How To Become a Car Test Driver

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published March 22, 2021

Before a car manufacturer launches a new model, they hire a professional driver to test the car's features. The test driver drives the new vehicle on a private race track and public roads to make sure all equipment, including safety features, works correctly. The driver also tests engine performance and overall ride quality. In this article, we share helpful tips on how to become a professional test driver.

What is a car test driver?

A car test driver is a professional hired by a car manufacturer or an automotive magazine to test prototypes and pre-production vehicles, as well as models that have recently or will soon enter the consumer market. The driver uses their experience and knowledge of cars to test the transmission, automated features, safety equipment, brakes, engine and other components. Upon completion of the test drive, the driver offers suggestions on areas of improvement. New car test drivers help engineers fine-tune the vehicle before it's released to the masses.

What does a car test driver do?

The test driver operates the car on different types of terrain to gauge performance, comfort and safety. Since the buyer is likely to drive in the city and suburbs, the test driver spends a few hours on roads in various neighborhoods in urban and rural locales. At the end of the test, the driver writes a report for the research and development team providing extensive details about the auto's performance, what they liked about the car and what can be improved.

Some of the things car test drivers check for include:

  • Braking, acceleration, and handling: The driver steps on the gas and records the amount of time the vehicle takes to go from zero to sixty. They also examine how the car handles corners at high speeds. The driver also tests the stopping distance by accelerating and then suddenly stepping on the brakes.

  • Visibility: The driver tries to find blind spots that could interfere with their ability to detect obstacles as they operate the vehicle.

  • Component functionality: The test driver checks for proper operation of the wipers, power seats and windows, climate control and other components of the vehicle. A test driver must have prior mechanical knowledge to properly analyze all aspects of the car both inside and out.

  • Sound: The test driver listens for any unusual noises that could detect a problem with the vehicle. They also check for road noises while driving to see how well the manufacturer has insulated the cabin.

How to become a car test driver

If you want to learn how to become a new car test driver, follow these steps:

1. Complete your high school studies

Manufacturers and car review websites hire drivers with a good grasp of English. Therefore, make sure you finish high school and get a diploma to prove your reading and writing skills. High scores in math, science and language classes increase your chances of getting into a good vocational institution.

2. Get an education

Test drivers are required to have basic knowledge of cars. To learn how cars work, enroll in a vocational institution and study automotive mechanics. The coursework covers vehicle diagnostics and repair techniques. You'll learn how the engine, braking, suspension, steering, tires and the car's electrical system function together as a unit. The automotive mechanics course can take between one and two years to complete.

Alternatively, some who pursue a car test driving career decide to study for a four-year bachelor's degree to set themselves apart from other candidates. A bachelor's degree in automotive technology or a mechanical engineering degree with a special focus in automotive design and manufacturing can teach you how cars work and help you identify mechanical faults. The coursework from both degrees will also teach you about the car manufacturing process.

Related: Learn About Being a Mechanic

3. Get a driver's license

A test driver ought to know how to drive and get a class C driver's license. In most states, a class C license allows you to drive any vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of less than 26,001 lbs. To show more driving capabilities, you can qualify for a class M driver's license, which allows you to operate any vehicle with two wheels. To earn your driver's license, you have to pass a written and practical driving test.

4. Gain work experience

Upon completion of your training, seek apprenticeship positions with experienced mechanics or apply for entry-level positions in automotive magazines and publications. Find an environment that allows you to find out more about cars and practice what you learned in school. Once you gain employment, become an active learner and ask your supervisor questions. Volunteer to do more than your employee asks from you. Do your best and keep practicing to become good at your job.

5. Network

The people you meet can help you advance your car test driver career. Be friendly and professional to all your clients because they can refer more people to you. Attend car shows and other automotive events to know people in your industry. Talk to other mechanics and car enthusiasts and exchange contacts and ideas.

6. Market yourself

Tell people what you do if you want them to consider you for a test driver position. Update your social media profiles and create business cards with your name and occupation. Also, before you write your resume, look at samples in the industry. Use the format utilized by other test drivers to increase your chances of getting hired.

Related: 10 Resume Writing Tips To Help You Land a Job

Salary and job outlook

The average salary for an automotive test driver in the US is $49,678 per year. Professional test drivers can either work full-time or part-time.

Skills for a car test driver

To become a professional test driver you need the following skills and qualities:

  • Navigation: A test driver that knows how to read maps can handle all kinds of driving assignments. They can find their way in an unfamiliar neighborhood or highway. They can also find rough terrains to test the off-road capabilities of a new vehicle.

  • Driving: Driving on a hill or steep terrain requires skill – the driver has to decide whether they'll use a high range or low range setting. The same goes for driving on snow and sandy terrains. Driving super cars requires skill since they're powerful and fast. The driver ought to be able to accelerate and keep the powerful engine under control.

  • Stamina: A professional test driver may sit for long hours behind the wheel in tough conditions. To do that effectively, the driver requires stamina.

  • Decision-making: A test driver is a critical thinker and decision-maker. When testing the car in crowded areas such as the city, the driver determines the speed of the vehicle.

  • Communication and reporting: The opinions of the test driver help engineers and manufacturers improve the vehicle. As such, test drivers ought to know how to express themselves orally. A test driver requires writing and reporting skills to explain their findings to the manufacturer.

  • Passion: The attitude of a driver determines their level of success in the role. Therefore, a professional test driver ought to love driving.

    Related: How To Write a Report for Work (With Examples)

FAQs about how to become a professional test driver

The following are some of the commonly asked questions about a test driver career:

How can you build the experience required to become a test driver?

An individual that's hired by an automotive magazine builds experience by writing car reviews based on information collected by the company. Those reviews help the journalist understand important performance factors for different vehicles. Also, automotive journalists are sometimes allowed to test drive new models by car manufacturers. Alternatively, you can become an automotive technician and learn how individual components work. This skill will help you assess a vehicle's capabilities when you become a test driver.

Where can you find work as a professional test driver?

There are three types of organizations that hire test drivers:

  • Car manufacturers: The test driver may be hired internally or externally.

  • Automotive magazines: This also includes vehicle review websites.

  • Independent vehicle testing facilities: Nonprofit organizations hire test drivers to confirm manufacturer specifications and protect consumers.

What is required to become an automotive journalist?

To work in the media industry as an automotive journalist, you may have to study four four years and earn a bachelor's degree in journalism or communication. Then apply for entry-level positions in car review websites and magazines.

Are there certification programs for car test drivers?

At the moment, certification programs are offered by individual car manufacturers. Also, getting certified as an automotive technician can help you get a test driver job.

What kind of cars do test drivers drive?

A test driver can drive any kind of car. It all depends on the employer's needs. Test drivers hired by car manufacturers are only allowed to drive vehicles from that brand.

Can you switch careers to become a car test driver?

Yes, you can switch from being an accountant or customer service representative to a car test driver. As long as you're passionate about cars and are ready to commit yourself to the training, you can achieve your goal of becoming a professional test driver.

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