7 Things You Must Always Do On A Test Drive
Making sure you get the most out of that all-important test drive
The test drive is without doubt, one of the most important parts of the entire car-buying process. And it doesn't matter if you're the one looking to buy the car or you're the one looking to sell it, the test drive is equally important to both parties.
Also see: Our full car buying guide
From the seller's point of view, it's the chance to get the potential buyer to experience the vehicle for themself so they'll hopefully like it and start to bond with it. For the customer, the test drive is the chance for them to see how the vehicle they're considering buying drives and handles, and if it's something they will be happy owning and driving for a number of years.
Despite how obviously important the test drive is for both parties, it's amazing how lightly it can be taken sometimes. It can even be seen by some as something you're just supposed to do, rather than something as crucial as it actually is. It's important to know what you should do when you test drive a car, so here are seven test drive tips to think about as a potential buyer so you can get the most out of this all-important part of the car-buying process.
1. Do your research
The whole car-buying process is currently undergoing a huge transformation as a result of the internet. The buyer can now be in a stronger position than ever before by being well prepared beforehand through extensive online research. Most people think of the internet as a resource for comparing prices so you know how much you should be expecting to pay, but the web is even more useful as a tool for helping shoppers decide what they want, what they need and what they may or may not like in a new or used car.
It wasn't uncommon years ago for customers to turn up at a dealership with very little idea of what was and wasn't actually available. Nowadays, there really is no excuse for not knowing what vehicle and features you're interested in, and that means the test drive should really just be a case of getting to grips with the vehicle of your choice to see if you actually like it.
2. Plan ahead
Buying a new car is a big deal for the majority of people so it makes sense to do things properly, especially if you have limited time. Once you're happy with your research and you've decided which car or cars you're interested in, it makes sense to get in touch with a dealer to schedule a test drive at a time convenient for you both. As well as it being at a convenient time for you, scheduling a test drive in advance should ensure the correct vehicle or vehicles are available and ready to go when you get there. It also lets the dealer take your details in advance, which saves time when you get there and leaves more time for driving.
Don't forget to bring with you:
- Driving license
Most dealers' insurance will demand they see your driving license before letting you drive their car
If you need glasses to see properly to drive, make sure you have them with you if you didn't drive there yourself
- Sun glasses
Direct sunlight can be a severe distraction even in winter, so be prepared
- Comfortable footwear
Inappropriate shoes can make driving an unfamiliar car difficult and ruin a test drive
- List of considerations
It's easy to get carried away with the excitement, so a list will help you remember what you need to look at and ask about
- A friend or relative
Whether it's to look after children or the dog or just for moral support, having someone with you is always a good idea
Good deals don't hang around forever so have a way of paying a deposit just in case. You don't have to use it, but it's better to be safe than sorry
3. Be on time
If you were to turn up at the dealer and the car you'd arranged to test drive wasn't there, you'd rightly be pretty miffed about it. However, don’t assume you can just turn up early or late if it suits you and the vehicle will still be there and available. Demonstrators are usually in big demand and are often also the company cars of staff members, so they're unlikely to be there 24/7. If you've called in advance, agreed on what car you want to test drive, and confirmed its availability, there's no excuse for it not being there if you arrive on time.
4. Be firm about driving the right car
If you've arranged to drive the 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol version of the car and you've turned up when you said you would, don't be fobbed-off with driving the 2.0-litre diesel because the one you want isn’t there. Ok, the car may look the same and it may even have exactly the same features and equipment, but it's not going to drive the same. It's a similar story if you're specifically interested in an automatic but you're only offered a drive in a manual version of the same car. They may feel the same to ride in, but gear boxes can be very different and can make or break a car purchase for many people.
Of course, if you're not bothered that you asked to test drive a 2.5-litre V-6 automatic and you're offered a drive in a 1.5-litre manual, that's fine. On the other hand, don't refuse a test drive in the right model just because the demonstrator is a red one and you're interested in a blue one. Don’t laugh, it happens!
5. Familiarise yourself with the car
The chances are the car you're going to test drive will be somewhat different from what you're used to. It therefore makes a lot of sense to take plenty of time before you set off to make sure you know where things are. Get to know which stick has the indicators on, where the windscreen wipers are operated from, how you wash the screen, how you apply and release the handbrake, and how you turn the lights on and off. Remember, you're there to experience how the car feels and drives. It's common to be a little nervous test driving a different vehicle with a relative stranger sat in the passenger seat. So, struggling with unfamiliar controls will only make things worse and could easily prevent you from concentrating on the car itself and how it drives.
6. Understand the differences between new and used car test drives
The test drive could be quite different depending on whether it's a new or used car you're looking to buy. The biggest difference is that if you're buying a used car, the car you're test driving is the actual car you're looking to buy, while you'll probably be driving a demonstrator if you're looking to buy new.
When you're test driving a demonstrator with a view to buying a brand new car, there's no need to check if all the buttons and switches work properly. It doesn't matter if there's a mark on the seat or a dent on the door, and it's not relevant if it smells a bit funny as it's not the car you'll be ending up with.
If the vehicle you're test driving is the actual one you're looking to buy, it's vital you check for any potential faults. If the car's more than a year or two old, it's also a good idea to take someone with you who's mechanically minded if you're not particularly the technical type. Don't be put off by minor faults either. This is your chance to point them out and it could even strengthen your arm when it comes to negotiating a deal. If the dealer agrees to fix any particular faults you discover on the test drive if you decide to buy the car, make sure you get it in writing on the order form so there's no misunderstanding or arguing when you collect the car.
7. Relax and take it all in
Keep in mind, a test drive isn't something you just need to get through. It's an invaluable opportunity to experience what you're interested in buying at first hand. Don't worry what the salesperson thinks about how you drive and don’t pay too much attention to any sales patter when you're out in the car. You're unlikely to be the best or the worst driver they've ever experienced so concentrate on the car.
There are some rules on test driving cars, such as having your driving license so the seller knows they can legally let you drive, but you should be made aware of any such criteria beforehand if you check in advance. Don't be afraid to ask questions and take time to check out the back seats, the boot and anything else you want to know about when you get back to the dealership, or perhaps even before you set off.
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