Test drive tips: how to test drive a new car

Nov 25, 2015

Test-driving is one of the most important things to do when buying a new car. Here’s our checklist of what to look out for

There's only one way to find out if you truly like a potential new car: getting behind the wheel and seeing if it's a good fit for you. It's all well and good if the car looks the business and has the right badge, but if you can’t get comfortable or don’t enjoy being behind the wheel, it's better finding this out before you’ve spent your money by signing on the dotted line. 

To make sure you know exactly what to look for when you head out on the road for a test drive, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide so you don’t miss a trick or face any unwelcome surprises.

Am I insured? 

More often than not, test-driving a new car isn’t a problem – you’ll be covered under the dealer's insurance. If you’re buying from a private seller, you might need to use your own. The best thing to do if you’re not sure is to ask your insurance provider (and the dealer) when you book the test drive.

Is it big enough?

Don’t be embarrassed to take your whole family along with you if you’re buying a large family car. It's the only way to find out if you can fit everyone in, so take child seats, pushchairs – the works. It's great practice for seeing if the car is easy to get along with for everyone who’ll be using the car on a daily basis. 

Or, if you’re likely to be carrying equipment like golf clubs, toolboxes or anything like that on a regular basis, take them with you and see if they fit in without fuss. 

Check for faults

Most cars sold through a main dealer will be inspected to a high level and often come with some form of warranty, but it's still important to check for basic things like scuffs on the bodywork, wheels and interior trim, as well as things like bad smells. 

More important are the mechanics of the car. Before you get inside, place your hand on the bonnet to see if it's warm. If this is the case, find out why, as the dealer could have had it running for a while to cover up any problems it has when starting from cold. If it's something that really bothers you, either walk away or organise to view the car when you can see it started from cold.

You’ll need to be more vigilant if you’re buying a used car. Some dealers try to pull different tricks to make you think the car is better than it is. If the car is parked in a puddle then it could have a flat tyre, so make sure the car is in good condition and that it's not going to cost you a fortune in repairs.

Inside the car 

Once you’re inside, take time to move the driver's seat and mirrors into the most comfortable position for you. You’ll be spending plenty of time behind the wheel, so it's important to make sure you can not only get comfortable in the first place, but also stay comfortable the more time you spend in the car.

When you start the engine, check in the mirrors for signs of smoke coming from the exhaust. Before you get out on the road, do a full turning circle and listen out for any knocks or bangs coming from the suspension. If you’re not happy with things, hand back the keys and walk away. Remember, you don’t have to commit to the car just because you’ve taken it for drive! 

Driving the vehicle 

Make sure the car accelerates smoothly and pay attention to any strange vibrations or sounds. If you can, drive the car on roads that are familiar to you and that you’ll be using regularly, so you know how it performs where it’ll be used most. For example, if you have to go over lots of speed bumps every day, make sure you test the car over these in case the ride is too harsh. 

Don’t be content with just taking the car for a quick spin around the block – some dealers will be more accommodating than others if you want an extended test drive, so make sure your intentions are clear from the outset. 

When you press the brakes, ensure they’re sharp and effective. If something doesn’t feel right, for example if you have to press the pedal harder than normal or if they judder, this should be a cause for concern. They car should also stop in a straight line, without pulling to either side.

Similar rules apply to the gearbox – it should be easy to put into gear and take out again. Remember to test reverse as well.

The electrics 

Don’t be afraid to poke around with all the gadgets and gizmos in the car while you’re on the test drive – especially the air-con and heating. If it's sunny, don’t forget to check the wipers are in working order and if there was a particular feature that attracted you to the car, check it's present and that it works fine. 

Again, even though something seemed appealing on paper, it might not be as easy to operate in the car, so make sure you test it out to see you can live with the car day-to-day. 

Stay level-headed 

If the test drive goes well and you like the car, the salesperson might take advantage of this and pressure you to make a decision there and then. Remember that you’re not obliged to purchase the car just because you enjoyed the drive – take some time to mull it over at home away from the pressures of the dealership. 

If there's something you aren’t entirely happy with, don’t be afraid to ask the dealer about it or ask for a second test drive to clarify things. 

Be confident when taking the car for a drive and remember you’re in control of the whole buying process. Finally, enjoy it! Buying a new car should be enjoyable and it's one of the biggest purchases you’ll ever make.

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