Your only chance to make sure the car meets your needs.
Test drives can be stressful – you’re driving a strange car with unfamiliar controls and there’s a complete stranger breathing down your neck trying to close the sale – but it’s important to take your time.
Don’t commit to buy until you’re completely satisfied that the car is right for you – nearly seven million used cars change hands every year so if you don’t buy this one there’s sure to be others to choose from.
A dealer will have special insurance in place to cover test drives but you may not be covered if you’re buying a car privately. It’s important that you and the seller check your insurance policies carefully to ensure that you’re covered.
Take your time
Try to allow at least half an hour for the test drive and to drive on all kinds of roads – a test drive on busy roads in a town won’t tell you much about the car if you’re going to be driving it most of the time on motorways.
If, as is quite likely, you’re looking at an unfamiliar model it’s a good idea to try to drive more than one example if you can. This will give you a better idea of what that car should feel like to drive and may help you differentiate between characteristics and possible faults.
Slide, tilt and fold
Check that there is sufficient range of adjustment in the driver’s seat and steering for you to get a comfortable driving position.
It’s a good idea to make sure you can easily operate adjustable, folding or removable rear seats, especially if you’re intending to take full advantage of the flexibility these offer.
Ask the family
If you’re buying a family car then it’s important to take the family with you too – it’s important that they’re comfortable and can get in and out easily.
If you use child restraints you’ll want to check that these will fit too.
Off and on again
Check everything electrical from the radio and air-con to door locks, and windows to make sure it works.
Check that all warning lights operate normally – generally they will come on with the ignition to test the bulb and then go out if there’s no fault recorded.
Do not assume that there’s a full-size spare wheel and tyre in the boot – it could be a restricted use ‘skinny spare’ or, increasingly likely, a compressor and liquid sealant kit. You may have to budget for a full-size spare if this is important to you.
Check for wheel changing tools and, if appropriate, a locking wheel nut adaptor too.
On the move
Besides assessing the general feel of the car under a range of conditions, it’s important to listen out for any unusual clonks and rattles and to pay close attention to the major mechanical controls – do the clutch, gears, brakes and steering all operate ‘normally’?
Can you reach/operate all of the minor controls comfortably?
Can you see clearly in all directions? How about reversing or parking?
Keep an eye out for excessive smoke too.
There’s no legal requirement but it’s normal to get two keys. Modern keys are expensive to replace so make sure that what is being supplied meets your needs or factor the additional cost of a replacement key into your budget.
Check that all of the functions on all keys operate normally.