Your Used Car Test Drive Checklist

You have a few cars in mind and schedule a test drive with the car dealership. What exactly should you be looking and listening for during that drive? This checklist will help you know what to look, listen, smell, and feel for before, during, and after your test drive.

Before Your Drive

Your test drive starts before the engine does. Before you get behind the wheel, walk around the vehicle and take note of these:

  • Leaks. Fluid or oil under the car is a red flag.
  • All the openings. Take your time making sure each door, window, and trunk all open properly. It may not be a deal-breaker for you if the back door on the passenger side doesn’t open well, but it may help you negotiate a better price with the car dealership.
  • Tires. Balding tires may not be a deal breaker, either, but keep in mind that if you buy the car as-is, new tires will be an investment you’ll want to make soon. Also, note the wear on the tires. Is it uneven with part of the tires wearing thin and part still looking brand new? That might indicate a suspension problem.
  • Power locks and key fobs. Check to ensure the car locks properly and the key fobs work correctly.
  • Under the hood. Take a look under the hood. Notice if there are any strong smells. Take a glance at the oil dipstick to see if the oil is running low, or if the oil in there is sludgy (which may indicate the car has not been maintained well). Look at the belts and check for cracking and wear. If you are unsure of what to be looking for under the hood, you can search online for an image or video of how that make and model should appear. Then, you can compare to what you see in person.

During Your Drive

You will want to keep your eyes, ears, and nose all peeled once you’re behind the wheel. Pay close attention to these:

  • Brakes. Notice what is going on with your brakes when you slow and stop during your test drive. If the brakes squeal, squeak, grind, feel spongy, or smell like they are burning, there’s a chance they may need to be replaced.
  • Listen to the engine. If you hear whining, cracking, or popping, there might be a problem. If you are unfamiliar with engines, enlist the help of a trusted mechanic.
  • Emergency brake. While you are stopped, pull the emergency brake to ensure it works properly.
  • Shift gears. As you are driving and shift gears, listen for any changes. A noise from the transmission during gear shifts may indicate a problem.
  • Drive slow and fast. Some problems in vehicles only present themselves at higher speeds. Don’t be fooled into just driving it around the car dealership; take it to a place you can pick up the pace, too.
  • U-turn. Find a dead end where you can make a sharp u-turn or drive in a tight circle. Front- and all-wheel-drive used vehicles often have problems with constant velocity joints, and you can hear clicking and whining during tight turns.
  • Pulling to one side. Take the car into an empty parking lot and drive without holding onto the steering wheel. Pulling in one direction while driving may be an issue with alignment or tire pressure, and pulling while braking may be worn suspension or a failing brake caliper.
  • AC and heater. Check both the air conditioning and the heater (regardless of the temperature when you’re driving) to make sure they function.
  • Sound system. You don’t want loud music blaring during your entire test drive because you will want to be listening for any problem sounds the car may be making. However, if a sound system is important to you, turn it on to check it out.
  • Comfort. Check the seats and make sure they are comfortable enough for your commutes.

After Your Drive

When the car stops, the observation shouldn’t. When you’re finished driving make sure to do the following:

  • Check for oil again.After you have driven around, check again for oil or other fluids leaking underneath the car.
  • Rate the car. In addition to listening and watching for problems with the vehicle, you want to make sure you buy a car you love. Make a list of the most important aspects of a car to you (this will be individual but may include comfort, sound system, style, storage space, or anything else that matters to you). Each time you drive a car, give each of those areas a rating. This can help you compare multiple vehicles and remember what you liked and disliked about each car.
  • Get a second opinion. Before you sign the check on your new car, have another set of trained eyes take a look at the vehicle to ensure you are making a good investment. Used car dealers will typically let you drive the car to a mechanic or pay a mechanic to come assess the car at the dealership.

Once you have test driven all the cars on your list, you can compare all your notes and make the best decision for you and your situation.

If you are currently in the market for a used/branded title car you can check our used car inventory online or in-person at TJ Chapman Auto in Salt Lake City, Utah. We’re confident that you’ll find one you love, and if you are on-site, we’ll set you up for a test drive.