- Is it right for you?
- Check the price
- Get to know the car
- Sitting comfortably?
- Check inside
- A proper drive
- Don’t commit
What is the best way to test-drive a car? How can you establish if the car you have seen advertised is the right car for you? First, do some background research. Does the manufacturer have a good reputation? Are there any specific problems associated with the make and model?
Is it right for you?
Ask yourself if the car really will serve your needs. Think of what you are likely to need to do with the car. Will it serve as taxi, tip transport and holiday wheels as well as needing to negotiate the tighter corners of the new supermarket? Or does it simply need to ferry you plus kit the short distance to the golf club and back? Don’t pay too much heed to image and acceleration if your buying priorities are practicality and economy.
Check the price
What is the price the seller wants? Is it in line with normal market values, given the age and mileage? Will you be able to afford the insurance, fuel and maintenance costs? Small wonder that such a large part of the test drive needs to happen before you even turn the key.
Get to know the car
However, we’re itching to get in and feel around. So what questions do we ask at this point? First, is it comfortable and does it feel to be a good fit? We’re all different shapes with different tastes, so it’s a serious point.
Is it easy to get in and out of the car? Do you have enough headroom and legroom? Get in the back seat as well, and try it for size. OK, so you’re unlikely to be spending much time in the back of your own car, but it pays to know whether or not you can entertain the idea of giving adult friends a lift without causing them serious pain.
We’re nearly ready to drive. Before we do, let’s check that the driving position is comfortable, neither too low nor too high in the car? Find the best position. Is the seat (and steering wheel) easily adjustable or excessively fiddly?
Look ahead and behind to check for good visibility. Use all the mirrors, check the electric adjustment controls work. Then turn your attention to the dials, knobs, stalks and controls. If something isn’t obvious, don’t be afraid to ask. If something doesn’t work, then make a note. If the condition of the pedal rubbers is worn (which you can expect from around 80,000 miles) then you have a right to be suspicious of a possibly falsified mileage if the odometer only reads 20,000. Before going anywhere, confirm that your can legally drive the car. Is it taxed and MoT-ed? Are you insured?
A proper drive
A word about dealer test drives: most dealers are much more accommodating than they used to be, but just be sure you don’t allow yourself to get in and drive the car in a series of short left-hand turns that bring you straight back to the showroom. That may be the most convenient and time-efficient exercise for the salesman but it won’t do much for you.
The test drive needs to reflect how you would use the car if you end up buying it and driving it. It also needs to give you an opportunity to push the car. It’s not your chance to show whatever skills you may have, but you need to see what the car can do and whether its capabilities match up to what you require. If you regularly use motorways, then the test drive needs to tell you how the car accelerates to, and performs at, 70mph. If you live at the end of an undulating and rutted track with several fords to traverse, then make sure your test drive is more extensive than a quick spin round a few leafy suburban avenues.
Your best strategy when the test drive is over is to say thank you and that you will be in touch. Never – repeat never – be drawn into buying at the test drive stage. Make clear that you have other cars to see, so that you get some time to think when the test drive is over. Maybe you’ll end up losing this particular car to someone else, but remind yourself that there are loads of others out there!