Before you start the drive

As soon as you get into the car and become acquainted with the features and locations of the equipment, the test drive officially starts. Set the ignition or start button to the accessory position, which is the final position before the engine begins, before you start the car. The check engine light and the other dash warning lights should all be on. There might be a problem if they don’t. It could be something simple like a burned-out bulb or something more serious like someone tampering with the display to hide a problem.

When the engine initially starts, pay attention for any unusual noises, such as tapping, ticking, knocking, screeching, or any other sounds. Check the instrument panel after fastening your seatbelt to determine if any warning lights remain illuminated while the vehicle is running. Additionally, this is a wonderful time to test the gauges, sound the horn, and become familiar with the accessories rapidly.

The blower fan for the heater and air conditioner should be turned on and tested at all speeds. Test the modes to make sure the air blows where it should and at a reasonable volume. Turn on the wipers, including the rear ones if they are fitted, and test them at every speed while misting washer fluid onto the windshield. As you wipe the windshield, check to see that the wiper blades are not chattering, streaking, or missing any areas.

Turn the steering wheel from side to side and listen for odd noises before engaging the gears. Verify that the steering is not stuck or binds. Press firmly with your foot after a few quick pedal pumps. Not spongy or squishy, the brake pedal should be firm. If the brake pedal gradually sinks all the way to the floor, the master cylinder, brake booster, or brake system may be leaking.

Put the parking brake on and put the car in gear slowly. The parking brake should prevent the car from moving, and the dash-mounted parking brake engagement light should illuminate. Release the parking brake while making sure your foot is on the brake pedal. Switch from drive to reverse and vice versa while keeping your foot firmly on the brake. Clunking sounds when changing gears may be the result of differential wear, worn or damaged engine or transmission mounts, a defective universal joint (U joint), a bad constant velocity joint (CV joint), or worn out universal joints.

Taking the Vehicle for a drive

You can now start operating the car. If the car has an automatic transmission, it should engage right away and change into each speed as you drive smoothly, securely, and rapidly. If the car has a manual transmission, the clutch engagement shouldn’t be too low or too high, and there shouldn’t be any kind of groaning or grinding noise coming from the transmission as you change gears.

Make sure the steering wheel is centered while driving straight when you start the test drive. While driving at any speed, the steering wheel shouldn’t tremble or vibrate. Driving with the steering wheel vibrating could indicate anything from an imbalanced tire to a faulty steering part. When you apply the brakes, the brake pedal may vibrate or tremble, which could be an indication of warped brake rotors or a stuck brake caliper. When the brake is applied firmly or while driving on slick conditions, vehicles with antilock brakes (ABS) may experience a faint pulsating sensation in the pedal. An ABS system is expected to pulse in such circumstances.

You can tell if the car pulls to the left or right during braking by keeping your hands lightly on the wheel. Due to the road’s crown, it should either come to a stop in a straight line or slightly veer to the right. Never let the car go to the left. While driving on a flat surface, when it’s safe to do so, take your hands off the wheel to see if the car pulls to one side when the brake is not applied. Repeat this several times on various flat road surfaces. This examination can reveal potential front-end alignment or tire problems.

Drive the car on an unsteady or rocky road. A parking lot with speed bumps should work just fine if you are unable to do so. As you pass over the humps, pay attention to how the car handles. Pay attention to the vehicle for any rattling and any odd noises coming from the suspension.

Leave the sound system off during the test drive unless you’re analyzing it. Turn off the heater or air conditioner after testing them, but leave the windows open if you’re using such appliances. You’ll be able to listen to the car operate as a result. Do your best to distinguish between regular noises and those that could point to a car issue, even if it might be challenging for some seasoned specialists.

Throughout the test drive, keep using all of your senses. Check the four-wheel drive system if the car has one. While you are driving, test the heating and cooling systems. When you brake, turn, or accelerate the car, how does it sound and feel? When you accelerate or decelerate, are there any odd noises? How does it feel going faster and slower? Keep an eye on the instrument panel while you’re driving so you can spot any gauges that aren’t working properly or any warning lights that turn on. While sensations felt with the fingers on the steering wheel typically originate from the front suspension, steering, engine, brakes, or tires, sensations felt in the seat are frequently connected to the vehicle’s back end.


A test drive should always be part of a comprehensive pre-purchase evaluation. Most buyers are aware that a test drive is essential to obtaining the greatest deal on a used car. Your best option is to have a dependable, unbiased ASE-certified technician conduct a test drive as part of an in-depth inspection of the used car. This will help you choose a used car that is safe, comfortable, and reliable and will offer you the best chance of sorting clunkers from keepers.