It's easy to get carried away when looking for a second hand car. With a shiny exterior, spotless interior and tempting prices, it's tempting for some to just hand over cash and drive off. However, the honeymoon can be cut short if it squeaks and creaks the moment you drive over a speed bump. What started out as a bargain may turn out to be a money pit.

Don't be carried away by looks alone. You can avoid all these by taking your used car prospect out for a quick spin. That way, you'll get a better feel for the car and feel better forking out your hard earn savings for a major investment. Here's four ways to test your prospect.

How to Test Drive a second hand car

Before the drive

If it’s possible, check the car out before it’s been started for the day. While you're at it, take a peek under the car too see if there are any puddles of fluid that have formed on the floor. Also, This gives you a chance to see how a car performs in a cold start.

Now that you've started the car, open the hood and check for any noises coming out of the engine such asticking sounds, knocks or rattles. After that, turn the air conditioning on to observe of any vibrations from the car.

For cars with an analogue temperature gauge, check how quickly the temperature meter rises from a cold start. If the needle reaches the halfway point faster than usual, there may be a broken part in the cooling system.

How to Test Drive a second hand car

Transmission test

Even before you set off, there is a quick and easy way to test out the transmission for both manuals and automatics. In automatic transmission cars, step on the brake and cycle through each gear. It is supposed to be smooth and free of clunking noises. The same applies for cars with CVTs (continuously variable transmission) and DCTs (Dual Clutch Transmission).

How to Test Drive a second hand car

In manual transmission cars, place your foot on top of the clutch pedal. The pedal is not supposed to sink with the natural weight of your foot. If it does sink, the clutch is on its way out. Also check for excessive play from the shifter when the car is in gear.

How to Test Drive a second hand car

Setting off

Now it's time for the drive and there are a few things to take note of once on the road. Accelerating from a standstill, observe if there is smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe. At the same time, listen of there are unusual sounds coming from the engine. To be able to do this effectively, do not turn on your radio.

While driving at low speeds, find a 90 degree corner or turn the wheel as far as you can and observe if there are clicking or rubbing sounds. If there is a clicking sound present, the CV joints have to be changed ASAP or you run the risk of being stranded as the car will be unable to move. Listen for clonking noises coming from underneath the car.

How to Test Drive a second hand car

Drive over speed bumps and take note of any sounds emanating from underneath. Observe if the car feels wallowy (maalon) after driving through a rough patch of road. Like the bounce test, a car is supposed to be settled after one rebound.

At both low and moderate speeds, check the brakes to see how far the pedal travels. If there is squeal or if it pulls to one side, the car may need alignment or, worst case scenario, has been in a major accident. A car is always supposed to stop straight with no steering input.

How to Test Drive a second hand car 

After the drive

As a rule of thumb, never buy the first car you find. Widen your scope of cars to check out and do a process of elimination. If the first car you checked out was the best among those you inspected, that is the only time you buy it. 


With hundreds of thousands of used car for sale online, it's easy to be swayed by photos and prices. Do not take the seller's word for it. By testing these cars, you may hear or feel things the owner might have missed and help you make a better decision. If the owner doesn't let you test the car, walk away. There are thousands to choose from so take your time, it's your savings on the line if you buy a lemon.