As consumers, before we buy an expensive product like a laptop computer, smartphone, or television, we want to know how a particular model works first and how it makes us feel as we’re using it. It’s much the same with shopping for a car. That’s why it’s important to go for a test drive first to see if the vehicle works perfectly for you, and whether you like the experience of driving it. But how do you do a test drive and make the most of it?
Before You Go for a Test Drive
In the UK, it’s illegal to drive if you don’t have insurance. So, to make sure you won’t be breaking the law, see to it that you are insured. Normally, for test drives, this is something you won’t have to worry about because the car dealers have insurance to cover you. However, you may want to ask them first just to be certain. Apart from insurance, you’re going to need a driver’s licence. Car dealers will ask to see it first before allowing you to take their vehicle for a test drive.
Key Points to Remember
Now that you’re all set for the actual test drive, let’s discuss the proper way of handling the vehicle, whilst also making the most of your time behind the wheel. Firstly, treat a test drive as a part of the research process on your car buying journey. This is your chance to experience the car and get to know its features closely.
Secondly, as much as you might love the car the moment you’re behind the wheel, remember that you don’t have to decide immediately. Of course, the salesperson will be convincing you through and through but don’t be pressured to make the decision. You may even want to bring your family along so that you can ask them about what they think and get a second opinion.
How Long does a Test Drive Last?
The longer the test drive, the more you can get to know the car. Typically, dealers will suggest a route where you can drive on various roads and traffic conditions, lasting around 30 minutes usually. If you feel that you need a longer time for the test drive, you may ask the dealer. Requests like this are usually accommodated so that the customer can make a decision.
Preparing for a Test Drive
When going for a test drive, try to ensure that the car you’re going to test is the one you’re eyeing up to buy because it might not be the trim level you want. Get to know the spec of the model you actually want to buy versus the one you’re going to drive. As you go along, don’t hesitate to ask the salesperson about the features, any additional costs, different trim levels and so on. This is the best time to really get to know the car and see if it meets your needs and expectations.
Here are some of the questions that may guide you as you’re evaluating the vehicle:
- Is it big enough for the family and the things you need to carry in the car (i.e. golf clubs, luggage, picnic baskets, etc.)
- Is there enough legroom in the backseat once you’ve adjusted the driver’s seat to your liking?
- Do the mirrors provide a good view of the rear of the vehicle?
- Is it easy to locate and use controls like the gearbox, indicators, and lights?
- Is there sufficient adjustment to get a good driving position for you?
- Can you pair your smartphone with the car and are the menus and buttons easy to navigate?
Going for a Test Drive
If you’re shopping for a brand new car then you don’t have to worry about the car’s condition or any issues it may have since you’ll be the first one to use it. For the test drive, give yourself time to get used to the car and be observant of your experience as you’re driving it on different roads.
Check if you find it easy to turn the car at low speeds and also if it has enough weight so you can position it confidently even if you’re on faster roads. If it’s a manual car, assess if it shifts gear smoothly. Also, check how the clutch feels. Try doing a reverse park and other manoeuvres to see if you can do it without any issues. For automatic vehicles, does the car promptly shift on your throttle inputs? Evaluate if you can reach the steering wheel paddle shifters comfortably.
Ideally, the ride should be smooth but observe how well the car copes when you drive it on potholes and large undulations, as well as sharp changes in your direction. You’re looking for a car that’s comfortable to drive so if your drive is not as comfy as you’d expect, then you may want to check another model with different suspension settings.
Is the car’s engine powerful enough for you? If you’re going to use the vehicle as a family car, then you need a strong engine for four people plus luggage. Try to rev the engine so you can hear what it sounds like. If you can try the car at motorway speeds, then that’s also good so you can get a feel for noise levels, and of what it’s like when you’re going for long drives.
When you’re done with the test drive, take notes on your smartphone or on a piece of paper so you can review them later when you’re assessing your experience with the car. Some questions might come up and you can ask the dealer about them. Don’t forget to ask your family, friend, or partner for their opinion about the car. They might be able to point out something that you didn’t notice and that could be valuable. There's a lot to take in in a short time!
Expect the salesperson to try their best to close the deal. However, don’t feel pressured to take the leap and buy the car instantly, especially if you’re having some doubts. Allow some time to pass, or sleep on it, so that you’ll have a clear head and make sure that you’re not letting emotion dictate your decision.