I’d like you to imagine for a moment that you’re looking for a second-hand car to buy. After establishing a price range and the criteria that are important to you, you go to a showroom. You’re in luck, they have a car that might suit you so you check the outside for obvious signs of damage, possibly open the bonnet if there’s any chance you’d recognise the things that are supposed to be there (I don’t). All good so far, and the interior doesn’t put you off so what’s the next obvious step?

A test drive

That’s a no-brainer, surely? I mean, who would spend thousands of euros on a used car without taking it out for a spin? No one I know, anyway. Advice from Autotrader and the like is that you should drive a car for at least 15 minutes before making a decision about buying it, which seems reasonable to me.

You can probably guess where I’m going with this by now but I was totally unprepared, when I asked to take a car for a test drive in Coimbra, to be told that I couldn’t take it off the forecourt because it wasn’t insured! Still baffled at this crazy notion, I went to another showroom, only to be told the same thing. All they could offer me was a spin around their car park! 

steering wheel lock
Image courtesy of modenadude at Flickr

How do they expect to sell cars if they won’t let potential customers drive them?

I don’t get it, I really don’t. Maybe there’s a system I don’t know about so if someone can enlighten me, please do so. I have since bought a car, from a garage that lists ‘test drive’ as one of the perks of buying from them. It was the first place I tried so I took the test drive for granted. Only after I’d shopped around a little did I realise that this doesn’t come as standard.

When I mentioned my confusion to a friend, he told me how he’d once been interested in a used car in Portugal, taken it for a short test drive in the rain and gone back another day to try it again under different conditions. Seems fair enough to me, but the dealer refused to let him out again in the car, telling him, “You’ve already had a test drive.” Needless to say, my friend didn’t buy the car.

Am I missing something here? Is this the norm in Portugal? How do people usually go about trying out a car they want to buy? I’m genuinely interested to find out so please leave a comment if you can shed any light on the situation.


  1. I had to buy a car with a short test drive outside city limits on a really small stretch of road. I was forced to buy it due to COVID situation, a 1994 Celica which burns oil 7A-FE engine.

  2. we bought our first Portuguese reg car (Honda) from a used car dealer in 2005 on the N125 Algarve…., he insisted we have a test drive, but he came with us and explained that ” he had to be there to validate his dealers ins policy!? interesting ? it would appear that, by and large used dealers have a similar insurance scheme as in UK, but not a blanket (all cars on the forecourt as in UK), they do have the trade plate scheme as well!…however that does not seem to be in general use?? the salesman can have a personal ins through his dealership >>(which he may have to fund himself!!) which allows him to accompany you in any car!! If of course he feels like it, and its not to close to lunch time!!…its all a bit mystifying!! how about, when and if you decide to try and sell your own car from your home??…putting a for-sale sign in the car!….with tel no and price?? i`m interested in your comments on the one!…..

    1. I can understand the dealer accompanying you, if nothing else but to make sure you don’t drive off into the sunset never to be seen again. I just don’t understand the ‘not off the forecourt’ notion. This was several years ago and when we were looking more recently at cars, we were able to test drive several, without issue, always with the deal in the back of the car. As for private sales, I don’t know if this is true but I heard somewhere that you aren’t allowed to put a price on the notice. If you put your phone number, people will understand that it’s for sale and contact you if interested but placing an ad on olx would probably get better results.

  3. When I bought my second hand car in Portugal in 2018 both a Mercedes dealer and a large independent dealer of used cars allowed me to do an extensive test drive i.e. 20-30 mins on local roads and the motorway.

    1. Auto Leandro Santos near Caldas Da Rainha ( I was living in Sao Martinho at the time) has a huge stock of quality used cars and are extremely obliging and professional. I recommend them. I have no connection with them. And Renault Service in Abrunheira, while we are on the subject, is also highly recommended.

      1. Good to know that common sense prevails in some places. We’ll be changing one of our cars this year so I hope this is now common practice.

  4. Hello. I know this is a few years later, but I’m wondering what did you end up doing? My family and I are moving there this summer and I’m looking for tips on everything. Your page is very informative.

    1. We bought from a garage that allowed us to take a test drive 🙂

  5. Hi
    Am looking eshtantas for supermardo in villa franca de xira

  6. What’s wrong with those people?It is important to test drive a car not only once.As a buyer you need to be sure with it.They should be happy when a buyer will test drive the car twice or more since it proves that he/she is interested with it.

  7. Seems pretty stupid to me. They must be crazy. I know people buy cars off ebay but that’s different.
    If the garages are not insured, then they should be. This country does make me smile sometimes – I wonder what the Portuguese think when they move to blighty?

  8. Try Ford in Coimbra, speak to Antonio in used car sales, I bought a car ( test drive allowed) from him with no complaints. One showroom in Mealhada let us drive off alone for a test drive. Maybe folk are more mistrusting now, which is sad and somewhat useless when buying a car, not so?

    1. Author

      Hi Shaz, Thanks for your suggestion. It was Ford in Coimbra (but not Antonio) that wouldn’t let us do a test drive! We bought our Fiesta through them a few years ago with no problems so I was very surprised this time. I don’t think it’s a trust issue – the dealer from the garage we actually bought this most recent car from came with us on the test drives, which was fine, but at the other two, even this wasn’t an option.

  9. I have to say, I’m not overly surprised given my experience of trying to buy other things in Portugal. Sometimes they just don’t seem to want to make it too easy. (By the way, when I bought my car a test drive was no problem – but it was a small one man operation – we went to him because there was no staff around at other nearby car lots!)

  10. Surely they have a kind of blanket insurance – unless it’s a real cowboy operation. I’ve only been involved in buying a car twice, and both times we were able to have a short test drive without any trouble. I certainly wouldn’t be buying without one!

    1. Author

      Hi Robert, This happened at the Seat and the Ford garages, so not at all what I’d expect from such major players. I can’t understand why they haven’t got cover.

  11. That is certainly very strange, how are you expected to know how the car handles itself on the road? I also wouldn´t buy if I couldn´t try!
    I bought a new car in Portugal but that was over 15 years ago, I drove it around, it was in the country though, so maybe they weren´t scared I would have an accident! Maybe they are trying to save on insurances, but there should be some sort of “blanket” insurance covering all the cars in a dealership.

    1. Author

      Hi Sami, That’s exactly what I thought – surely they must have insurance to cover test drives. If not, I’d say there’s a gap in the market, for sure!

Over to you. Please share your thoughts in a comment.