How to test drive a car UK

When it comes to choosing a used car, you should always try before you buy. Check out our complete guide to how to test drive a car in the UK

Written by Verity Hogan
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How to arrange a test drive

Ready to book a test drive? All you need to do is ask.

Get in touch with the person selling the car, whether it’s a dealership or a private seller, and find a time and date that works for you both.

Make sure you use the call to confirm a few details too; find out how long the test drive will last, what you need to bring with you, whether you can bring anyone along, and if there are any insurance requirements.

If you’ve applied for car finance through CarFinance 247, your personal account manager can take care of all this for you and arrange the test drive on your behalf.

Bear in mind that dealerships might be wary of time-wasters who just want to take the car out for a spin, especially if it’s a prestige or unusual model. Having your car finance in place already can reassure the seller that you’re a serious buyer and help you get the most out of test-driving.

But remember, test-driving a car is a step in the car buying process and you’re under no obligation to buy.

Do I need to pay for a UK test drive?

No, the good news is that you won’t have to pay for a UK test drive in most cases. Sellers know that buying a car is a big decision; it’s the second-biggest purchase you’re likely to make in your lifetime after a house, after all. Any reputable dealership should be happy for you to take your time, ask lots of questions, and book a test drive before deciding to sign on the dotted line and buy.

What paperwork will I need for a test drive?

When test-driving a car UK driving licences are usually required. A valid driving licence not only proves that you can legally drive but also that you are who you say you are.

Some dealerships also ask you to provide a DVLA check code. Don’t panic; you can get a code for free from the DVLA website. But make sure you don’t apply more than 21 days before your test drive – you don’t want it to expire before you get a chance to get behind the wheel.

Test drives and insurance

Another thing to tick off your checklist before taking a test drive is insurance. It’s illegal to test drive UK cars on public roads without insurance.

If you’re test-driving a used car being sold by a dealership then they’ll probably already have you covered, but insurance could be an issue if you’re looking to buy from a private seller.

In that case, double-check whether test drives are already covered in your policy. The term you need to look out for is either DOC or Driving Other Cars cover. You might also find a line included in the small print that says you can drive another car with the owner’s permission.

How long is a test drive?

There’s no standard set length for taking a test drive UK. So, don’t be afraid to take your time. This is your opportunity to find out more about the car, put it through its paces, and decide whether it’s the right one for you.

Most dealerships will have a preferred route that takes in a range of different road types and traffic conditions. Typically, this’ll last between 15 and 30 minutes. But longer test drives are becoming more popular. Depending on the dealership, you might be able to take an extended test drive where you have use of the car for 24 or 48 hours. Some sellers can even offer seven-day test-driving experiences!

How to take a test drive

Test-driving is a crucial part of the car buying process and it’s important to make sure that your head rules your heart. Make a list of the items you want to check and the questions you need to ask so you can tick them off as you go.

Don’t let the salesperson’s patter or the excitement of driving a new car sway your judgement. You could take a friend or family member along too to offer a second opinion and remind you to get all your questions answered.

Checks outside the car

A test drive doesn’t start when you’re inside the car, it begins the moment you set foot on the forecourt.

Look around the dealership: browse the other cars in stock, check their overall condition, and take note of the facilities, like an on-site garage or dedicated prep area.

Now, consider your first impressions of the car. Let’s face it, size matters. Will it fit on your driveway and in the underground car park at work? Is there plenty of boot space? Could taller people struggle to fit comfortably in the rear seats? Check whether your bulky items will fit. You can always bring along your child’s car seat or the bass guitar you take to rehearsal every week to make sure.

This is always a good time to carry out visual checks. Walk around and inspect the exterior, looking out for any damage on the bodywork, scratches on the wheels, or scuffed trim.

Before setting off

When you’re ready to get behind the wheel, stop to notice how easy it is to get in and out and whether the car door handles stick.

Once you’re settled in, adjust the drivers’ seat, assess the visibility, and check how much legroom that positioning leaves in the back row. You should also take time to find the most important controls like the lights, indicators, and windscreen wipers.

Be sure to tweak the mirrors to make sure you’ve got a good view around the car before setting off.

Test the electrics

Most used cars available these days come equipped with a host of tech features and gadgets but they’re only useful if they work. Test everything: the air con, the heated seats, the radio, and more. You could also try pairing your phone to find out whether the system works with your handset and take the Satnav for a spin to check that it’s easy to navigate.

During the test drive

Once your test drive is underway, you’ll start to get a feel for the car. You might not fall in love immediately, remember that it’s an unfamiliar car so probably won’t feel completely comfortable straightaway. Give yourself time to settle in as you drive.

Pay attention to the most hardworking pieces of hardware:

  • Steering - it should be light enough to easily navigate but have enough weight that you still feel secure on the road.

  • Gearbox – notice how the gears move, whether the transition is smooth, or if they have a nasty crunch every time you shift into third

  • Clutch – this is often the first thing to go in older cars so check that it doesn’t feel spongy or sticky and that there’s no grumbling noise
  • Suspension – no-one wants to end up with a car that makes you feel every bump in the road so make sure that the drive feels comfortable, even when taking on potholes and rough road surfaces

Driving on a variety of different roads will help you understand how the car deals with different conditions.

Look out for how much noise and wind is generated when travelling at higher speeds and that the engine still has enough oomph when heading uphill. You should also try a manoeuvre in reverse (time to show off your parallel parking skills) to check out the visibility, gear feel, and any driver assist features.

A good rule of thumb when deciding the route for a UK test drive is to make sure the car suits your purposes. If you never drive on the motorway but need a car that handles well in narrow city streets, then you’ll be looking for different qualities than someone who spends hours a week on the M6 and needs a comfy cabin.

Test driving a used car

Test-driving is always important, no matter what type of vehicle you’re hoping to buy, but it’s essential when buying a used car. This is your chance to spot any potential issues ahead of time. Of course, you can’t expect a used car to be in the same condition as a model that’s just rolled off the factory floor, but it should be in line with the number of miles it has on the clock.

Be even more thorough with your checks on a used car. The dealership should have already carried out a pre-sale inspection but try every button and switch to make sure they’re in good working order. As soon as you hit the road, look out for any dashboard warning lights.

A used car test drive hack is to check that the engine’s cold before you get in. Some cars that might not always start can be pre-warmed by unscrupulous sellers to give them a helping hand. If the bonnet does feel warm to the touch, don’t be afraid to ask why.

What questions should I ask while test-driving a car?

The questions that you should ask during the test drive depends on the car you’re considering buying and how you need to use it, but there are a few that should always make it onto your shortlist:

  • Does the seller have any tips or recommendations they can share?
  • Have all the features been tested?
  • How many previous owners has the car had?
  • Does the car have a complete service history?
  • How many miles are on the clock?

How to test drive an electric car

When it comes to test-driving an electric car, all the same rules apply but you should also consider its range and charging time. This is where a longer test drive can come in useful. Borrowing an EV for 24 or 48 hours can give you enough time to see how it performs in real life situations. Keep in mind though that the range you get during the test won’t necessarily be the same as if you had a full load of passengers or are travelling on a cold winter’s morning with the heater turned up. Follow up with some research into your nearest public charging points at home and work.

After the test drive

Once the test drive is over, it’s time to digest. Taking notes can help if you’re looking at a few different cars. You can write down any follow up questions that you have for the seller as well as any fixes that you’d like made on the car before committing to the purchase. Don’t be afraid to ask for a second test drive if you think it might help you make a final decision.

How old do I have to be to test drive a car?

While you can pass your test and get a full UK driving licence at 17, you might have to wait a little while longer before you can take a test drive. Some dealerships can only offer test drives to over 18s (usually for insurance reasons) and it’s worth checking any other additional eligibility requirements with them too, especially if you’re hoping to borrow the car for 24 hours or more.

Can I test drive a car alone?

No, in most cases, someone from the dealership will be in the car with you while you’re test-driving it. Luckily, that doesn’t apply when you book a longer-length test drive, so you won’t have to worry about taking the seller home with you!

I’ve had a test drive and want to buy the car; can I get finance?

Once you’ve finished your test drive and you’re happy with the car, it’s time to buy! With CarFinance 247, you can get your car finance sorted first so you can choose a car – and test drive it – with confidence.

It all starts with a quote. There’s no obligation and no impact on your credit score. Complete our online application form, pop the kettle on, and you’ll get a decision before you’ve finished your tea! We’ll always look to find you the best deal from our panel of lenders, and, thanks to that panel, we can find finance options for people with a range of circumstances and credit scores, even if you’ve been refused elsewhere.



Verity Hogan

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