Tips for taking the perfect test drive

Make sure the dealer will let you test the model with the trim level and engine size you’re interested in buying

Make sure the dealer will let you test the model with the trim level and engine size you’re interested in buying. (Picture © Suzuki)

Test driving a new car is the ideal opportunity for buyers to find out if a model suits all their needs. Whether it’s a family estate that’s going to be filled with child seats for the school run, or a sports car that will have the roof lowered on sunny Sunday mornings, it’s important that drivers use the car during the test drive as they intend to use it in day-to-day life.

I’ve been testing new cars for the last 20 years and these are my top 10 tips to help you get the most out of your test drive and choose the right car for your needs. 

Test drive tip 1: Find the exact model you’re going to buy
Before you embark on a test drive, chances are you’ll have decided on the model you want. It’s then a good idea to check independent websites such as What Car?, The Sunday Times Driving, Auto Express or Telegraph Cars to help draw up a short list of engine derivatives and trim levels. When you ring the dealer make sure you book to drive the model you want. There’s no point testing a top-of-the-range diesel if your budget only stretches to an entry-level petrol model.

Test drive tip 2: Ring the dealers and ask for an extended test drive
A new car is one of the most expensive things any of us will buy, so don’t accept a 15-minute run around the block. Call dealers, check they have the make and model of car you would like to test drive, and then tell them you’d like to spend at least an hour with the car. Smart dealers will offer you longer still, as well as the option of driving alone.

Test drive tip 3: Check that you are insured by the dealer
New-car dealers should insure you for your test drive. You’ll just need to produce a valid driving licence complete with the paper counterpart. Anyone with more than six points on their licence should declare it to the salesperson beforehand. Some insurers may not provide cover and it’ll save a wasted journey.

Test drive tip 4: Consider whether the car is practical enough
Before you head off on your test drive, try the car out for size. If relevant, bring along any child car seats to see how well they fit and whether it’s easy or difficult to get young children on-board. If you have a pushchair, Fido the pet dog or sports gear like golf clubs and trollies or bicycles, take them along too and see that the new car’s boot is spacious enough. Fold the seats, look for neat touches and generally check it’s practical enough for your life style.

Test drive tip 5: Are you sitting comfortably?
It’s important to be comfortable at the wheel. You’re in control of a moving machine and can’t afford to find it difficult to reach for the brake pedal, gear lever or sat nav screen. So take your time to check that the driving position suits you, get familiar with the positioning of all the switchgear, ensure you can see clearly all around the car and try parking it – always a good test of how easy it is to see out of a car.

Test drive tip 6: Check your smartphone will sync with the car
You don’t want to buy a car only to find your phone is incompatible with its systems. Check it works via Bluetooth or a USB input.

Pick a route you're familiar with

Pick a route that allows you to explore the car’s capabilities – without breaking the law. (Picture © Ford)

Test drive tip 7: Drive a route you’re familiar with
As well as having a meaningful amount of time at the wheel, it’s a good idea to drive a route you know. That way, you can concentrate on the car, rather than worrying about getting lost. Take in towns, country roads, main roads and motorways so you can feel how well the car’s engine, gearbox, steering, suspension and brakes perform in all conditions. And remember, taking a test drive isn’t an excuse for breaking the laws of the road.

Test drive tip 8: Establish a benchmark
Let’s say you want to buy a family hatchback. The best car in the class at the moment is the Volkswagen Golf and to really bring home why it’s better, you should compare it to its closest rivals, such as the BMW 1-series, Audi A3, Ford Focus and SEAT Leon. You never know, you might end up preferring one of the other cars and getting a better deal…

Test drive tip 9: If you’re not sure, try another car
Just because you’re taking a test drive doesn’t mean you should feel in any way inclined to buy the car. If you’re unsure that it’s right for your needs, go to the next dealer and try a different car.

Test drive tip 10: Decided? Then start haggling
If the test drive helped you choose the perfect car for you, then remember that you still need to haggle over the deal. Be firm but realistic, try different dealers selling the same make and model of car and if you can’t get the price you’re after, consider haggling for incentives, such as interest-free loans, discounts in the form of deposit contributions or free servicing packages.

Buying a used car? Check out our test drive tips for a used car.

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