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Tips for test driving a car

Tips for test driving a car

It's amazing how many people will part with their cash for a car without even undertaking some basic checks. One thing that is an absolute must, is a test drive – a proper test drive that is, not just a quick run around the block.

Remember that a test drive is your opportunity to get to know the car, to see if there are any faults that you'd like to know about before you buy, as well as the time to see if the car is going to be right for you and your needs.

How to Get the Most from a Test Drive

Think about what you want from a test drive before you start. Ask yourself:

  • Can I get the driving position comfortable for me?
  • Can I reach and operate all the controls effectively and see the instruments easily?
  • Is it going to suit my needs – child seats, heavy shopping, suitcases, golf clubs, taking dear Aunt Ada to the bingo?
  • How easy is it to get in and out?
  • Are the door sills and the boot low enough for me?
  • What's the all-round vision like when reversing or parking?
  • Do I feel comfortable in it?
  • Will I enjoy driving it?

You need to get at least an idea of the engine and suspension. The engine should be cold at the start, if it's warm it could be hiding starting issues. The engine should be quiet and pull smoothly without any excessive smoke from the exhaust also listen as you drive for unusual rattles or clunks from the suspension.

Top Tip: Ensure the engine is cold at the start of the test drive. If the seller has warmed the engine it may be to hide starting issues.

Brakes too should stop without pulling to one side or with wobbling on the steering wheel. The steering itself should be precise with no vibration. You should be able to change gears smoothly and if the clutch pedal travels a long way before getting to the biting point, it could be a sign that it is worn.

Buying from a Dealer

If you're buying a new vehicle from a dealer, ask if you can have the car for the day or the evening: they can only say no. If the answer is negative, try and at least get a few hours with the vehicle and try and ensure that for some of that time, the sales person leaves you alone.

Don't be too proud to get a thorough rundown of the controls before you set off and try and get someone else to drive at some point – there are things about the car you'll discover from the passenger seat that you'll never know if you stay behind the wheel.

Choose a varied driving route – you're not going to learn much about the car if all you do is shoot up and down the local dual carriageway. Try and include a mixture both of challenging roads you know – and some you don't. If at all possible, always drive at least two comparable cars from different brands – preferably on the same day or over the same weekend.

Ask lots of questions and don't worry about sounding stupid.

If you like the actual demonstrator car you're driving, don't be afraid to ask if you can buy it – it'll come cheaper. Dealers only tend to keep demonstrators for six months and they're well looked after and relatively lightly used. If the saving's right, then why not?

Top Tip: Never buy there and then – at the end of the test drive, always walk away and think it through.

Don't feel you have to buy from the dealer that gave you the test drive – just because you like the car, it doesn't mean you have to buy it from that dealer. All they've earned from giving you the test drive is first shot at quoting you on the sale. Don't feel obligated to take it further.

and finally…

A thorough test drive is vital. It's your best chance to make sure you're comfortable, that you'll enjoy driving the car and that it's right for all your needs. Don't be tempted to rush it. Once you've parted with your cash and lowered your bank balance, it'll be too late to decide that the car's not really right for you.

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