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8 questions to ask yourself when test driving a used car

man with glasses driving car

The biggest fear people have when buying a car is future repairs. For this reason, a vehicle service contract (also known as an extended car warranty) that covers breakdowns is a smart choice. 

Not only can it give you peace of mind but it can save you a huge bill.

If you’re currently in the market for a used car, you’ll want to test drive the car carefully to know its condition before buying. 

Be sure to drive it for at least 10 miles on stop and go traffic, the freeway and on empty parking lots. Here are 8 questions you should ask yourself during a test drive.

1. How severe are the car’s scratches, dents and rust?

Always start off your test drive by walking around the car first and taking note of the condition of the exterior body. Most used cars will have a few imperfections. That’s normal. But large scratches, dents and rust serve as red flags that the car hasn’t been treated very well. They will also worsen overtime and can be very expensive to fix.

2.  What do the tires look like?

Check the tire tread using the penny test. You’ll need to place a penny with Lincoln’s head upside down into several grooves of the tire (the grooves near the front facing side of the tire and the grooves near the back, toward the struts). If you see most or all of Lincoln’s head, then the treads are worn and the tires should be replaced.

Note: If you notice that the tire is more worn out in some grooves of the tire than in others, this may mean that there’s a problem with the car’s alignment.

3. Are the turn signals, headlights and brake lights lighting up?

There are so many things going through your head during a test drive that it’s super easy to forget to check the lights! Turn the lights on, use your turn signals and step on the brake and have someone tell you if they’re working. It’s always a good idea to bring a family member or close friend along for the ride so that they can help you perform all the necessary checks. 

4. How do the brakes feel?

Once you’re out on the street and driving, you’ll want to check how well the car is slowing down when you step on the brakes. There shouldn’t be any vibrations or squealing sounds. If braking isn’t smooth, the car’s brakes may need to be replaced, either because the original brakes are failing or the brakes it currently has are aftermarket brakes of a low-quality.

Brake repairs are common but dishonest repair shops sometimes recommend brake services that are unnecessary. Read our recent blog on Why are brake scams so common at the repair shop?

5. Is the car driving straight or is it pulling to one side?

During your test drive, don’t just stick to streets with stop and go traffic. You should take the car on the freeway where you can drive at 60 mph or more. On the freeway, cautiously switch lanes several times and see if the steering pulls to one side or another. If it does, it can mean it has suspension or alignment problems.

6. Is there any hesitation?

While checking your car’s acceleration at higher speeds on the freeway, see if there is any hesitating or resistance when moving from gear to gear. Acceleration should be responsive and smooth when a car is running properly. There shouldn’t be any jerking, squeaks, whines or rattles.

7. How well does the car downshift?

In a test drive, we tend to focus on upshifting or accelerating but we should not forget to also carefully check how the car downshifts. To check the downshifting of your car, drive down a hill and slow down. Once again, check for hesitation or jerking. 

Note: Jerking when accelerating or decelerating can happen for various reasons. It can be a sign of dirty injectors, blockages, worn out spark plugs or worse problems, such as damaged cylinders that can eventually ruin your engine.

8. How well does the car move in reverse?

Finally, take the car to an empty parking lot and shift the car to reverse several times. Make sure it’s driving and shifting gears smoothly from drive (or first gear if it has a manual transmission) to reverse. A bad transmission will cause jolts and make grinding noises

Getting vehicle breakdown coverage on a used car

After you’ve test driven your car and gotten a positive pre-purchase inspection (something most car experts recommend), you may be ready to buy your used car. Despite the car being in good condition, you may still want to have protection if something breaks down in the future. An aftermarket warranty for used cars like Vehicle Repair Protection can give you the peace of mind that you’re looking for by providing comprehensive coverage of car repairs that can cost thousands. has created vehicle breakdown coverage that is simple, trustworthy and affordable. Transforming the extended car warranty marketplace through technology and transparency, offers a full suite of worry-free, no haggle car care plans through low-cost, 100% online, monthly subscriptions that drivers can sign up for in less than five minutes. Get an instant quote today!