There is a lot you can learn about a car from researching online and even getting a health check before you part with any cash. But the test drive before buying a car is a must if you want to be sure it’s the car for you. The driving position, the feel of the steering wheel when you’re moving down the road and the position of the pedals all combine to create your driving experience. No amount of research will provide that practical information.

A lot of people feel like they have to buy a car if they test drive it. But that’s not the case. It’s a little like trying on a pair of jeans and feeling like you have to buy them, even if they don’t fit or look better on the hanger than on you. You’d just hand them back to the sales assistant and keep looking, right? Well, it’s the same when it comes to test driving cars – if it’s not a good fit, don’t go ahead with the purchase. You should test drive a car before buying and never feel obligated to buy a car just because you took her for a spin.

How to approach a test drive

Once you’ve narrowed down your car search to a few strong contenders, it’s time to add to the information gathered a test drive. At this point of the buying process, you’re not quite ready to buy – and that’s fine. Buying a car is a big decision. Salespeople expect the test drive to be a part of that process and not always the final step.

Make a list of dealerships with the cars you are considering and include their contact numbers and locations. There’s no need to book an appointment, test driving cars is a regular part of a car salesperson’s day. Bring your licence with you and any questions you have about buying from a dealership – warranties, maintenance plans, car finance options and anything else you’re curious about.

Approaching a car dealership for a test drive

When you walk into a car dealership with the make and model you’re considering, be honest with the salesperson. Let them know you’re here to test drive a car as part of your narrowing down options process. Test driving cars can be just as good for the dealership as it is for your research.

The chances are, the salesperson will still want to ‘do some numbers’ with you, but you’ll need to be firm. Responding politely but assertively with something along the lines of “I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. I’m still not sure if X car is right for me and this test drive will help me decide. If I choose to go ahead and buy an X, I’ll be getting in touch to see what deals you can offer me.”

This lets the salesperson know you are serious about buying a car but any pressure to buy today is going to damage their chances of selling a car to you when you are ready to buy.

Before you start driving

Before you start the car up, check the interior, adjust the seat position and the mirrors. Get a little more familiar with the controls and make sure you know where things are and how they work. Ask questions to the salesperson if you’re not sure. Even though you don’t intend to buy right now, this is a great opportunity for the dealership to win your approval so you do come back when you’re ready to purchase.

When you do test drive cars, drive as you normally would and take your time. If you’re considering a make and model you’re unfamiliar with, take a few different cars of that make for a test drive before choosing one to buy.

A test drive should last for around 30 minutes. You should cover the types of roads and conditions that you normally drive in. So if a lot of your driving is on the motorway, make sure you test drive cars on the motorway as well as through the town.

How to test drive a car

Take the car through the normal manoeuvres you’d carry out in your day to day driving – that means reverse parking to check for blind spots, moving through all of the gears no matter if the car has an automatic or manual transmission and switching on all the electrical equipment to make sure it works and is within easy reach while driving.

If you usually drive with the family, take them along when you test drive cars. Their opinion will need to be taken into consideration too. No one wants to spend their driving life listening to passengers tell you how much they hate the wheels they’re in! If you’re looking for a first-time family car, check for iso-fix fittings, boot space for a buggy and airbag safety for kids.

While you’re test driving a car, listen for rattles and pings as the engine turns over and watch for excessive smoke. Pay special attention to the steering and brakes – both should be responsive and free from vibrations or strange noises.

The gears should move smoothly without uncomfortable crunching or grinding noises. If it’s a manual transmission, look for where the pedal catches the gear – if it’s at the top where the pedal is about to be released, it indicates that the clutch is on the way out.

Test driving cars can be fun, and it’s not necessary to be ready to buy a car to request a test drive. In fact, we’d recommend test driving cars without the intention of buying as you’ll be able to make the right decision without getting too emotional about it. Just be straight with the salesperson. Ask questions while you’re test driving to learn as much as you can from the experience. It’ll help you make the best purchase when it is time to buy.

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