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9 Steps to Test Driving a Used Car

Updated on May 23, 2011

If you are in the market for a used vehicle, here are some tips you can do when you test drive it. Some are obvious and others not quite so obvious.

Steps for Your Test Drive


When the vehicle is parked, press down on the brake. If it goes to the floor, don't drive it.


When on the road, accelerate to 35 mph. If the gears stick or jerk or grind, there is a problem with the transmission.


Speed up to 15 mph then brake hard, (make sure nobody is behind you). The car should not swerve to either side.


Drive to an empty parking lot. Here you will test the transmission by shifting into reverse, stop, shift forward, stop, back to reverse, stop, all without exceding 5 or 6 mph. Car should shift smoothly.


While still in the parking lot, make a couple of sharp u-turns. make sure car handles well.


Going down the road, find a hill and accelerate to at least 40 mph. If the car strains there is probably a transmission problem.


Going down a hill, stop and shift into neutral. Make sure your brakes hold.


On the road, accelerate to 55 mph. If it doesn't reach 55 in 15 seconds or a lot of smoke comes out of the tail pipe it probably needs a lot of repairs.


At the end of the test drive, leave the engine running and open the hood. Look for any leaks, seaps, or light or heavy smoking. (The only leak that you might see that is normal is clear water from the air conditioner.)

Walking Away

If any of these steps raises a red flag, don't buy! It's better to walk away from it now then to buy it and having to walk away from it when it breaks down on the side of the road.


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