Taking a car for a test drive is a good idea when you’re looking to buy. It’s also a great way to close the deal when you’re selling your car. CarGurus recommends that everyone test drive cars they’re considering buying (when possible), so expect that some potential buyers will want to take your car for a test drive. Here are some steps you can take to ensure that you—and your car—stay safe when a shopper asks for a test drive.
Prepare in Advance
Before you start talking with potential buyers, plan a route for their future test drives. Make sure your route begins and ends in a public place, and will afford the shopper a chance to drive 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 car in as many driving situations as possible while also staying in well-populated neighborhoods.
Screen Buyers Thoroughly
You can weed out potentially problematic buyers by having extended conversations on the phone with shoppers before agreeing to meet with them for a test drive. Try to get some background information on prospective buyers. Are they local? Can they meet in person? How do they plan to pay? Sometimes this will separate the tire-kickers—people more interested in looking than buying—from 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.
Try not to be too eager to make a sale—that’s a good way to miss some warning signs. Also, beware of professional car buyers who want to re-sell your car as soon as they get it. They will haggle quickly and aggressively with the hope of getting the lowest selling price. 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.
Meet in a Public Place and Bring a Friend
Once you feel good about meeting a shopper, set up a time for them to take your car for a test drive. Be sure to meet them during daylight hours and in a public place—they’ll want to be able to see the car clearly, and you’ll feel safer than meeting 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 a good public meeting place, and some people even like to meet in police station parking lots.
In addition to meeting in a safe public place, you should also 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 hold onto the shopper's own set of car keys. This will give you some collateral before the test drive.
Along these same lines, be sure to ask the shopper if they plan to bring anyone with them to the test drive. If they are evasive with their answer, 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 right away.
When you schedule a test drive, make sure the buyer has a driver’s license and will bring it with them. When you meet for the drive, take a picture of their license and immediately send it to someone you trust.
While this may seem overly cautious, it serves two purposes: It ensures that someone you trust has relevant information about the test drive in case something happens, and it may also come in handy to have the buyer’s driver’s license information for insurance purposes if there is an accident during the test drive.
You should accompany the prospective buyer on the test drive. Any other people in attendance can stay behind and wait for you and the shopper to return.
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. Don’t do this too aggressively or without asking—behaving like a too-eager salesperson may backfire and irritate the shopper. If the shopper does want to hear more, you now 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.
The Bottom Line
There’s no need to be scared of letting someone test drive your car. 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 be able to close the deal thanks to that test drive.