Safely Allow Others to Test Drive Your Used Car

By Keith Griffin

Car interior with keys in the ignition.

“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? And yet, that’s exactly what happens when 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.

How to Sell a Car Safely

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

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 required to let someone drive your car — ever.

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

3. Check with your insurance agent to see what your insurance policy allows. This will help you avoid a lot of headaches. It also gives you ironclad reasons for prohibiting solo test drives. Don’t risk years of higher insurance premiums because someone who was driving your car should not have been.

4. Make sure the driver has a valid driver’s license. Also, check the licenses belonging to 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 hand off the keys to an unlicensed driver.

5. Use your smartphone to take a picture of the test driver holding their driver’s license near 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 layer of protection. Only when this information is safely stored should you allow somebody to drive your car.

6. Did your car come with a valet key? If so, this is the one to hand over. This 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 they cost 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, however, that 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? 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 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, people have had prescription drugs stolen from their medicine cabinets during open houses at their homes. This is 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 when meeting somebody in your driveway. It is a great insurance policy if anything goes wrong.

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

Test Drive Protection

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.