Taking a car for a test drive can be fun or it can be nerve-wracking. But what it needs to be is informative.
If you don’t know how to test a car you’re planning to buy, take along an adviser, a friend or relative who knows about cars.
But don’t leave the job entirely to them. You do need to know whether you can find a comfortable seating position, for instance or whether it has the right amount of storage spaces. You’re buying this car for yourself, not your expert mate.
New or used?
New cars don’t usually break down during a test drive, so what you’re assessing is more about whether the car’s design will suit your personal needs.
If the car is used, you do need to pay more attention to the traditional tell tales of neglectful car ownership. Take a peek at the service schedule book – has it been properly and punctually maintained?
It’s a good idea to have the car inspected by a professional mechanic before you even begin to talk about price. The mechanic will check the car over for rust, oil and coolant leaks, worn clutch and brakes, clunky dampers, shudder from the transmission, and front-end alignment worries, to name a few. By checking this early, it will save you money in the long term if you do proceed with the purchase.
Handing over your licence
Leave the seller something of value before taking his or her car for a test drive. That could be your licence or the keys to your current car.
Make sure also that the seller has your contact details (mobile phone number is best) and that you have his or hers. And – this is important – check whether you will be covered by the car’s insurance policy while you’re driving it.
How long and where to test?
Allow yourself half an hour to get to know the vehicle. Spend five minutes setting up the driving position to suit yourself. Ask yourself after 15 minutes behind the wheel, does it still feel comfortable? If you re-adjust the position and find you’re uncomfortable again by the time you arrive back at your starting point, this probably isn’t the car for you.
Do you do a lot of your driving on the open road? Take the car for a test drive on the nearest freeway or rural highway, if possible.
Spend more time in the suburbs? Find some roundabouts, stop signs and traffic lights to assess whether the car you’re testing will cope with basic urban traffic flow.
What about the driving?
Check that all the comfort and convenience features are simple to use and are in easy reach. Try the audio system functions.
- Can you pair your phone using Bluetooth?
- What about the climate control?
- On the road, does the car ride nicely?
- Is it as quiet as you would like?
- Do you feel confident steering the car into a corner?
- How about the brakes?
- What about performance?
- Does it go well enough?
If the answer to all these is ‘yes’, you’re on to a winner.