Used Car Test Drive Checklist Article


Before you drive

  • Get the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) so you can check the vehicle history report on DMV's website or with another vehicle history report provider.
  • Check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website for any recall information.
  • If you have a friend or relative who is experienced with cars, bring that person along for the test drive.


  • Check the engine oil, transmission fluid and coolant levels when the engine is cool.
  • Examine hoses and belts for signs of excessive wear.
  • With the engine running, listen for any knocking, ticking or tapping.


  • Confirm the VIN. In more recent models it’s usually visible at the bottom of the font window on the driver’s side.
  • Check the car’s body for potential signs of undisclosed accidents, like unevenness in the paint or ripples or dents in the exterior.
  • Check the ground beneath the car before and after the engine has been running to see if there are any fluid leaks.
  • Take out your ruler and place it inside one of the grooves of the tire’s treat. The tires should have at least 1/4 inch of tread.
  • Check the tires for signs of excessive or uneven wear, cracks or splitting.
  • Make sure the tires have no objects lodged in them, like nails or screws.
  • When you check for rest, pay special attention to the underside of the car, the wheel wells, the edges of doors and windows, and the trunk.


  • Are there any rips or stains on the seats?
  • How does it smell?
  • Do the heating and air conditioning work?
  • Test the horn, turn signals, windshield wipers, door locks and dome lights.
  • If you have a child who uses a safety seat, check to make sure your safety seat will work with the vehicle.
  • Turn the key to the accessory position – the one right before the engine is engaged – and make sure all the dash warning lights illuminate.


  • Are there are cracks that could develop into bigger problems?
  • Do all the windows go both down and up?
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