Test driving guide

A handy guide on what to look out for on a test drive

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Last Updated: 05/10/2016

Not everyone is a car expert but that shouldn’t put you off buying a new car. Even if you don’t know your carburettor from your crankshaft, you should always test drive your potential new car before you buy it.

Getting a new car is not only a hefty hit on your wallet but it’s something you’re more than likely to use every day. A test drive is a perfect chance to make sure you’re getting exactly what you want for your money and that you feel comfortable behind the wheel.

Test drives should be about more than just a quick kick to the tyre, so for those less confident drivers, here is a handy guide on what to look out for and the questions you should be asking.

Before your test drive

Research ahead of time

Whether stepping into a showroom or testing a second-hand car, the best thing you can do before a test drive is to do some research at home. Spend a bit of time looking at the makes and models you like and can afford online and think about what you want the vehicle for.

If you’re in charge of the school run you should be looking at larger vehicles with tons of space and a high safety rating whereas, if you’re buying your first car you’ll be more focused on price and what insurance group they fall into.

Whatever your needs, the internet is full of suggestions of which car will best suit you. Read reviews of the cars you like the look of and narrow it down to a list of 3 or 4 you’d like to test drive.

This is obviously easier if you’re visiting car showrooms with a range of vehicles on offer but even if you’re buying second-hand you can still browse and research used car sites to find a couple of vehicles that take your fancy.

Vehicle check

When you arrive to take a test drive it’s important to do some basic vehicle checks before you get behind the wheel. Even if it’s a brand new car there could be scratches, dents or even damage to the interior that you need to look out for.

If it’s a used car then these basic checks could stop you from buying a faulty vehicle. A few things you should look for are:

• Make sure the car matches the description

• ‘Bubbling’ paintwork can be a sign of rust

• Mismatched paintwork could be a sign of shoddy repair after an accident

• Check the suspension by pushing each corner of the car, it should bounce back smoothly

• Does the mileage (average 8,000 a year) match the age of the car

• Check the vehicle’s documents, service history, V5C registration, MOT certificates etc.

• Look for even wear on the tyres

This is not an exhaustive list and if you have any doubts about the vehicle question the seller and follow your gut.


Before you head out on your test drive, you must make sure that you’re properly insured to drive the vehicle. The police will not accept ‘I’m test driving the vehicle’ as an excuse for not having insurance.

Most recognised dealers will have insurance in place that will cover you on a test drive. They will probably need to take a copy of your license in case something happens but otherwise you shouldn’t have to worry about anything.

If you’re buying a car from a private dealer however you will need to organise insurance for yourself. At the moment there a number of ways to get cover for a test driver. As a buyer your insurance may include a ‘driving other cars’ or DOC which as the name suggest allows you to drive another vehicle. DOC has become a rare extra in recent years and usually offers third-party cover only which means that the vehicle you’re driving wouldn’t be covered.

On a private test drive you should have fully comprehensive insurance which will cover all parties. The easiest and often cheapest way to get this is with a temporary car insurance policy. Short term insurance offers comprehensive cover that’s perfect for test drives.

It covers you to drive a selected vehicle at a time that suits you. You can select when you want the policy to begin, down to the minute so you don’t have to fork out for annual insurance or to adjust your existing cover. You can get insurance for just one day that will protect your No Claims Discount.

On the test drive

Be in control

Once you’ve had a look over the vehicle and sorted out your insurance it’s time to start the test drive. Many dealers will have an assigned route they’d like you to follow but it’s important that you go where you want to (within reason). You need to make sure that you try the car out on a variety of roads including, if possible the roads you use regularly.

You should try and get out on the roads for about half an hour to 45 minutes to get a good feel for the vehicle. Make sure you discuss this with the seller beforehand and they should be fine with anything you want to test. At the end of the day, they are after a sale and will likely change their usual routine to make one.

What to look out

When you get in the vehicle, the first thing you want to see is how comfortable the driver seat is. You’re going to spending many hours in that position so make sure everything suits you. Next check out the controls and gadgets are working properly. Ask the seller to explain any controls you don’t understand. You’re also paying for the features of the car so ensure that they’re working properly.

Get in and out of the car multiple times, sit in the back if you need to. You want to make sure that all aspects of the vehicle are up to your standards. Ask yourself and the dealer if need be some questions like:

• Will the boot fit the weekly shop?

• Can you get a car seat in comfortably?

• Does my phone work with the stereo?

• Are there any warning lights appearing?

• Does the steering wheel turn easily?

When starting the vehicle, make sure that you start the car from cold. If the car is already running it could be a sign that the seller is trying to hide problems starting the car or loud noises. You should also listen out for any suspicious noises throughout the test drive. Even if you can’t identify what they are, be sure to quiz the seller on them.

As mentioned above, when you’re out on the road, make sure you test the vehicle on a range of different roads. From tight town roads to dual carriageways you need to see how the car performs in different scenarios. You should also try driving at various speeds although you should always inform the people you’re driving with before you do so.

Make sure you have a couple of attempts at parking the vehicle. You’ll want to know easy the car is to control and test out any parking assist features it may have.

After the test drive

Take time making your decision

Not matter how much you loved the car, it’s important not to get carried away. First of all, you should always test out a couple of the cars you researched to compare and secondly you should give yourself time to reflect before you make a decision. Speak to the seller and confirm the final costs and then come away.

When you’ve talked it over and made up your mind on which vehicle you want, it’s time to make your purchase.

Drive away cover

Once you’ve bought your new car you’ll want to get on the road as soon as possible. If you’ve been test driving a number of cars is unlikely you will have had time to sort out your annual insurance. If you want to be able to drive your car home then you need flexible and affordable drive away insurance.

It’s a temporary policy that covers you to get your vehicle home and while you arrange yearly insurance. Available from just one day up to 28 days, it’s quick and simple to get a quote. Cover is instant so there’s no waiting around.

A test drive is an important part of buying a new car and along with a bit of research, asking the right questions and knowing what warning signs to look out for, we’re confident you’ll find the best car for you!