While it is true to say that there has been a shift to online car sales in recent years, a test drive still forms a vital part of the buying process for most people. In this guide we’ll run you through a few easy steps that will help you make the most of your test drive experience. Before buying any car we highly recommend you test drive it and ideally one other for comparison.
It might sound a bit too much like hard work, but scribbling some notes as you go through your hour or so with the car can be an invaluable exercise, particularly when comparing models.
Beforehand, decide what aspects of the car are most important to you, whether it’s the styling, the space on offer, the ride comfort, the level of technology or anything else. That way you will know that these are the areas to focus on when you’re looking at the car.
Don’t forget the basics, either, such as taking along any large items you’ll regularly be carrying. Whether it’s baby buggies, golf trolleys or a load of old boxes, dealers will have seen it all before. They might, however, draw the line at a dog sitting in their shiny demonstrator.
Put Technology to the Test
With a car’s infotainment system now being such a big part of what makes it unique, you should spend time getting to know how it works. A dealer will be able to show you around the controls, but also be sure to experiment with it by yourself to see how easy and responsive it is to use. After all, it’s easy for an expert to cover up weaknesses in the systems, or make complicated functions look easier to execute than they really are.
Consider too if the car you’re looking at has a CD player, as many these days don’t. If all your music is streamed through an app or stored on your smartphone the lack of a CD slot won’t be a problem, but for many it can be a real pain, particularly as most assume one will be fitted as standard.
Make sure that you also have a good understanding of the car’s safety systems, in particular those designed to prevent you from having a crash in the first place. The most obvious of these are ABS brakes and electronic stability control, both of which are fitted to all new cars these days.
In addition, check to see if the model you’re testing has autonomous emergency braking, which uses a radar or camera to monitor the road in front so that it can warn you if it thinks it is going to hit something. If the driver fails to react the car can then automatically apply the brakes to minimise the impact or avoid it entirely. Such systems have been shown to reduce the chances of crashing into the rear of another car by up to 40%, which means that they are also cheaper to insure.
Follow the steps above and by the time it comes to the actual test drive you should feel well acquainted with how much of it works, leaving you free to concentrate on being behind the wheel.
The first step is to ensure there’s enough adjustment in the seat and the steering wheel in order to find a good driving position, and then consider not only how light the controls are, but also how positively they respond. For example, if the car has a manual gearbox you want the clutch to have a noticeable biting point and the gears to engage smoothly.
Think about the amount of engine noise you can hear and listen out in particular for any roar from the tyres. If you do a lot of motorway driving this can be the difference between a good car and a bad one.
Also make sure that you test the car’s performance. Obviously, a dealer won’t be happy if you thrash an engine just for the sake of it, but it’s reasonable to want to know how it performs when you put your foot down.
Comfort is another key consideration, and can be broken down into several elements. The seat, for example, should offer good support for long stints behind the wheel (hence another reason you should aim for a test drive of at least an hour), and bear in mind that adjustable lumbar support only tends to be offered on higher-spec models. The suspension setup will vary depending on the type of car, but generally speaking you’re looking for something that cushions you from the worst of the bumps in the road without resorting to being so soft that the car’s body rolls around when you corner. Finally, don’t forget to listen as wind, engine and tyre noise are all factors in a comfortable drive. The less you hear, the more relaxed you’ll be.
Compare and Contrast
With the test drive complete the dealer is likely to want to talk prices, but don’t feel pressured. Now’s the time to ask any additional questions that you might have and go back through your notes to see remind yourself of any concerns.
If you are in a position to proceed make sure you understand the various payment methods by reading our guide to car finance, and of course remember that there’s often a deal to be done on the price that you’ll pay.
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