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Picking out that perfect new car is a responsibility which thrills some and intimidates others. Millions upon millions of customers flock to their local car dealers every year to pick out that perfect match. Yet for such a task considered to be perfectly normal in our society, many buyers manage to get it so horribly wrong by allowing themselves to get sucked into the purchasing process at full speed – right where the dealers want them. From start to finish, we’ve complied together a list of 6 Essential Tips for Test Driving a Car to highlight that a test drive is not just about the driving of the car itself: it’s about completing every mundane check to ensure you’ll have a car that doesn’t break the bank in the long run.

Bring Whatever or Whoever to the Test Drive

It’s always useful to have a second opinion, so if possible, bring along a trusted friend or your partner to the test drive for an extra pair of eyes and ears. If you have a children, bring them too to check that they’ll have enough space in the back. If they aren’t comfortable in your prospective car then this speaks volumes. Likewise, if you have a furry friend, make sure that there will be enough room for them to stretch out and relax in the trunk on family days out. Another idea is for yourself to sit in the passenger seat and in the back of the car to get a feel for how spacious the car is.

Do you have any hobbies? Although you may find the idea of a musician dragging along their double bass to a test drive more comical than pragmatic, we assure you that this happens a whole lot more than you think. If you want to haul your beloved golf clubs, tuba or even your entire art collection to the test drive, more often than not the salesman will happily encourage it knowing that he or she will be dealing with a happier customer at the end of the day. Although you may feel like you’re going overboard, we promise that bringing along whatever or whatever you need is an essential part of the test driving process.

Check for Faults Before you Drive

Before even considering driving your potential new car, you must check out both the exterior and interior. Try not to get too excited at the prospect of driving and haphazardly rush over these checks; you’ll regret it when discovering a fault after purchase.

Firstly, inspect the exterior of the car. You don’t want to get too used to sitting in that driver’s seat just yet! This is even more crucial if your prospective car has been previously used. Confirm that the paintwork is in good condition and that there are no dents or marks. If there are, make sure that these have been noted by the salesman before you go on your test drive. Your next task is to examine the body of the car for rust. If you’re buying a used car this provisionary check is crucial; corrosion around the frame affects the integrity of the car and therefore, yourself and your loved ones safety. Next, check the windscreen! This is a common mistake made by test drive rookies and experienced buyers alike. A few cracks could result in hundreds of pounds of damage in the long rung. Finally, you’ll want to get up close and personal with those tyres; most states require a minimum of 2/32 an inch (1.6mm) of tread. Also, be very wary if the tyres are worn down on one side more than the other; the wheel alignment may need altered or you could be looking at a much more costly expense.

What is also critical is to start off the car yourself. If the dealer won’t let you start the car off from cold, this should ring alarm bells, as it points to subsequent complications with the car’s mechanisms. Place your hand on the bonnet of the car and if it’s already warm, the car has been started up already. Bring this up immediately.

If the exterior checks out then you can finally go inside the car, but don’t become tempted to drive off just yet! Examine all the seats and trim for signs of wear and tear and make sure that every mark has been noted down by the dealer. Now, it’s time to get comfy. Make sure that you can reach the peddles, your seat can be adjusted easily and that your mirrors can be altered from within the car. Once you start up the car, make sure there isn’t a disproportionate amount of fumes coming from the exhaust by checking in your rear view mirror. Turn the steering wheel numerous times while listening carefully to make sure that there aren’t any unwelcome noises. If everything seems to be working, it’s time to accustom yourself to the other controls.

Familiarize Yourself With the Functions

Picture the curiosity of a young child when they’re handed a new toy to play with for the first time. This is exactly the kind of attitude you should adopt when playing around with the dashboard and other gadgets in your test drive car. The aim of the game is to touch every single button you lay your eyes upon! Here are some basics not to miss:

  • Lights 

Do both your low beam and high beams work? How about your side lights? To test the brake lights, have your friend or partner stand behind the car whilst you step on the brake pedal or find a reflective surface and look into your rear view mirror. Also, identify the placement of your hazard warning light switch before setting off.

  • Windscreen Wipers

You don’t want to wait until driving in a downpour to find out that these are inefficient!

  • Bluetooth

Connect to your sound system and get that music blasting.

  • Heating

Check your heating now to ensure that you’ll be nice and snug on those cold winter commutes. If you test drive car is only blowing cold air, alert the dealer.

  • Air Conditioning

Nothing is more uncomfortable than having no air conditioning on a boiling hot day. Prevent yourself from being boiled alive by making sure this works now.

  • Child Safety Locks

Open your rear door and you should find a small latch which prevents the car door being opened from the inside. Your child will be protected by this function while the car is moving.

If everything seems to be in order, you can now finally start driving.

Take Your Time

Many people’s idea of a test drive is a quick ten minute spin around the block. We’re here to tell you that this is an illusion fabricated by many dealers who don’t fancy wasting a lot of time getting another sale in the bag. An exemplary test drive should be over half an hour. We recommend test driving the car for the longest time possible. Many dealers, if asked nicely, will happily agree to a test drive a few hours long or even lending the car out for a couple of days.

In order to maximize the time you have on your test drive, schedule it for a time that won’t coincide with both the morning or evening rush hours. We’d recommend around ten or eleven in the morning, when the roads are quiet before lunch hour.

The test drive is a chance to get to know your potential car a little better, not only on the road but by conducting simple maneuvers. Reversing into a parking space is recommended as this allows you to check all round vision and blind spots. Likewise, when driving don’t forget to execute an emergency stop when it is safe to do so in order to test the car’s stability in case of an accident. Finally, think about applying the handbrake on a steep hill to make sure it isn’t worn and will hold the car.

Make a point of focusing on the power steering. If the steering wheel is stiff and difficult to turn, steer clear (literally) from this car.

If you’re one of the lucky ones who is allowed to keep the car for an extended period of time, try driving around with bukly items in the back. If the car is feels heavy or like it’s dragging to one side in any way, be very cautious when making your final decision.

Finally, although it’s very tempting to tamper with the fancy Bluetooth speaker, resist for now and drive in silence so you can look out for any unusual sounds caused by your suspension, brakes, steering or engine. A little whining sound is normal on power steering but if this noise persists, talk to your dealer.

Drive on a Variety of Familiar Roads

What kind of roads should you test drive your prospective vehicle on? The answer is pretty straightforward: every kind of road that exists. This ranges from hills, bumpy track roads, country roads, roads slap-bang in the center of town – you name it. Plan your route before setting off to ensure that you’ll have enough variation on your test drive.  If possible, ask your dealer if you can take the car onto the expressway to see how it handles both accelerating and a little more speed.

Although you want your roads to be varied, don’t go crazy and drive your prospective car down a dodgy and unfamiliar country lane. Stick to what you know: what you don’t want is to be testing the road as well as the car. If you drive on roads you know like the back of your hand, this will help you compare and contrast previous experiences with different vehicles on your test drive. A top tip is to factor in your commute to work on your planned test drive route. This is a route most drivers could navigate in their sleep and therefore, be familiar with the feel of the road.

Don’t Let the Salesman Entice You

With the persuasive salesman who’s almost too good at his job whispering in your ear, it’s often tempting to leave all sense of reasoning behind when setting off for your test drive.

A test drive functions as a sales pitch for a dealer to work their magic. Request to not have them in the car with you when on your test drive, as this is truly their time to show off all the qualities that this specific car has to offer. Many even recommend set routes that highlight the test drive car’s strong qualities. Stick to your own familiar route and do not listen!

Imagine you’re returning to the dealership after the best drive of your life. Do you run straight into the arms of the salesman, begging them to sell you this incredible car immediately? Absolutely not. Go home, have a cup of tea, workout – do whatever it takes for you to wind down and take your mind off things for a while. It’s important and admirable to trust your gut but at the same time, be assertive.

The secret to success in mastering the test driving process is remembering that you are always in full control. As the customer, it’s important to remember that the salesman and yourself are always working towards the same goal of getting a car off the market. The test driving process shouldn’t be feared by the majority of society, it truly is enjoyable if you take your time and work through every step carefully with a clear mind. Only then will you walk out of the dealership with not even a hint of the notorious ‘buyer’s remorse’ that all customers seek to avoid.

Sources:

  1. How Car Testing Works – howstuffworks
  2. How to Test Drive a Car – wikiHow
  3. What Happens If You Wreck a Car on a Test-drive? – howstuffworks

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