while you are at it.

Once you’ve carefully looked over the outside, climb in and take a look around. How does the interior look? Any cracks or splitting in the dashboard? As you drive, pay attention to the sightlines. In busy traffic, do you have a clear shot to see if cars are coming? Try to find a place where you can parallel park. This is a great way to test those sightlines!


Of course, you want to make sure the music system works, but once you’ve established that, turn everything off and listen carefully. Start the engine and let it run for a while, just listening to the engine idle. Does it sound smooth? Is it surging at all? Listen to the engine from the outside of the car as well.

Open and close every door on the car and listen for a good seal and a smooth opening. Once you start driving, keep listening! Be alert to any squeaks, bumps, or whistles as you accelerate and decelerate. The car will talk to you—you just need to be tuned in to hear.


How does the seat feel to you? Try to sit in every seat in the car so you can get a sense of the legroom for passengers. Does the interior material feel good? Also, pay attention to how the steering wheel feels in your hands and how the control panel works for you. Does it feel instinctive? Do you like where it is placed?

If possible, try to drive somewhere with traffic so you can get a feel for the brakes and how the car handles in stop-and-go driving. Braking feels very different in every car, so get a sense of how responsive the brakes are in this vehicle, and make sure it’s to your liking.


We certainly don’t condone licking a car. While it is possibly unhealthy, it might also hurt you in the negotiating process.

Seriously, make sure the car fits your “taste.” Yes, the safety and quality checks matter, but you will be spending quite a bit of time with this car. Make sure it suits your preferences and that you are excited to drive it.


The sense of smell is one of the most powerful and memorable senses we have. And while that “new car smell” is nice, it also matters how your “used” car might smell. Do not ignore any bad smells. Sniff out mustiness that might stem from mold or mildew. Is there a whiff of pets that might bother you down the road or lingering cigarette smoke? These might seem minor, but they do not fade quickly and can cause problems if they irritate you at all.

Another smell to pinpoint is an overly strong air freshener. If the smell of a Malibu beach overpowers you when you open the door, a good question might be, “What is that trying to hide?” Maybe the seller just really likes Malibu air fresheners, but it still might merit some follow-up questions, just in case.

Buying a used car can be intimidating. You don’t have to buy the first one that is in your budget and in the right color. There are many things to consider when making a purchase this big. Take your time and use every sense to test the car. Buying a car is like hiring it for an important job. This car is going to drive you around for a while. Give it a thorough interview and make sure it is a good fit all around. And if you want a like-new car at a used car price, make sure to consider rebuilt title cars from TJ Chapman Auto. We specialize in meticulously rebuilding branded title cars at our Salt Lake City dealership. Stop by in person or check out our inventory online and have one shipped straight to your driveway.


Test Driving a Used Car: Use Your Senses