Inspections & Test Driving

You’ve found a car and it’s within your price range – now it’s time for the most important part, meeting with the seller to inspect and test drive the car. Here are some tips on where to meet and what to look for so you’re comfortable that you are getting a good deal.

The Meeting
When you are organising the meet up, ensure its outdoors and during the day. Natural light will help you identify any dents, scratches or tears. Do not view or test drive a car at night. This part is equally important when it comes to negotiating a price; see our tips for negotiating for more information.

Be sure not to rush
Take your time when you are walking around the car, the longer you take to inspect it in detail the more you will notice. You should be looking for dents, tears, scuffs, scratches, et cetera, which can all be missed if you rush and only scan the car. The last thing you want is to notice it on the way home after purchasing the car! Body damage is often a good indicator of how the owner has looked after the parts you can’t see – for instance under the bonnet.


Don’t be afraid to ask the seller questions
Ask questions as you begin your inspections; this is likely to be a large investment and the seller will understand. Here are some of the questions we’d ask to gain useful information about the car’s condition:

  • Remember specific features in the ad. Ask about them. Ask the seller to confirm the details listed about the car. Does it match up with the ad? It’s usually a good sign to see if the seller is genuine, and if they are you might find out additional information on the car!
  • Question any scratches/dents you are noticing. As you are examining the car, ask questions about any scratches, dents or tears you are noticing that were not outlined in the ad or conversation up until now; again, take your time.
  • Why are they selling the car? When did they purchase it? The seller is unlikely to tell you if they are selling it because it’s a lemon. Understanding why they are selling also comes in handy when negotiating; if they’re in a hurry it gives you bargaining power.
  • Where do they have their car serviced? Always ask where the seller has the car serviced and if there is a logbook with service history. This can also be a good indicator of the car’s condition.
  • How would you describe the car’s condition? The answer you should be expecting will depend on what type of car you are after, however, this question is usually a good indicator of whether or not the seller is telling the truth.

What to look out for during the inspection
Ending up with a troubled used car has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with applying good research and investigative skills. Prior to a test drive of the car you should complete a thorough inspection of the exterior, interior and under the bonnet. Check the paint, under the car for oil leaks, ensure all the lights and audio work – leave no stone unturned.

Check out our inspection and test driving checklist for more information. You can print this off and refer to it when you are meeting sellers.


What to look out for when test driving
Take the test drive seriously... It’s important. You need to make sure the car meets your needs in terms of size, space, practicality and how it drives, as well as checking the car is in decent condition. Here are some things to consider when test driving:

  • Start the engine from cold. Feel the bonnet to make sure the engine hasn’t been warmed up already. This will help you spot any starting problems.
  • Ask about insurance. Ensure the car is adequately insured before you drive it. Some insurers will required the owner to accompany the vehicle on test drives in order to be covered, so anticipate the owner wanting to come along.
  • Map out the test drive. Work out before you set off where you are going to test drive the car and consider how you will use the vehicle. If you intend to use the car regularly on a daily commute, take it for a test drive where and when the traffic is congested. Park it – manoeuvre it. Use it as you would day to day.
  • Listen for unwanted noises and complete all checks. You can get easily distracted when test driving and forget to listen for any harsh clunks or rattling, watch for any engine lights or feel for the car pulling to one side. Our inspection and test driving checklist is a handy resource for things to check.
  • Test drive more than one car. It can be a good idea to test drive another car, even the same make and model if you can to get a feel of how the car drives. It may be immediately obvious from testing the same make and model that one car is superior to the other in terms of its condition.


Additional peace of mind
While these steps will help you make an informed decision it may be worth considering a pre-purchase inspection for additional peace of mind. An inspection is carried out by a qualified mechanic, who will complete a comprehensive vehicle inspection and provide a detailed digital report so you can make a smart decision about your purchase.

Another check you may want to consider is a vehicle history report. This can give you an indication of previous damage, whether it’s stolen or if there is evidence of an odometer discrepancy. For more information about a vehicle history report visit


It is extremely important to take your time and uncover everything there is to know about the car before you purchase, the extra time and small investments for additional checks may end up saving you thousands in the long run.


Any information on this page is provided as a guide only. It is not professional or expert advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The content may not be appropriate, correct or sufficient for your circumstances and should not be relied on as the only reason you do or don’t do anything.
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