How to Test Drive a Used Car

March 6th, 2023 by

The used car market is booming, as new cars get more expensive, and commuters avoid transit in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s easy to find a used car but finding one that’s both reliable and affordable is more of a challenge. Fortunately, you can have both, if you’re willing to do some work to get there.

Because new cars rapidly depreciate the moment they leave the new car dealer’s lot, you can get a much lower price when they’re a few years down the road. However, not all cars age as well as others. You have to consider their predicted reliability going forward, as well as how they’ve been treated during their first years in service.

Be ready to do some research

The best way to approach this is to take the time to do the groundwork necessary to find the best and most reliable car for you and your family. A good way to start is to check with publications such as Consumer Reports or Car & Driver. These companies review sales and performance records of many different makes and models and will often rate some vehicles as best buys.

Find a vehicle that meets your needs and your budget

Once you’ve done the research and you’ve come up with one or more models you’re interested in, you need to find out if it’s affordable for you. Check around websites or car lots to find out what these cars are selling for. Compare prices at dealerships with offers from individuals.

Take a thorough test drive.

test drive a used carThis is perhaps the most important part of your search. Here are some tips that will help you to get the true picture of the condition of the car.

Make an Appointment

Contact the seller and arrange to drive the car when the engine is cold. Sometimes a seller will warm up the car before your test drive, to cover up some engine issue or noise. By insisting on looking at the car when it’s cold, you’ll know if there are any issues in starting the car, and you can see if there’s any burst of smoke from the exhaust that would indicate burning oil.

Service Records

Ask the seller for documentation of all the service records for the car. This will include the owner’s manual as well receipts for any maintenance or repairs. If the car has had body work done on it, you should ask for those receipts as well.

Bring Along Some Gear

If you’d like to examine the undercarriage of the car, bring a clean floormat or piece of carpeting to lay on while performing the examination and use a flashlight. Bring your smartphone to check the operation of the connectivity options. Check the tires with a depth gauge look for uneven wear on the tires.

Lift the Hood

Before you start the car, take a look at the engine, and check all the fluids. Use your flashlight to check for any visible fluid leaks. While you’re under the hood, ask the seller to start the car. Listen carefully to the engine for any unusual noises, such as ticking or banging.  Once the engine has warmed up, look to see if there’s any white or grey smoke coming from the exhaust.

Look for Water Leaks or Stains

Look around for any signs of water leaks. Look to see if there are any rusty areas, and check for any signs of leaks on the pavement under the car.

Inside the Car

Once you’ve entered the car, check the condition of all the interior surfaces. If there’s a lot of “stuff” in the car, remove it as it may muffle any sounds you may want to hear. Familiarize yourself with all of the controls to make sure everything works and adjust the driver’s seat so that you’re comfortable.

Pick a Rough Road

Most cars will ride smoothly on a smooth road, so find a road that will challenge the suspension system of the car.  Make sure to turn off the radio while you’re driving. Drive down the road you’ve chosen and listen for any unusual sounds.


When applying the brakes, listen for any scraping or screeching sounds that could indicate unusual wear. Also check for a spongy feeling in the brake pedal.

Engine and Transmission

While you’re driving, test the engine and transmission in a variety of situations. Start from a dead stop and accelerate slowly. Feel the shifting of the transmission to make sure it’s smooth. Then accelerate more briskly. Is everything still working smoothly?  Next get the car up to speed at full throttle and again feel the shifting to make sure it’s smooth.


With the car stopped and the engine running, turn the wheel completely to the right and then to the left. Do you hear any clunking or popping sound?  With the car in gear, again turn the wheel fully in each direction. While the wheel is turned, step briskly on the gas and see if you hear a clunk. If anything here seems amiss, you’ll want to have the front end, motor mounts, and CV joints checked by a qualified mechanic of your choosing, not the seller’s.

Don’t Skip any Steps

While all of this may sound like a lot of work, the end result of your diligence in finding the right car will pay off for years to come.

For over 85 years, Dixie Buick GMC has served the Ft. Myers area, offering a diverse inventory of both new and used vehicles to choose from. Our highly trained sales team is ready to help you select your next vehicle, and our certified factory trained service technicians are equipped to handle your service needs. If you have any automotive needs in the Naples, Cape Coral, or Ft Myers area, we hope you will stop by and let us serve you. For more information, visit our website or contact us. We hope to see you soon!

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