What to check when test driving a used car

12 minute read Published on Nov 27, 2023 by BrokerLink Communications

Young woman arranging rearview mirror in the car

If you’re buying a used car, it’s more important than ever to do your due diligence. One thing to consider when buying a used vehicle is the test drive. It’s a smart idea for all buyers to take a prospective car for a test drive before purchasing it, but there are a few specific things to look out for when test driving a used vehicle. Continue reading to learn what to check when test driving a used car.

Tips for test driving a used car

Test driving a used car is a must before proceeding with the transaction, whether you’re buying a used car or buying a new car. A test drive will give you a clear idea of whether the car is a good fit for you. It can also be incredibly revealing when it comes to the shape and condition of the car. Below, the experts at BrokerLink have put together a list of tips for test driving a used car. The list consists of tips to follow before, during, and after the test drive. Check them out!

1. Carefully inspect the car before driving off

Before the test drive begins, experts suggest taking the time to carefully inspect the vehicle. We have put together the following used car vehicle inspection checklist to give you an idea of what to look for. Divided into exterior and interior, be sure to visually examine the following before taking the used vehicle for a spin.

Exterior inspection checklist

Car body

Examine the body of the car for dents, scrapes, scratches, misaligned panels, gaps, or rust. You should also check that the paint colour is the same on every panel. Sometimes, if the car has been damaged and repaired, the paint colour on one panel might be slightly different from the next.

Doors, hood, and trunk

Open and close the car’s doors, hood, and trunk to make sure they open and close smoothly. If you suspect any loose hinges, let the seller know.

Windows and windshields

Take a close look at the windows and windshields for signs of cracks or chips. Keep in mind that even the smallest of chips can wreak havoc if left for too long, so if you notice a blemish on the windshield or windows, don’t hesitate to let the seller know.

Vehicle suspension

Walk around the exterior perimeter of the vehicle and notice if it’s sitting level on the ground or not. You can even tap lightly on each corner to test the shock absorbers. If the shock absorbers are functioning properly, the car should bounce up and down once, not repeatedly.


Turn off and on all headlights, tail lights, and brake lights to make sure they work. You can also test the car’s left and right indicators. Finally, look at the exterior of the lights in case there are any cracks, fog, or discolouration.

Tires and wheels

Last but not least, take the time to carefully inspect the tires and wheels on the car. Evaluate the tread by testing for tread depth (the tread depth shouldn’t be less than 1/16”) and checking to see how evenly the tread is worn, which can be done by performing the tread depth test multiple times in different places on the same tire. While visually inspecting the tires, keep an eye on the wheels for any scuffs, cracks, or dents.

Interior inspection checklist


Once inside the car, breathe in deeply through your nose to see if you notice any strange odours. Odours can range from cigarette smoke or food to mould or mildew, the latter of which could mean water damage.


Sit in all seats in the car, including the back seats, and look for signs of wear and tear, such as stains, tears, or rips. If you plan to be in the car with a child, bring a car seat with you and install it to see how the car handles it.

Gas and brake pedals

While in park with the engine off, test the gas and brake pedals to see how they feel under your feet. This is a good time to notice if the rubber is worn or feels bulky under you.

Instruments and controls

Leaving the car in park, turn on the engine to make sure that the ignition switch is working properly. Next, look at the dashboard to check if all warning lights are turned on. Don’t hesitate to press various buttons on the dashboard, as well as turn on the air conditioning, heating, seat heaters, and more.


Switch on the radio or connect your smartphone via Bluetooth to make sure that the car’s sound system is adequate. If you plan on listening to the radio or podcasts a lot, this is important.


When seated, look up at the ceiling for signs of sags or discolouration. Either could spell trouble, as a sagging ceiling or stains could mean water damage. If the car has any sort of sunroof or if it’s a convertible, test out opening and closing it.


Lastly, inspect the interior of the trunk. Again, check for odd odours, especially ones that could indicate water damage, and check the carpeting for any tears. If the trunk has a spare tire in it, examine that too. Look for rust, scuffs, dents, and other signs of a poorly stored tire.

2. Bring someone with you

A second tip for test driving a used car is to bring someone with you. Whether this is a family member or a trusted friend, having another person there with you is a good idea. This way, you will have an extra set of eyes when inspecting the car. They can also take notes for you during the test drive. If you won’t be the only person driving the vehicle, make sure that all future drivers are present and get a turn in the driver’s seat.

3. Make a list of your must-haves

Before the test drive begins, we recommend making a list of your must-haves. You can divide this into wants and needs, but it’s a good idea to have a clear idea of what you’re looking for in a used vehicle. For example, if you drive a lot in a wide range of conditions, then purchasing a car with reliable handling might be important. Whatever your driving habits and preferences are, come up with a list of must-haves that meet them.

4. Plan your driving route ahead of time

You might think that taking the car for a spin around the block is sufficient, but you’ll be able to tell a lot more by planning out a more varied route in advance. For example, if you plan a route that includes quiet, residential roads, highways, as well as a mix of smooth and bumpy roads, you will have a much more realistic idea of how the car drives in a range of conditions. You should ensure your route includes lots of turns to give you a feel for steering wheel handling. Look at a map near the dealership and plan out a 20 or 30-minute route that will allow you to see how the vehicle reacts to different surfaces.

5. Drive it the way you would normally

Just because you don’t own the vehicle yet doesn’t mean that you should drive it any differently than how you usually drive your car. In fact, a test drive is when you should make sure that you’re driving the same way you normally would, including accelerating, passing, merging, and braking. This is the only way to get a true idea of what the car feels like, from how sensitive the brake and gas pedals are to how the engine feels as you accelerate. Listen closely for any noises, such as hums or squeals, that come from the car as you drive.

6. Think about comfort

Most of us spend a lot of time in our cars, so it’s important to think about comfort when taking a used car for a test drive. Is it comfortable to hold the steering wheel? Do you meet any resistance when you turn it? Is it easy to adjust the seats and mirrors? Make sure you feel safe and comfortable when driving the car.

7. Thoroughly test the brakes

You will inevitably test the brakes during any test drive. However, we recommend putting the brakes through the wringer when test driving a new car. By this, we mean practicing both a hard and a soft stop. If you’re driving with someone else, warn them beforehand. When it is safe to do so, complete a hard stop to see how the brakes react. If the used car has an anti-lock brake system, notice if that kicks in. You should also make a note of how hard you had to press on the brake pedal for the vehicle to come to a complete stop, as well as whether the vehicle pulled to one side.

8. Look out for blind spots

All cars have blind spots, but knowing where a car’s blind spots are located and their size are important, as they will impact how safe you feel when driving. During the test drive, pay close attention to any blind spots when turning or changing lanes, and make a mental note of how much you have to turn your head or look over your shoulder to eliminate the blind spot. You can also practice parking, especially parallel or reverse parking, to gain perspective on the various angles and blind spots of the car.

9. Test drive the car during the day and at night

Don’t hesitate to take a used car for multiple test drives. We recommend conducting a test drive at night and during the day so that you can gain insight into how the car drives at all hours. Since most test drives take place during the day, you may need to schedule an additional one later at night. A nighttime test drive will give you a chance to test the car’s headlights, as well as generally experience how it feels to drive the car in the evening.

10. Take your time

Never rush when test driving a car. Not only does rushing make you more susceptible to getting into a collision, but you also want to spend enough time behind the wheel that you truly get an idea of what it would be like to drive the car on a daily basis. If you’re nervous about taking the car out for too long, ask the seller in advance if they’re comfortable with the test driving lasting 30 minutes or more. A car, even a used one, is a major purchase, which means they understand and will likely accommodate your request.

11. Drive in silence

Not necessarily literal silence, but driving in quiet will allow you to notice if you hear any unusual noises. So switch the radio off, turn off the air conditioning or heating systems every so often, and take breaks from talking with the passenger if someone is in the car with you. By driving in relative silence, you will be able to discern how noisy the car is to drive, as well as whether the vehicle is emitting any strange or troubling noises.

Testing a used car in the winter

A quick note on winter test drives. First, winter is actually one of the best times to buy a new or used car. The dealerships are usually less crowded, which means more one-on-one attention and less competition. Plus, it will give you a much better idea of how the car fares in harsh road conditions, since navigating Canada’s roads during the wintertime is as harsh as it gets for many drivers. Overall, if your test drive takes place in the winter, there are a few additional factors to be aware of, which we outline below:

  • Bring an extra pair of shoes to change into so that you don’t cover the car’s interior with snow, ice, and salt.
  • Still plan out a varied route, but if road conditions are bad, e.g. slick and icy, then test out some of the riskier moves, like hard stopping, in an empty parking lot.
  • Make sure to test the car’s air conditioning system, even if just for a few minutes.
  • Clear all snow and ice off the car or take the car through a car wash before leaving the dealership.
  • Ask about the car’s tires, including whether they are all-season or winter and what their capabilities are.

What to do post-test drive

The test drive is over - now what? Although most sellers may try to pressure you into completing the sale, you are under no obligation to make a decision then and there. In fact, if this is the first used car you’ve test driven, the smartest move may be to take a step back, sleep on it, and make a decision at a later date. Generally speaking, test driving a minimum of two or three cars before buying one will allow you to compare them, giving you a clearer idea about which model is right for you. Plus, if you allow yourself more time to make a decision, you can schedule a second or even third test drive of the same vehicle. As mentioned above, this can give you an opportunity to test it out both during the day and at night, as well as an opportunity for another friend or family member to test it with you.

If you decide that you’re ready to take the plunge and purchase a used car, play it cool as much as possible. Whether you’re buying it from an independent seller or a car dealership, most sellers are willing and prepared to negotiate. Do some research, review the notes you took during the test drive, and negotiate the deal.

Before the transaction is complete, we also recommend asking about other vehicle-related factors, like whether the car is good on gas, if there is a warranty in place and if so, what the terms of it are, and when you can schedule a professional inspection, hiring a mechanic to inspect the car is another must when buying a used vehicle.

Auto insurance for used vehicles

One final thing to note when buying a used car is related to car insurance. Since the make and model of the vehicle you drive will impact your auto insurance premium, we recommend asking the dealership or current owner of the car about their rates. Once you’ve finished the test drive, find out whether the vehicle is likely to increase or decrease your premium. Remember that many vehicle-related factors impact auto insurance rates, including the safety rating of the car, how likely it is to be stolen, trim level, anti-theft devices, winter tires, and more. Ask the seller and do some research of your own to get an idea of how much insurance will cost, as well as the types of auto insurance that make the most sense for you.

If you need help understanding how much it will cost to insure your used car, contact BrokerLink. We can give you a free car insurance quote and answer questions like “ What documents do I need for car insurance?”. We can also explain how accidents affect car insurance rates, as well as how other factors, like age, gender, and marital status influence premiums. Reach out to BrokerLink today to learn more about used car insurance.

Contact BrokerLink to learn more used car test driving tips

At the end of the day, if you’re interested in buying a used car, make sure you take it for a thorough test drive (or two) first. Some dealerships will allow you an overnight test drive, allowing you to test the vehicle at night and see how the lights work after dark. Once you’ve decided which used car is for you, it’s time to purchase or update your insurance policy. That is where BrokerLink comes in.

As auto insurance experts, we work with insurance companies in Canada to find our customers the best possible policies for their needs and budget. We can offer insight into how to save money on car insurance, as well as what to avoid when buying insurance. We can also help with tasks like renewing car insurance or adding an additional person to your policy. Of course, as a full-service brokerage, we can also provide you with a complimentary car insurance quote.

Our quotes are competitive, reliable, and accurate. Plus, when we give you your free quote, one of our licensed brokers can also explain what factors were used to calculate the quote and how your used car impacts the amount you pay for auto insurance coverage in Canada. Reach out to BrokerLink to get started today. You can get a hold of us by phone, in person, or online via our website.

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