A test drive is your opportunity to get a feel for a vehicle and assess whether it will do what you want it to do after you’ve purchased it. No matter if you’re buying new or used, a test drive is always recommended to help ensure you’re ultimately happy with your purchase.
While jumping in the driver’s seat and taking your prospective purchase for a spin around the block might seem simple enough, there are a few things you might want to look out for to make sure you’re getting the most out of your test drive.
Before the test drive
Before taking the car for a test drive, spend some time researching the model you’re considering buying.
For most popular makes you can find everything and anything out about a vehicle by looking online. Compile a list of common problems or things that might be worth paying attention to.
The more you know about the model type upfront the better equipped you will be to make an informed purchase decision.
Bring someone with you
Bring a friend or family member with you so that you have two sets of eyes on the car. Often it can be hard to remain unbiased about your judgement of the vehicle if you’re already invested in the purchase.
Having someone else with you will help provide a second opinion and potentially notice things about the car you might’ve missed otherwise. Bonus points if they know a lot about cars!
Inspect the car thoroughly before taking off
Before jumping in the car and driving off, give the car a once over and familiarise yourself with everything about the car.
- Check for damage such as dents, scratches, scrapes on the bumper, stone chips or gutter scratches on the wheels. If there are any, make sure they are noted so that all parties can confirm they were there before you test drove the vehicle.
- Try out the air conditioning to ensure it’s working as it should be.
- Locate and test all the main switches including the wipers/washers, headlights and hazard lights.
- Sit in various positions of the vehicle, not just the driver’s seat. Would all passengers in the car feel comfortable?
- Try out the technology to make sure it’s working as advertised. This might include Bluetooth capability, car radio and satellite navigation.
- Open the boot and have a look if there’s a spare wheel and how easy it is to access.
Running through all these components of the car will give you a good idea of the vehicle’s build quality and how well it has been treated by the previous owner if it has had one. It will also let you get familiar with how the car works and if you like how it functions.
If something annoys you during the test drive it will likely continue to annoy you long after you’ve purchased the vehicle.
Plan your test drive route
Consider the route you’re going to test drive the vehicle. Ideally, you want to take the car beyond the local neighbourhood and get a feel for it at a range of different speeds.
Talk to the dealer or seller about how far you can take the car and if they can recommend a good route locally to put the car to the test.
One lap around the block isn’t enough of a test drive to get a good feel for the vehicle or expose any underlying issues that might be present.
During the test drive
While you are on the test drive there are several things you should pay attention to. If you decide to bring someone with you, you might like to have them jot down your observations while you drive so you don’t forget anything.
How do the brakes feel? Do they stop quickly or require a bigger braking distance? You need to make sure you feel comfortable with the vehicle’s ability to stop.
If the car has a manual transmission you need to get a feel of the transitions between gears. Are they easy to move through? Is the clutch heavy?
If the car is automatic pay attention to how it shifts through gears when going up or down hills.
You need to be able to see in all directions in the car. Make sure you have full visibility through the back and front windows and make note of any blind spots.
Does the car have a good turning circle? Is it easy to maneuver through tight turns where necessary?
Take the car to a parking lot and make sure you can navigate in and out of a parking bay with ease. If it feels like really hard work, then it’s probably not the right make or model for your driving style.
Turn the volume down on the radio and listen to the cabin noise. Are the tyres excessively loud? Is the car generally noisy? Are there unusual sounds coming from the engine bay?
Noises you hear during this stage of the test drive can be a good indicator of whether the car has any underlying issues.
How does the steering wheel feel? Is it straight when you’re driving straight? Is there a vibration coming through the wheel?
If there’s a wobble at high speeds it can be indicating there’s an issue with the wheels, tyres, suspension or steering. Fixing this is likely quite simple however it’s something still worth considering.
Are the controls easy to use and find? Are they intuitive?
Steering wheels host a range of controls and they differ from make to make however they should make it easy to find the volume control, phone controls and cruise control (if applicable).
After the drive
After you return from the test drive the dealer or seller will be eager to talk about finalising the deal. Even if it was a perfect test drive experience don’t jump into a decision.
Take some time to reflect on your decision and test drive a few other vehicles to get a feel for what else is on the market within your budget.
If you’re purchasing a second-hand car you might also like to request to have a mechanic conduct a pre-purchase inspection. If you are in the market, Gino’s offer thorough pre-purchase car inspections that help take the guesswork out of your purchase and make sure you’re buying with confidence.
Buying a new car is up there with one of the biggest purchases many of us will make so it’s important you do everything you can to make the right choice. Taking a thorough test drive and conducting a pre-purchase inspection is definitely part of that process.