Safely Allow Others to Test Drive Your Used Car

Young woman driving car
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“Hi, I’m a complete stranger. I want you to hand me $10,000. I’m going to take it for 15-20 minutes and I promise to return the full amount.”

Sounds pretty crazy, doesn’t it? Well, that’s exactly what happens whenever you sell your used car and allow people to take it for a test drive. You’re handing off one of your most prized possessions and allowing it to be driven away.

Steps to Let Others Drive Your Used Car

Follow these 12 steps to safely allow others to test drive your used car.

1. The most important piece of advice is to trust your instincts. If any aspect of the potential buyer makes you uncomfortable, don’t turn over the keys. As a private seller, you are not compelled to let somebody drive your car ever.

2. Start and end your test drives, when possible, at a police station. It's less likely some with larceny in his or her soul will meet you at a police station. It's an idea popular with people selling used cars on Craigslist.

3. Check with your insurance agent to see what your insurance policy allows. It will avoid a lot of headaches. It also gives you ironclad reasons for prohibiting solo test drives if that is the case. Don't risk years of higher insurance premiums because someone who was driving your car should not have been. Plus there is another liability to be concerned about.

4. Make sure the driver has a valid driver’s license, as well as any passengers if the car is going to be taken without you in it. It’s too easy for one person to show up, claim to be the buyer, and then hand off the keys to an unlicensed driver.

5. The best thing to do is photocopy any information. If you don’t have a copier at home, drive to a convenience store and make a photocopy. Only when this information is safely stored at home should you allow somebody to drive your car.

OK, so maybe it's time to update that last piece of information. Nowadays, user your smartphone to take a picture of a person holding their driver's license in front of their face. Then take a picture of the driver's license by itself and email or text it to another person. That's especially important if you are going to be on the test drive alone. It's an additional level of protection.

6. Did your car come with a valet key? If so, this is the one to hand over. That way if something happens to it, you're not out the cost of an expensive replacement key. Priced one of those lately? You might be surprised to find out it costs usually around $150.

7. Accompany the potential buyers on the test drive. Others might disagree, but this is the best opportunity to sell your car. You can point out the car’s strengths and maybe distract the buyer from potential weaknesses. 

Make sure, though, someone knows who you are with and have all the license information as outlined above.

8. Not able to make it to a police station as suggested above? I like meeting people in my driveway. It’s my turf. If something goes wrong, like a potential buyer not showing up, I’m not stranded.

9. Another good place to meet is where you work – especially if you work at a police station. If your employer doesn’t mind, the office allows you a layer of anonymity from casual buyers. Sure, they will know where you work but that's somewhat better than knowing where you live. Of course, when it comes time to sell the car, they will have that info.

10. Remove anything of value from your car. Things have a way of disappearing when you’re not paying attention. For instance, I know people who had prescription drugs stolen from their medicine cabinets during open houses at their homes.

It's one reason you might go to an auto show and see various items removed from cars. Shift knobs are especially tempting.

11. Always have your cell phone with you, even if meeting somebody in your driveway. It is a great insurance policy if anything goes wrong.

12. Tell the potential buyer upfront how much time they can have for the test drive. Upwards of 30 minutes is reasonable, if you accompany them. I would say only 15 minutes if they insist on driving alone. There is too much that can wrong in more than 15 minutes, such as stripping the car of valuable parts.

Bonus Tip

Ask a friend to join you if any aspect of the process makes you uncomfortable. Don’t feel bad. It’s always better to err on the side of caution.