Test drive tips: what you need to look out for
Our comprehensive checklist will help you get the most from your test drive
A test drive is the only way to really make sure that the car you’ve got your heart set on, is the car that will meet your needs. It's a great way to see how it performs, as well as an opportunity to check you actually enjoy driving the car.
Am I insured?
First things first though, when you book a test drive, make sure that the dealer's insurance will cover you. Usually it will, but if you’re buying from a private vendor then you might need to use your own. If you’re not sure that you are covered, call your insurance provider; they’ll let you know.
Is it big enough?
If you’re buying a family car, then bring the whole gang and all their kit with you. It's a great idea to practice getting the kids in and out, and you can check that any car seats fit in properly. Also, is the boot big enough for a week away by the seaside?
Check for faults
Before you even get inside the car, place your hand on the bonnet. If it's warm, find out why. This could mean that the dealer has had the engine running to make sure the car will run smoothly, hiding any grumbles or problems it may have when it starts from cold. Say you’ll wait around until it has cooled down, or re-book for another day.
If you are buying a used or nearly new car it's particularly important to be on the ball, as you’ll also need to make sure that the vehicle is in good nick and isn’t littered with faults – including worn tyres, faulty air-con or worrying warning lights on the dashboard.
Once inside, make sure you can adjust the seat and steering wheel to find a comfortable driving position. When the car starts, check in the rear view mirror for signs of smoke, and do a full turning circle in the car park. Be wary of any knocks or bangs, and hand back the keys immediately if you’re not satisfied.
Make sure it accelerates smoothly, and when you apply the brakes, ensure they’re sharp and effective. There shouldn’t be any resistance, and if they require pumping or pressing hard to make them work, this should be a cause for concern. They should also stop the car in a straight line, without pulling to one side. The gearbox is equally important – make sure that when you switch gears, they are easy to engage.
Take the car out for a minimum of half an hour, and be sure to take it on roads that are similar to those you’ll use on a day-to-day basis. Be sure to drive as you would normally, to give you the best idea of its performance.
Make sure you’ve switched on all electrical items – from air-con to heated seats – and tested them thoroughly. Don’t forget windscreen wipers just because you’re driving on a sunny day, and if there's a specific bit of kit that's made you interested in the car then make sure it's present and works as you would want it to.
Stay level headed
Once you’ve test driven the car it can be easy to buckle under the pressure that salespeople often put on you to buy the car there and then.
Stay level headed. If it's the car for you, then great. But if there's something niggling in the back of your mind, or you want some time to think about it, then don’t be afraid to ask for a second test drive.
Be confident and enjoy yourself. For many, buying a new car is one of the biggest decisions they’ll ever have to make!