How to test drive a used car.

Testing a car at a dealership, the rules.


We advise a car test drive for around 20 minutes where you can achieve the national speed limit. It is best practice to drive the vehicle at slow speeds and across bumpy or uneven road surfaces.

We include our industry-leading car buying guide with every CarVeto Platinum check. Enter your vehicle registration number and take a look right now – enter a VRM.


The idea is to put the vehicle under stress and test its performance in such conditions.


Insurance: Buying privately means you are relying on your own insurance policy to cover you in case of an accident. Many fully comprehensive policies cover the third party to drive another vehicle. Check with your insurer.


how to test drive a used car before you buy it


Test driving a used car without insurance?

When buying from a dealer expect to be covered under their trader’s policy. If it’s a private sale you’ll need an existing fully comprehensive policy that allows you to drive any vehicle, third party only.

If you are uncertain, contact your insurance company ahead of time.


Test driving a car for buying a used car that is genuine and good value


  • Start the engine and check once more that all the dashboard lights come on and switch off in just a few seconds
  • Turn off the stereo, heaters and air-con so the vehicle is silent during your tests
  • Listen for suspension noises, knocking noises or grinding noises. Anything that indicates wear or breakage to parts of the vehicle
  • Pay special attention when driving over bumps and potholes, listening carefully for unusual noises
  • Drive a short while on bumpy surfaces with the driver’s window open. It is surprising how different a vehicle can sound under stress
  • Test the gearbox by listening to the vehicle in each gear. Is there grinding or whining noises in any gear? This can indicate gearbox bearings and potential expense


Get up to speed now and check for:

  • Steering vibrations (possible wheel balancing or perhaps a bent drive shaft)
  • Pulling to the left or right on an even road (possible tracking issues)
  • Brake hard and put the brakes under stress. Is there any vibration in the steering wheel under fierce braking? (brake discs may be warped and need replacing)
  • Are there any grinding noises under braking (brake pads front/rear may need replacing)?
  • Clutch test the vehicle
  • High gear and fierce acceleration. A revving engine but little acceleration means the clutch is probably slipping. A rather costly repair
  • Near the end of testing try the steering on full lock and pull away slowly. Check for clunking or crunching noises that indicate CV joint (constant velocity) wear and breakage. CV joints are failure items on a standard UK MOT test and rather expensive to replace. Turn the steering wheel to the opposite lock and carry out the same test
  • After completing the test drive leave the engine ticking over. Check the temperature gauge is working and the vehicle is not running overly hot


Stationary car checks


  • Depress the clutch pedal and listen for any dramatic changes in the sound of the engine. Whining noises or dramatic changes in sound may indicate clutch thrust bearing issues
  • Next, switch off the engine and wait 10 seconds before restarting the vehicle. The engine should start the same both hot and cold.
  • Pay special attention to diesel engines. If a diesel vehicle struggles to start when hot or cold there may be serious, expensive repair bills ahead


Finally, at the end of the car test drive ask yourself “how does the vehicle make me feel?”
If it feels good, you probably have the right vehicle provided it passes our online checks.

As we have already mentioned, you get complimentary access to our complete used car buyers guide with every Platinum car check purchased via CarVeto. Use our free check service and make a start.

Get details on a DVLA logbook check.


The team at CarVeto.

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