8 – Drive


Test Driving

Drive is broken into 3 activity sets:  In the Driver’s Seat, Test Drive, and Post Test Drive.

You will be performing these actions and activities:

  • Get in
  • Buckle up
  • Adjust seating and mirrors
  • Start engine
  • Engage transmission (after depressing brake pedal)
  • Release brake and begin moving
  • Steering
  • Accelerating
  • Cruising
  • Decelerating
  • Braking
  • Stopping
  • Parking
  • Getting out of

Using the guide tables below, plan and rate each of the criteria.

In The Driver’s Seat


Seller’s Info

My Notes



How does it feel?

How does it sound?


Before you take any car for a test drive, think about insurance.  Verify that should you get in an accident whilst test driving the car that you’re covered.

Getting Started

Getting Started:

  • Switch the ignition on, but don’t yet start the engine.
    Indication/warning lights should light up. If nothing is lighting up then obviously there must be a fault somewhere in the wiring or components.
  • The oil and coolant level lights should light up after a few seconds. The hand brake light should switch off when the brake is released.
  • Potential ABS or airbags lights will have their own testing sequence. Look it up in the vehicle’s manual to see what this should be.
  • If any lights stay on, especially those for brakes or coolant level, ask the seller for more information why this occurs.


  • Push down on the clutch and the brake pedal. Both pedals shouldn’t feel loose or spongy.
  • Push the brake pedal down hard. If you notice the brake pedal slowly dropping down to the floor it could mean there is a serious hydraulic problem. And that is not only a costly problem but you would be putting yourself in danger as well when driving the car.
  • Still with the engine off, pump the brake pedal a couple of times to use up the vacuum in the servo reservoir. When you have your foot still on the pedal proceed to start the engine you should now feel the pedal push down to the floor under your foot.
  • With the engine still running, move the gear shift with the clutch in. It should move smoothly for you, and check if the stick vibrates this is a sign of wear.

Warning Indicators:

  • Do you see the Temp warning light go out?
  • Do you see the Oil warning light go out?
  • What is the reading of the oil pressure gauge?
  • Do you see the Charge warning light go out?
  • Are all instruments working?
  • Do you hear any strange noises when the engine is running cold?
  • Does the clutch make strange noises when pushing down on it a few times?
  • Turn the ignition off. Any restart problems?
  • Is the fuel indicator in working order?

Starting and running

  • Does the car start easily when cold?
  • Does the car run smoothly when cold?
  • Run smoothly when warm?

Visible leaks in parking spot?

Move the car slowly back or forward to expose the area where it was parked, do you see any leakage on the ground?


Brakes Test the brakes before starting to drive for obvious reasons

  • First, test the brake pedal resistance.
  • Next, push the brake pedal hard and hold it (the pressure should remain constant)
  • Drive about 20 feet and stop quickly.
  • Do the brakes work properly when braking on various speed?
    • Later when driving at about 40 mph in an open area with no traffic behind you, advise the seller if he is riding with you that you are going to stop quickly; then brake firmly in a controlled manner in order to decelerate as quickly as you can.  How did it feel?
    • Any skidding or jittering?  Often with ABS, you might feel the brake pedal automatically “pump” or pulse.
    • Does the car stop straight; or does it pull to one side?
  • Check the handbrake. Is it strong enough to hold the vehicle on a hill?


Sounds and noises

Do you hear any unusual engine noises or experience strange vibrations when driving?

  • With the windows down, drive the car along-side of a wall type structure or curb that can reflect the sounds of the car.  Do you hear anything that concerns you?
  • Clanging or clunking sounds when starting and stopping the car could mean problems with exhaust, brakes, engine mountings, suspension, transmission or the drive shaft.
  • Knocking or tapping sounds could be from a failing rod bearing, piston or piston pin.
  • Whining or grinding sounds can mean worn bearings or gears which are expensive to repair.
  • Squealing sounds when you use the brake may mean new brake pads or linings are needed. Scrubbings sounds are worse because it indicates that the “screeching” parts could be worn beyond repair.
  • Do you experience any problems with the transmission?
    • Test the low speed/easy driving shifts.
    • Now try the rapid-acceleration shifting.
    • Keep in mind your desire to optimize economy, as well as have the power to get on the highway, take hills, or pass other vehicles as necessary.
    • Everything working smoothly?  Remember that some cars are designed to shift like butter, and others (such as older performance cars) are supposed to shift hard and jump forward.  Find out what your candidate car is supposed to do before you test drive).
    • Does the car accelerate smoothly from a dead stop?
    • The engine should pull up smoothly when you accelerate the gas, without any stalls or power losses. Releasing your foot off the accelerator should also power down smoothly.
    • If the engine is in poor condition and is old and worn it may take a while to get you up to speed and you may see a big puff of smoke coming out of the exhaust.
    • Drive the car up a hill, does it have any problems taking on a hill?
    • Driving the car up a hill is a good time to watch for blue smoke from burning oil coming out of the exhaust. When you go down the hill have your foot off the accelerator, at the moment you reach the bottom of the hill, push down on the accelerator again.
    • Does the parking brake work? Put on parking brake and test it against the engine.
Reverse lights Stop the car, and test the reverse, have a friend check if the reverse lights are working, or use the reflection of a window or other object.
  • Make two sharp full circle turns, clock wise and counter clock wise, and find out if you hear any strange noises?
  • Creaks and groans of the suspension
  • Creaks in the dashboard and interior
  • Road noise (tires, door seals, engine & exhaust)
  • When you hear rhythmic clunks from the front of the vehicle when driving, this may indicate that the drive shaft joints are badly worn and need to be replaced.
Suspension & handling How is the suspension of the car? Does it take bumps on smoothly, or is it rigid and are you bouncing all over the place?


After The Drive

When done test driving, park the vehicle but leave the engine running and have another look under the hood. Now that the vehicle is warmed up to operating temperature, the fluids have been flowing, and the radiator is pressurized, this is an ideal time to give the engine an additional inspection:

Engine temperature Engine temperature at idle speed?  It should be in the range of normal operation per the temperature gauge.  If too high, then you need to find out why it is overheating (possible causes include thermostat, temperature sensors, water pump or belt, etc.).
Exhaust smoke Exhaust showing excessive smoke? Watch the color of the smoke:
• Blue smoke means the engine is worn and is burning oil.
• Black smoke indicates excessive fuel consumption due to poor tuning.
• Constant white smoke is actually steam – engine coolant or antifreeze is being consumer in the combustion chambers of the engine. Check the radiator fluid level (after properly alleviating any pressure in the cooling system, since burns from engine coolant can cause severe injury).  However, do not confuse this with the normal vapor that is present in the exhaust on cold days, or that is seen when first starting a car on a cool one.  Leakage could be due to a blown head gasket or a cracked head – both of which require extensive work and cost to remediate.

Any odors?

The smell of burning oil can mean a worn-out engine.

Gasoline? If you can smell petrol fumes while you are driving, you may have a fuel leak.

Exhaust fumes? This can be very dangerous, as carbon monoxide leaks can poison you and your passengers, potentially causing occupants to become sick or pass out behind the wheel or have long term health implications.

Oil or water leaks? Is the car leaking fluids from underneath the car?
Hot startup

Does the car start easily again after you switch it off?

Does the car overheat when idling?  How does the temperature gauge look?

Air conditioning Air Conditioning – Check for cold air even it is wintertime.  Point your laser thermometer just inside the vent in order to see the temperature difference.
Heater Heater – Check it for hot air even if it is summer time.  Use your laser thermometer.
ODB II Scan: Check the ODB II scan readings again to see if anything has changed.

Conclusion of Test Driving

Hopefully with the above-mentioned points you have a better understanding what to watch out for when you go out to buy a used car, and it will help you avoid buying a complete nightmare.