back to articles | June 15, 2022 | Staci Bailey

Categories: Tips & Insights For Car Buying Buying & Selling Cars Vehicle & Buying Research

12 Things to Look for on a Test Drive

Test driving any vehicle you are considering for purchase is an important part of the decision making process. This step can give you a feel for the car and give you a better idea of what owning it would actually be like. Test driving can also alert you to potential problems before you buy.


Test driving any vehicle you are considering for purchase is an important part of the decision making process. This step can give you a feel for the car and give you a better idea of what owning it would actually be like. Test driving can also alert you to potential problems before you buy.

Don’t rush through the test drive and pay attention. A proper test drive can take about 30 minutes so you should take your time. Turn the radio off to keep on task and look for these 12 things on your test drive.

1. Listen Before You Drive

Before you even get in the car, ask the salesperson to open the hood and have them start the engine. Does it start up easily or does it seem to struggle? Listen for any troubling noises such as rattling, ticking, or anything that seems off.

2. Ask For A Technology Tour

Modern vehicles are packed with technology. If you’re looking to buy a newer vehicle chances are that it will have features your old car didn’t come equipped with. Blind spot monitoring, rain sensing windshield wipers, and a complicated control panel can be confusing out on the road.

Before you depart for your test drive, have the sales consultant explain what everything is and how it works. Not sure what a button does? Ask. Do you plan to connect your phone to Bluetooth for your commute? Ask how to do that now.

3. Test The Radio

Turn on the radio and flip through some stations to check the reception. Adjust the balance and fader controls to verify that each individual speaker works. Set it to your preferences and have a good listen. Bring a CD or two to check that the CD player works.

4. Try The Climate Control

Regardless of the weather, you should test the heater and air conditioner to be sure they work properly. Turn on the air conditioner and watch how long it takes for the cool air to start coming out of the vents. Is the air nice and cold or barely cool?

Once the engine warms up it’s time to move on to testing the heat. Flip the switch and see how long it takes for the warm air to start blowing. How warm is it? Do all the vents work?

5. Check The Dashboard

Check each gauge on the dashboard to make sure it works. Keep an eye out for any warning lights coming on at any point during your drive. This is especially important if you’re buying a used vehicle because the codes which trigger those warning lights can be cleared. The light would remain off until the underlying issue triggers them again during the test drive.

6. Test The Brakes

Pay attention to how the brakes feel when you bring the vehicle to a stop. If the pedal feels spongy, loose, or like it’s sticking there could be an issue. Does the car feel like it’s pulling to one side when you apply the brakes? Feeling vibration in the wheels or brake pedal isn’t good either. Listen for squealing or grinding sounds too as these could indicate imminent repairs on the vehicle’s braking system.

Take a few minutes to pull over and check the emergency brake. You should feel resistance when you pull it. Test it on a hill to verify that the emergency brake will hold the vehicle.

7. Watch The Temperature Gauge

As you put the vehicle through its paces, keep an eye on the temperature gauge. After the car warms up the gauge should rest comfortably around the midpoint. If the vehicle tends to lean closer to the warm side it could be a sign of trouble.

8. Get A Feel For How It Handles

As you drive make sure the steering wheel doesn’t feel too stiff or too loose and that you are able to maneuver the car without issues. Does the vehicle feel like it wants to pull to one side? This could indicate issues with suspension or the alignment.

Take some big wide turns and some tight ones too. The vehicle should navigate them smoothly and fluidly. If there is resistance or a thumping feeling in the steering wheel there may be a power steering issue. Odd noises are a sign of trouble too.

Once you’re comfortable driving at low speeds, do some highway driving to see how the car handles at high speeds. Switch lanes several times to find out how the vehicle reacts. Some issues only show up at certain speeds so put the car through its paces.

9. Pay Attention To The Suspension

While you’re testing out the handling of the vehicle, it’s a good time to pay attention to the suspension. How does the car handle potholes or less than ideal road surfaces? Do you hear strange squeaking or thunking sounds when you drive over bumps? These noises are a sign of trouble.

10. Put The Transmission Through Its Paces

Put the car into a drive gear then shift smoothly to reverse and then back again to drive. The transmission should shift gears smoothly and the vehicle should not jolt when the gear is changed. Listen for any grinding sounds as these could indicate a bad transmission.

If at all possible, drive the vehicle up and down some hills. Listen to the transmission. It should upshift and downshift appropriately.

Pay close attention on the highway. The vehicle should accelerate quickly and smoothly from one gear to another. Does it feel like there is a hesitation? That’s a bad sign.

11. Listen While You Drive

Your ears can alert you to all sorts of trouble hiding beneath the hood of the vehicle. Use the entire test drive to listen for rattling, knocking, squeaking, whining, or any noises that don’t seem quite right. Keep the radio off the entire time and distractions to a minimum so that you can pay attention to every sound you year.

12. Check For Comfort

Chances are that you will spend a good amount of time in your vehicle and it’s important that you be comfortable. Before you begin driving, adjust the mirrors, steering wheel, and seat for optimal comfort. Make sure that you can see well and that you have ample headroom prior to departure.

The true test of comfort will be on the way back to the dealership. Now that you’ve been driving for a while, how do you feel? Still comfortable? No aches starting to develop? You will quickly learn to hate driving if your vehicle leaves you sore.

If the test drive goes well and you love the vehicle, it’s time to take the next step. Get your car financing in order before you negotiate and you’ll be in a better position to bargain. MyAutoLoan can help! With our comprehensive auto loan tool you can get multiple offers in minutes.