According to this article from, the third step to test drive a used car is to perform a pre-test inspection.

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  1. 3. Perform a pre-test inspection.

    Before every test, pro test drivers are required to ensure the test vehicle is in good shape. They check for proper oil, coolant and transmission fluid levels, correct tire pressure and more. For a used-car shopper, a pre-test inspection is a must, too. 

    Open the hood. Any overpowering odor is big trouble. Look for signs of poor maintenance. Pull the oil and transmission dipsticks and look for dirty fluid or low levels. Open the oil filler cap — dark, sludgy deposits on the interior mean oil changes were infrequent. Check hoses and fan belts for cracking. Lie on the ground and look under the car for such things as leaking shock absorbers and dented skid plates on SUVs. Both before and after the test, look under the car for signs of oil or fluid loss. When you start the car and as you accelerate or decelerate, check the rearview mirrors for signs of smoking out the tailpipe.

    Run your hand across the tread of each tire. Uneven wear indicates worn suspension parts. Measure tread depth with a gauge: New passenger-car tires start with about 10/32nds-inch tread, while SUV and truck tires vary from 11/32 to 15/32nds. (Those "like-new tires" may be closer to "worn out.") Check tire pressure. Improperly inflated tires can affect how the vehicle performs in the test-drive, and may also indicate that the vehicle didn't receive the best maintenance.

    If you can see through the wheels, look at the brake rotors for cracking, grooving or discoloration. On some cars you can inspect brake-pad thickness without removing a wheel.

    If you suspect the vehicle's been in a wreck, touch a rubberized magnet along the sides of the car. If the magnet won't stick, there may be a lot of body filler hiding underneath the paint.