How to test drive a used car

You should never buy any car – new or used – without taking it for a test drive first.

Fail to do this, and a whole stack of mechanical faults could be just waiting to tear the heart out of your wallet. You also need to make sure you can get comfy; it may sound mad, but if you don't give the car a decent run before you buy it, you could end up with transport that gives you aches and pains after just a brief drive. 

Before you think about this though, start the car from cold, and make sure it ticks over happily. Let the engine warm up and ensure the cooling fan cuts in before taking it for a decent run that will allow you to try out all the gears as well as the major controls, brakes, steering and suspension.

While you’re in the car, think about the following:

  • Have the steering wheel and gearknob been worn smooth? Does this tally with the recorded mileage?
  • Is the interior undamaged, along with all the glass? Are there any stickers on the windows which may have been put on to cover an old registration number etched onto the glass?
  • Check for rust that’s been painted over, plus filler in the wheelarches. Once rust arrives, it’s very hard to eradicate.
  • Ensure all the electrics work – try everything. It’s the same with the instrumentation – does it all read as it should?
  • Is the exhaust chucking out soot? If so, the engine may have had it, although some diesels can be pretty sooty even when reasonably healthy.
  • Does the car drive well, with no pulling to one side under braking? If the car hasn’t been used for a while it may need a few miles to settle down – but not a car that’s been in regular use.