A thorough test drive is a key part of purchasing a used vehicle. Follow these guidelines to ensure the car you want is up to par.

A test drive is vital when you purchase a used vehicle. There are certain things you should pay attention to so that you don’t get “stuck.” Here are some key components to consider.

Brakes and Tires

Inspect the tires for uneven wear and low tread. Uneven wear could signal that there is an alignment problem. If you can see through the spokes of the wheels, look at the brake rotors to ensure they’re not scored. If you can’t see the rotors or are unsure about the tires, take the vehicle to your mechanic.


Check all the fluids to ensure they’re full and clean. Look for signs of recent leaks, such as wet hoses, oil dripping on the engine, or brake fluid stains near the power booster and master cylinder. It’s wise to check the fluids before and after the test drive to see if there are any alarming changes.

Body Repairs

Find out if the car has ever been in an accident. You won’t always be able to tell, but if you can catch it, you’ll save yourself some problems later on. Check for any ripples, open the doors and the trunk to inspect the jambs—many people forget to paint those areas when they repaint a damaged vehicle. Make sure the doors, the trunk, and the hood open and close smoothly. Ensure the doors lock from the inside and outside, and with and without the key if the vehicle has remote door locks. Finally, check all the lights including fog lights, head lights, high and low beams, tail lights, blinkers, flashers, and brake lights.


The hardest thing for a layperson to check is the engine, however, there are ways to help determine if it’s worth driving the vehicle to your mechanic. While the engine is running, open the hood. Listen for noises, especially hissing, knocking, and ticking sounds. A hissing noise may signify a vacuum leak, while knocking or ticking could signify problems with the oiling system or the pulley system.

The Test Drive

When you test drive the vehicle, go for a few miles and be sure to go over 60 mph for a short distance. Some problems aren’t revealed until you hit higher speeds. Look for shimmying in the steering wheel, shaking in the brake pedal, and noises that you didn’t hear when you were driving slowly. If you find anything you’re unsure of, have your mechanic check the vehicle.

Vehicle History

If everything looks good, there is one final important consideration: the vehicle’s history. Use the vehicle’s VIN number to run it through AutoCheck. This will show any accidents, including frame damage, that this vehicle has gone through. Frame damage is almost always a deal breaker, but can be easy to overlook without AutoCheck.

If you’re at a dealership that offers certified pre-owned vehicles, you have less to worry about, however, you should check non-certified vehicles and vehicles sold by individuals by giving them a thorough inspection and a solid test drive.

Traci Benoit

About the AuthorTraci Benoit

I'm an automotive copywriter with more than 10 years of professional writing experience. I've written automotive content, articles, how-tos, magazine articles, sales copy and more. I have more than 15 years of professional hands-on experience in the automotive industry.