Buying guide

What to look for when viewing and test driving a car

Here’s what you need to know to maximise the effectiveness of this stage of your car buying process.

Once your car search starts to find some fantastic potential car options, it’s time to check them out in person! Comprehensively inspecting the car is a must, as is seeing how it handles on a test drive, so here’s what you need to know to maximise the effectiveness of this stage of your car buying process. Read now or download for future reference whilst checking out a vehicle!

Be thorough

If you’ve found a car you like, you should contact the seller and go take a better look. This will give you the chance to see if it fully matches your requirements.

Check the car for rust, dings, leaks and make sure all basic elements are working. When performing inspections make sure you do the following:

    • Undertake a visual inspection of the exterior; look for rust, bubbling paintwork, scratches, panels or doors which don’t line up (potentially indicating a crash), and chips in the windscreen.
    • Inside, look for water damage or ripped areas. Try out all the seats and check they’re comfortable. Make sure there aren’t any bad smells coming from the inside.
    • If you have car knowledge, check the engine; look for cracks and check liquids – or get an expert to have a look.
    • Ask the owner or dealer if there’s anything you should know about the car and request to see service records – ethically, they’re obliged to inform you of any issues.
    • Consumer information notice (CIN) must be displayed on any car that a dealer is selling. Here's our guide to CINs and how to read them.

    Take it for a test drive

    A test drive is your chance to see if you like the way the car handles, how pleasant the overall driving conditions are, and whether the car seems generally sound. A dealer may ask you to sign a liability agreement before a test drive. A private owner may too, and they might also request to come with you on the test drive.

      • Before heading out, check the registration and Warrant of Fitness (WoF) are up to date. If not, you could be fined.
      • If the car is being sold privately, it may also be wise to check the owner’s insurance covers you.
      • On the test drive, try the car on a hill, urban roads and the open road/motorway to gauge performance. See how steadily it maintains a straight line or if it pulls to one side slightly, how comfortable it is to turn the steering wheel and if the power steering is effective.
      • On the road, feel how the car handles corners and take note of anything that seems strange.
      • Be sure to park it in the type of spot you’d regularly park in.
      • Make sure that all doors and windows work and that the key works in all the doors.
      • Check to see if the lights, camera and other electric features, including the air conditioning and heating are working properly.

      Get a Vehicle Information Report

      If you’re still interested in the car after taking it for a test drive, it’s an excellent idea to get a Vehicle Information Report (VIR) from MotorWeb. This report is vital when buying a used car and will tell you everything from the history of the car, its legal and financial status, to an inconsistent odometer reading. All potentially saving you vast amounts of money and stress if any issues are flagged up with the car before you take ownership.

      If all is looking good with the car, the VIR hasn’t flagged up any hidden nasties and you’re edging closer to buying the vehicle, you should now be looking to organise a pre-purchase car inspection.