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Buying and selling a car

Test driving a car: What to look for

Congratulations! You’ve found a car you want to buy!

Hopefully you’ve already checked all the relevant paperwork and the condition and history of the car BUT before you hand over your money there’s one more vital step - make time for a test drive.

  1. Make sure you’re insured

    Yes, even for a test drive you must make sure you are fully insured.

    If you’re testing a car at a dealership, you’ll usually be covered by their insurance, but do ask. If you’re buying from a private seller though, you’ll probably need to use your own. If you’re not sure whether you’re covered, call your insurance provider and they’ll be able to tell you.

    If you're a new driver and don't have your insurance it might be worth getting your parents to test drive the car on your behalf

  2. Check the temperature

    When you arrive, put your hand on the bonnet. You want to start the car from cold to check for any issues it may have. If it's warm, say you’ll wait around until it has cooled down or re-book for another day.

  3. Take your time

    Don’t rush, make sure you spend at least half an hour driving the car, and if possible take it on a variety of roads to give you the best idea of how it performs.

  4. Test the brakes

    Do an emergency stop on an empty section of road to test the brakes - a bit of a squeak is easily fixed, a grinding sound is cause for concern.

    And don’t forget the handbrake - stop on a hill and put the handbrake on. Needless to say, if you start rolling backwards, there’s a problem!
  5. The steering

    On a clear stretch of road, and at low speed, make sure the car doesn’t pull to one side while you’re driving by loosening your grip on the wheel.

    Also, feel for vibration of the steering wheel.

  6. Listen to the car

    Any rattling, banging or any unusual engine sounds are a concern and should be checked over by a professional.

  7. Smell the car

    Don’t literally mean sniff the car seats (ew) but any strong smell of oil or petrol could indicate a problem.

  8. Look for smoke

    If you notice any blue, black or grey smoke coming out of the exhaust it could indicate some serious problems.

  9. Check the electrics

    Switch on everything electrical from air-con to heated seats - and don’t forget the windscreen wipers, even if the sun’s shining!

  10. Be confident

    If you have any doubts at all then have the confidence to walk away knowing it’s not the right car for you. Don’t be pressured by the seller and don’t be afraid to take some thinking time or book a second test drive.

    It’s a big decision and you want to get it right!


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Jess passed her test first time at 17 and took to the busy London streets in a battered but beloved 1988 white Fiat Uno. She writes for ingenie's Young Driver's Guide and blog. You can follow Jess on .