How to Shop for Used Cars: 5 Key Test Driving Tips

August 5th, 2022 by

Over 40 million cars sold in 2021 were used vehicles. Pre-owned cars can be a great purchase, allowing buyers to get their desired car at a much cheaper price than if it was brand new — and often, with very little compromise.

However, when it comes to how to shop for used cars, a big part of finding the right one is the test drive. You need to make sure you’re satisfied with the vehicle and most of this can be done during this part of the buying process.

Find the best cars to buy by paying attention to these things on the test drive.

1. Research the Vehicle Before the Test Drive

Before you even embark on the test drive, you should do your research on a good price. The used car market is full of variables, but you should get a solid idea of what that make and model is usually worth and compare it to the price this seller is giving you.

Then consider on the test drive how smoothly it’s running, how well taken care of it seems, and all of those things that might affect the price.

While a price much higher than what you’ve found to be the typical market value is a red flag, so is a very low price. Be prepared to ask lots of questions during the test drive, and if the price is low, one of these should be: why?

The average price of a used car in the US is around $35,000, but this can vary wildly between cars and even states.

2. Ask a Ton of Questions

As well as questioning the price (if it seems well out of the market range), you should be prepared to ask a bunch of other questions during the test drive. If anything seems even the slightest bit off when test driving used cars, you should look to the seller to explain it immediately.

If they tell you it’s normal, do your research after the drive to ensure they’re telling you the truth. You can never be too careful when buying a used car.

Other questions to ask include:

  • Where did the car come from and why is it being sold?
  • Would you be willing to provide a third-party report on the car’s maintenance?
  • Has the car ever been in any accidents and what was the damage?

You shouldn’t limit yourself to these though. Ask whatever pops into your head — test driving used cars means making lots of inquiries to ensure you get the right deal, and any good seller will be understanding of this.

3. Pay Attention When Driving the Car

Although you have to pay attention to the road in a car, test driving also means paying attention to the inside of the car where possible and looking for anything unusual. This might mean something glaringly obvious like the check engine light popping on, but it could also mean something more subtle — sticky brakes, an odd sound, etc.

If you do notice something that you decide is odd, don’t let the dealer talk you out of questioning it until you have a solid answer.

Make sure you’re paying attention at every step of the drive too. When speeding up, when slowing down, when breaking and, if in a manual car, when changing gears.

4. Test Everything

One of the best used car buying tips is to test absolutely everything. Don’t take it for a test drive through the parking lot where you can’t get above 15 mph and decide that the car seems to run well enough for you. You want to take it out on roads where it can gain a bit of speed, test parking it, and try to cram in as much as you might do on any given day if you owned the car.

Pull every lever. Make sure you look inside the glove compartment, adjust the seats and mirrors, and basically do everything you can think of. While it might make you feel awkward to inspect the car so thoroughly, the seller should expect it. Even buying a used car, after all, is not cheap.

It also gives you the opportunity to compare it to what you currently drive and make sure you’ll be comfortable in it, even if there are no faults.

If there’s something the seller doesn’t want you to do or a button they don’t want you to push (for example, if they tell you not to turn on the air conditioning), it’s a red flag that something is wrong with that aspect of the car. Walk away.

5. Check Out the Exterior

During the test drive, don’t forget to look around the exterior of the car before or after driving it. That way, you’ll be able to see any cosmetic issues or even anything dangerous with the tires or wheels.

Although you may not be an expert, a third-party report can assure you that the maintenance is all there — but it’s still a good idea to look at it yourself. Expert or not, cosmetic issues sometimes aren’t difficult to spot!

This Is How to Shop for Used Cars

People often don’t know how to shop for used cars, which leaves them with a car they didn’t inspect properly — and that now doesn’t work right. That’s the last situation you want to be in.

The used car market has plenty of competition, so don’t settle for something you aren’t sure about. Take it for a test drive, examine every aspect of the car that you can, and ask the seller lots of questions about the vehicle and its history.

Looking for certified pre-owned vehicles? Take a look at our large inventory today and we’re sure you’ll find something you love.