Being able to drive is not the same as being able to effectively test drive a car and when purchasing a used car, test driving skills can be a valuable aid in making sure that you are getting a decent product at a reasonable price. Even if you are not an experienced test driver, there are a number of principles that should help you to make a test drive more effective. These principles will help when gaining an overall impression of the quality and value of the car in question.
Know what you want
In the first instance, it is good to get into a car for a test drive when you already know the level of quality that you are looking for. This does not mean having a closed mind to other, possibly better experiences, but it should help to ensure that you do not slip below the quality level that you have chosen for yourself. One idea is to take a car that you have driven and liked and to use this experience as a standard by which to judge other vehicles. By making a positive or negative comparison in this way, after a series of test-drives, an order of preference will probably already have started to form in your mind.
Look as well as drive
The test drive is not just about the drive itself, but also presents an opportunity to give the car you are interested in a much closer inspection. Take a good look at both the exterior and interior; check the engine, tyres and bodywork before you start the test drive, to make sure that there are no obvious defects or damage. When you are inside the car, look around at the back seats and note the overall condition of the upholstery and the interior in general. Some people find it helpful to take notes or photographs as a memory aid, especially if they are test driving a number of cars.
Use your ears
In addition to looking around the car, take the opportunity to listen to it as well. When you are on the road, drive for a period of time with the window up and with the window down; this will give you a rounded impression of the noises the car makes. Listen out for anything that sounds particularly loud or odd. Remember to listen to all the gears, including reverse. Are all the gear-changes smooth and does the clutch make any strange noises?