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How do you test drive a 2nd hand car

Updated on March 15, 2015

The Problems

Buying a used car can be a nightmare; I know this from my terrible experiences. I bought my second car a few years ago, the car was recommended to me from a mechanic who was friends with the owner. I just assumed the car would be in tip top condition being recommended by the mechanic. I learnt the hard way that assumptions more often than not aren't the right way to do things. The car ran well for about a year, but I started no notice noises and problems. It was time for my registration check and I took it to a thorough mechanic and very shortly after assessing my car I was told to essentially scrap the car as its time was up. So it’s safe to say I was ripped off and I felt pretty bad about it, but after the experience I can now look bad and be assured that I won’t make those mistakes again.

Getting ripped off is a major issue when buying a second hand car. Quite often, the previous owner doesn't even know about the problems of the car but more often than not the owners do know of the issues and do want to get rid of the car while getting some extra cash.

How to ask for a good test drive

Asking for a driving usually won’t cause any dramas as most sellers know that denying you a driving test essentially says “hey look! This car is a mess, but I don’t want you to know that!”

Make sure you arrange the driving test when you’re suited to it. There’s no point in arranging a driving test when you don’t have the time and can’t arrange the resources to do it properly. Make sure when you’re test driving the car, to not get pressured into taking little time or being distracted from the key areas you’re looking in to.

What to do while test driving the car

Knowing what to do when taking the car for a test drive is one of the most important things to consider when buying a used car. Anyone with a licence is able to hop in a car and drive it and say “yeap it works’ but knowing what to look for in terms of its mechanical health is another thing.

My advice is to let the car run for about 15 minutes before even driving the car. Give it a few revs and observe a few things. There are a few reasons for doing this:

  • You can check if the car emits blue or unusual smoke
  • Check oil pressure gauge, see if it rises when you rev
  • Check if alternator or voltage gauge climbs when you rev the car
  • Check under the car for any leakages
  • Check radiator cap to see if water is circulating properly


What to look out for

While driving the car, there are a few important things to look out for:

  • Does the car run straight?
  • When you turn, do the wheels make a noise?
  • Is the car too hot?
  • Does it make strange noises from the engine? Try to limit noises such as radio as they can distract you from the noises of the car.

What to ask questions about

There are various factors you need to find out about the car before you consider buying it or taking action towards buying it:

  • Does the car have registration?
  • Is there still finance on the car that hasn’t been paid?
  • Has the car been involved in any previous accidents?
  • What condition does the seller believe the car to be in?
  • Why are they selling the car?

A lot of this information can be found by doing your own research; however it’s recommended that you try to get as much information from the owner and check with your local trusted mechanic. This is because when you already know the answer you are able to make a judgement on the car by how the seller is trying to talk it up. If the seller lies about aspects, then there’s a chance that they’re covering up for faults.


Article written with guide from qualified Mechanics

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