How to Let Someone Test Drive Your Car

by Tim O'Sullivan

Test drives are an essential part of private party car sales. Like vehicle history reports, they’re a good idea for anyone looking to buy a used car. Offering test drives is a great way to close the deal when you're selling your vehicle to a private party.

But you may wonder how to safely arrange a test drive when selling your car. The good news is there are things you can do to protect yourself and your vehicle.

How to Let Someone Test Drive Your Car

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Step 1: Plan a Test Drive Route

Before talking with potential buyers, plan a route for future test drives.

  • Ensure your route begins and ends in a public place and that it allows the test driver to experience the car in various situations, such as on the highway, through heavy traffic, and along winding roads.

  • A successful test-drive loop will showcase the vehicle in as many driving situations as possible while staying in well-populated neighborhoods.

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Step 2: Screen Buyers Thoroughly

If you want to know how to safely arrange a test drive when selling a car, a key aspect involves weeding out potentially problematic buyers. You can do this by having phone conversations with them before agreeing to meet for a test drive. If you want to keep your real phone number private, get a Google Voice number for managing the transaction.

  • This advance conversation will allow you to learn more about the shopper before you consider meeting them. Are they local? Can they meet in person? How do they plan to pay?

  • Talking before meeting can help separate the tire kickers—people more interested in looking than buying—from the serious buyers. Other times, asking the right questions can reveal underhanded motives. If something doesn't feel right during these conversations, listen to your instincts, and move on to the next shopper on your list.

  • Look out for professional car buyers who want to re-sell your car as soon as they get it. They will haggle quickly and aggressively to get the best price (for them, not for you). These car flippers may not be dangerous, but you're better off not dealing with them if you want to make the most money possible from your car.

Step 3: Meet in a Public Place and Bring a Friend

Once you feel good about meeting a shopper, set up a time for them to test drive your car.

  • Be sure to meet them during daylight hours and in a public place. They'll want to see the car clearly. Plus, a daytime visit is safer than meeting a complete stranger after dark.

  • Even if you feel good about an interested buyer, there's no need for them to know where you live or work. A shopping mall parking lot is an excellent public meeting place; some people even like to meet in police station parking lots.

  • In addition to meeting in a safe public place, you should bring someone with you. People are less likely to try something underhanded if there is someone else there. Furthermore, when it comes time for the shopper to test drive your car, you can ask your friend to hang back and keep the shopper's car keys. Doing so will give you some collateral before the test drive.

  • Along these same lines, ask the shopper if they plan to bring anyone to the test drive. If they are evasive, consider it a warning sign, and feel free to hang up. If they tell you they're bringing their grandmother but show up with someone else, you can leave immediately.

  • To prevent theft, remove all valuables from your car before the test drive.

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Step 4: Take Pictures

When you schedule a test drive, ensure the buyer has a valid driver's license and will bring it with them. Then, when you meet, as an insurance policy, use your cell phone to take a picture of the person's license and immediately send it to a friend or family member.

While this may seem overly cautious, it serves two purposes. First, it ensures that someone you trust has relevant information about the test drive in case something happens. Second, it may come in handy to have the buyer's driver's license information for insurance purposes if there is an accident during the test drive.

Step 5: Should I Go on the Test Drive? Yes.

You should accompany the prospective buyer on the test drive. Any other attendees can stay behind and wait for you and the shopper to return.

It's a safe way to handle things. Not only will this save you the anxiety of watching a stranger drive away in your car, but it will also offer you the opportunity to tell the potential buyer more about the car than you listed in the advertisement. However, don't do this too aggressively or without asking—behaving like a too-eager salesperson may backfire and irritate the shopper.

If the shopper wants to hear more, you have plenty of time to tell them everything you love about the car. If the shopper has a question about the steering feel, gas mileage, or any other details, you can be right there with an answer.

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How do you trust someone to test drive your car?
You can decide if you can trust someone to test drive your car by talking to them on the phone beforehand. If they say anything that arouses suspicion, scrap the test drive and move on to another buyer.

What preparations should I make before scheduling a test drive?
Before scheduling a test drive, select a driving route that starts and ends in a public place. Also, make arrangements to have a friend or family member accompany you on the test drive.

Should I let a stranger test drive my car?
It's fine to let a stranger test drive your car. Test drives are a normal and accepted part of selling a vehicle to a private party. They can help you quickly sell the car and get the best asking price. However, you should take steps before the test drive to protect your safety, such as making a copy of the person's driver's license.

How do I protect myself when selling my car?
You can protect yourself from scammers when selling your car by screening buyers over the phone before meeting them in person. And if you're planning a test drive, schedule it during daylight hours and ensure it begins and ends in a public place. Also, have a friend or family member come with you for the test drive.

What recourse do I have if a driver damages my car during a test drive?
The dealer's insurance typically covers damages in test drives organized by a dealership. However, if the test drive is part of a private sale, it may be up to the private seller's car insurance to foot the bill if damage occurs.

The Bottom Line

As you consider how to safely arrange a test drive when selling your car, remember this: There's no need to be scared of letting someone get behind the wheel. If you listen to your instincts, meet in public, bring a friend, and take other basic precautions, you will stay safe during the selling process. Even better, you may close the deal thanks to that test drive.

Of course, if managing test drives on your own makes you feel anxious or overwhelmed, remember you have options other than a private sale.

You could sell or trade your car at a dealership. You likely won't get as much for a dealer trade-in as you might with a private party sale, but you will enjoy the peace of mind of dealing with a business rather than an individual. Or your could sell your car 100% online, which removes the inconvenience associated with a private sale.

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Throughout his career in the automotive industry, Warren has written everything from vehicle reviews to articles covering car insurance and leasing. His work has appeared in outlets such as Credit Karma, the New York Daily News, Edmunds, Carfax, and TrueCar. His mission is to help you make the best decisions regarding your vehicle.

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