The Test Drive Checklist: Everything You Need to Know

Kamilya - February 2, 2024

Appearances can be deceiving, and this also applies to new and used cars. If you're not familiar with engines, even a look under the hood won't tell you much. Especially when looking for the right used car as your new ride, you should not rely on appearances, but should definitely exercise your right to a test drive. This gives you the chance to detect technical defects and determine whether you like the driving experience of the car. But what do you need to look out for during the test drive and what else do you need to consider? With our test drive checklist, you won't miss any hidden problems.

How does a test drive work?

Have you discovered your dream car (whether used or new) and would like to sign the purchase contract straight away? That's not a good idea without a test drive. To ensure that the supposed bargain doesn't turn out to be a permanent guest in the garage, you should put it through its paces before you buy. Not only if you are an inexperienced car buyer: get someone who is familiar with vehicles and can advise you as objectively as possible. The salesperson often also takes part in the test drive and tries to talk you out of any concerns about the car's handling or any defects. It is then good to have someone with you to back you up or bring you back down to earth. However, you should always drive yourself, as this is the only way to find out whether you feel safe in the vehicle.

Before you get in and drive off, you should consider the following things: Start by inspecting the exterior of the vehicle. This includes scratches and dents in the paintwork or other previous damage as well as the condition of the tires. Do the seasonal tires fit and do they have enough tread? Does the vehicle have a valid MFK and the exhaust maintenance document? Another important point: Before setting off, check the on-board electronics, elements such as windshield wipers, power windows, ventilation/heating/air conditioning and the lighting and infotainment systems. During the journey, however, switch off the radio and ventilation so that you can hear any unusual driving noises better. The windows should also be closed.

And what exactly does the test drive involve? We have summarized the process for you in the following checklist.

The short test drive checklist

test driving checklist

Before the ride

1. Arrange a fixed appointment

Both you as a potential buyer and the seller must have enough time to check the vehicle and carry out the test drive without stress. Make sure that the test drive takes place in daylight so that you can better see any defects in the vehicle. However, if the weather is too bad, you should postpone the appointment. Avoid times when there is usually a lot of traffic for the planned test drive. After all, it's supposed to be a test drive, not a test jam.

2. Take a friend or family member with you

To prevent the salesperson from persuading you to make a rash purchase, you should not take the test drive alone. Ask a friend or family member for assistance. Ideally, the person accompanying you will be familiar with cars and know the weak points.

3. Plan the route

If you drive without a plan, you may miss one or two vehicle defects. Therefore, pick a route through different types of terrain, including a highway. If there is no highway nearby, you can also take a road where high speeds are permitted. But don't just choose flat routes. On a detour over cobblestones or other bumpy surfaces, the best way to hear whether something is rattling in or under the vehicle.

4. Document any damage

To avoid discussions about damage to the vehicle after the test drive, you should record and document all previous damage with the seller before the test drive. If the seller does not take part in the test drive, you must clarify liability in advance (is there fully comprehensive insurance?) and record all modalities (such as the duration of the drive, the fuel consumed and the maximum number of kilometers to be driven) in writing.

During the journey

5. Start the engine, test the clutch

Start the engine cold to test the battery and listen for rattling noises from the timing chain. Does the engine start easily and run smoothly? Does it keep the engine speed at idle? If you start the engine at idle and then drive off in a high gear, the engine should stop. If not, there is a problem with the clutch. Can the gears be engaged easily without jerking?

6. Test the speed

Does the car accelerate well and does the engine have enough power when driving uphill? Does the engine sound normal or unusually loud? The latter indicates a fault in the exhaust system.

7. Test the steering and brakes

The steering wheel should generally not vibrate and should be in a straight position when you drive straight ahead. The best way to test whether the car holds the lane is to let go of the steering wheel very briefly on a clear stretch of road. Does the car continue to drive straight ahead or does it leave the lane? If so, the steering geometry probably needs to be readjusted. Another indication of an adjusted steering geometry is unevenly worn tires.

Are there wheel bearing noises such as humming, rattling or grinding when you swerve on the open road? Then there is probably a defect in one of the wheel bearings.

Try emergency braking - also on the open road. Does the car take too long to come to a stop and/or does it not stay in lane? Then the vehicle urgently needs to be garaged, as the brakes are probably worn and the brake distribution from the front to the rear axle may not be correct.

Test whether the handbrake is working on a slope. It should be able to bring the slowly rolling car to a standstill. If the vehicle rolls when the handbrake is applied, it is defective.

8. Check the electronics

Do the indicator lights come on when the ignition is switched on and go out again while driving? If the lights stay on while driving, there is probably a problem.

After the trip

9. Discussion of all anomalies

In addition to the points already mentioned, this includes the following questions:

Did the coolant temperature remain the same after the initial rise?

Did the engine run smoothly in every gear and did it not make any noticeable noises?

Was the exhaust gas development normal? Does it smell burning or charred?

Was the car easy to restart after the journey?

Did coolant or oil leak during the journey (look in the engine compartment and under the vehicle)?

9. Take pictures of the vehicle

To protect yourself against unjustified liability claims, you should document the condition of the vehicle after the test drive with photos.

What happens after the test drive?


What do you need for a test drive?

In addition to sufficient time, it is helpful to do some research in advance during the test drive. This will tell you a lot about typical "illnesses" of your test car and you can pay more attention to these weak points. Make sure you are accompanied by someone who is familiar with cars and technology.

What to consider during a private test drive?

Before you set off on a test drive in a privately owned second-hand car, ask to see the vehicle documents and the seller's ID. This will ensure that it really is his car. Alternatively, you must have a power of attorney from the car owner. Also clarify the question of liability in case something happens on the road. Does the seller have comprehensive insurance? If so, who pays the excess in the event of damage?

How far can you drive on a test drive?

A test drive should not be too short, otherwise you will not be able to test the vehicle in as many different driving situations as possible. But it shouldn't be too long either. The rule of thumb is 30 to 45 minutes and a maximum distance of 150 kilometers.


Caution is always advised when buying a car. Private sellers and dealers want to get the best possible price for their vehicle and may conceal serious defects from you. It is therefore rarely a good idea to jump at the first euphoria of buying a chic runabout. In addition to an accompanying person who is familiar with cars and engines, the test drive is your most important tool for identifying potential problem areas on the car. And even if everything goes smoothly, you shouldn't make a hasty decision. It's better to sleep on it. If you still have a good gut feeling the next day, nothing stands in the way of a successful contract.

Is this all too time-consuming and risky for you? You can play it safe with a subscription car from CARIFY. All of our vehicles are in perfect technical condition and are either new or as good as new. You can therefore confidently do without a test drive. If your subscription does break down, you will find our partner garages throughout Switzerland. They will take care of the repair and it won't cost you anything extra. By the way, we also include seasonal tire changes. So you'll always be on the road with the right tires and sufficient tread, even in the winter.

We even offer you the opportunity to drive a new vehicle every month. This way, you can try out the driving experience of many cars until you find "your car". Our subscription term is wonderfully flexible and ranges from 1 to 48 months. At the end of the term, you have the choice of canceling or continuing to drive the car. Our Flex subscription model makes it possible for you to use your subscription vehicle for as long as you like. And our staggered free kilometers also adapt exactly to your needs.

Back to blogs