8am-5pm (CST M-F)

(888) 231-7965

What to Look for When Test Driving a Used Vehicle

Though it’s important to get a pre-purchase auto inspection before buying a used vehicle, you can only tell so much about the automobile by inspecting the body, interior, and engine bay. To find a safe, reliable car for your daily commutes, you need to get behind the wheel. Among other things, test driving allows you to see firsthand how it performs, giving you a better idea of whether it’s a smart investment. Here are a few things you should look for when test driving a used car.

Transmission Shifting

With the average cost of a rebuilt transmission exceeding $1,000 for most automobiles, you should choose a used car with a functional transmission that shifts smoothly. During a test drive, pay attention to the RPM gauge between shifts. If it’s an automatic transmission, it should shift between 2,000 and 2,800 RPMs unless otherwise stated by the manufacturer. If it’s a manual transmission, it should shift when you change the gear stick position.


You can also see how well a used automobile handles during a test drive. Ideally, an automobile should travel directly ahead on a straight line when the road is flat and the driver isn’t turning the steering wheel. Problems such as misaligned wheels, excessive tread wear on the tires, or suspension failure may cause it to veer in one direction. Another important step to checking an automobile’s handling is to press the brakes. The brakes should quickly respond to decelerate the automobile. If there’s a delay or you hear a grinding or screeching noise, it may indicate the brakes are failing. Brake discs, rotors, and other components are relatively easy to replace, but you shouldn’t drive an automobile with bad brakes due to the increased risk of collision it poses.

Engine Performance

Test driving a used automobile offers transparency into the engine’s performance. It’s not uncommon for neglected, damaged automobiles to misfire upon startup, which means one of its cylinders isn’t firing. When a misfire occurs, the engine may produce a hissing or stuttering noise. However, the biggest indication of a misfiring cylinder is loss of power. For a four-cylinder engine, misfiring results in a 25 percent loss of power. Whether it’s a four, six, or eight-cylinder engine, it should always fire all its cylinders.

Check Engine Light

Test driving gives you the opportunity to see if the automobile’s check engine light is active. When you turn on the ignition, the odometer, speedometer, and other instrumentation displays will illuminate. If there’s a problem affecting the engine’s performance, such as a blown head gasket, clogged catalytic converter, or low oil pressure, you may discover the check engine light illuminated as well. Bring an on-board diagnostics scanner when test driving a used vehicle so you can identify the specific problem triggering the check engine light. This nifty automotive tool reveals a unique code for any problems attributed to the check engine light.

In addition to test driving, one of the most important steps before purchasing a used vehicle is getting a professional car inspection. At Lemon Squad, we look for a variety of potential issues that will help you make an informed decision on buying a particular car. Give us a call today at 888-231-7965.