Taking a test drive is a vital part of choosing the right car for you and your only chance to make sure the car meets your needs.
Test drives can be a stressful task – you’re driving a car you are unfamiliar with and there’s a complete stranger breathing down your neck trying to make the sale, but it’s important to take your time when choosing a car as it is likely you will have it for several years.
Some car dealers like to put customers into higher spec versions in an attempt to ‘upsell’ them into a more expensive car, but ask your dealer to provide the engine, transmission (manual or automatic) and trim level that you’re interested in to make sure you don’t get distracted.
Just remember don’t commit to buy until you’re completely satisfied that the car is right for you because if you don’t buy this one there’s sure to be others to choose from.
A dealer will have special insurance in place to cover test drives but you may not be covered if you’re buying a car privately. It’s important that you and the seller check your insurance policies carefully to ensure that you’re covered.
Try to allow at least half an hour for the test drive and to drive on all kinds of roads – a test drive on busy roads in a town won’t tell you much about the car if you’re going to be driving it most of the time on motorways.
To help you stay focused on the test drive, bring another adult to keep the salesman chatting so you don’t feel like you’re being watched; your adult will also be able to comment on the car from a passenger’s point of view. Try to take a test drive on a route that you know, so you can concentrate on the car and not finding your way around.
Drive more than one
If, as is quite likely, you’re looking at an unfamiliar model it’s a good idea to try to drive more than one of make and model you are interested in if you can. This will give you a better idea of what that car should feel like to drive and may help you differentiate between characteristics and possible faults of the car.
Ask your family or friends
If you’re buying a family car then it’s important to take the family with you too – it’s important that they’re comfortable and can get in and out easily.
Even if you are not looking to get a family car it is always worth getting a second opinion from a friend or family member who can provide additional advice that you may not have thought about.
Off and on again
Check everything electrical from the radio and air-con to door locks, and windows to make sure it works. Check that all warning lights operate normally – generally they will come on with the ignition to test the bulb and then go out if there’s no fault recorded.
Do not assume that there’s a full-size spare wheel and tyre in the boot – it could be a restricted use ‘skinny spare’ or, increasingly likely, a compressor and liquid sealant kit. You may have to budget for a full-size spare if this is important to you or look to have breakdown cover if a spare wheel is not included. Also make sure you check for wheel changing tools and, if appropriate, a locking wheel nut adaptor too as you don’t want to find these are missing if you have a flat tyre.
On the move
Besides assessing the general feel of the car under a range of conditions, it’s important to listen out for any unusual clonks and rattles and to pay close attention to the major mechanical controls – do the clutch, gears, brakes and steering all operate ‘normally’?
There’s no legal requirement but it’s normal to get two keys. Modern keys are expensive to replace so make sure that what is being supplied meets your needs or factor the additional cost of a replacement key into your budget.