It's likely that if you're taking a test drive, you've done some research on the car and its features. It's also likely that it's on your shortlist, within your budget, and you are considering buying it. But if you're parting with a significant amount of cash for a new ride, it's a good idea to take your time: a thorough test drive could help make the decision an informed one. Compare models until you are satisfied that you've found the perfect car for you and your budget.
Arrange your drive
When you take a car for a test drive, you've got to do it properly and on your terms. Book in a test drive when you have a free morning or afternoon - a spin in your lunchbreak may make you rush the drive and pressure you into making a decision before you are ready. Take a checklist with you so that you don't miss anything you'd like to try out or know about.
Make sure that you get to both drive the car and experience the ride as a passenger. It's a good idea to bring someone else along with you to give a second opinion: they may pick up on things you don't notice at first. Arrange with the dealership to take the car on your own route: a feel for what the car is really like can be best found by putting the car through its paces in different driving situations and along routes you take often.
Is it nice to drive?
If the salesperson allows you to take the car on your own test drive route, plan the route so that you can test it out on bumpier roads, bends, and a stretch of highway. This way you can try out the handling of the car, take it to a variety of speeds and get a feel for how the brakes react to your touch. While you're driving around, listen out for any noises or rattling, and try to get a feel of how the car responds.
Try changing lanes when driving so that you can test the car's blind spots. Visibility from the driver's seat is important, so make sure you are comfortable with the level of visibility through the rear and out of the sides of the vehicle. Take the car somewhere you can try out a reverse parallel park and a perpendicular park. Obviously it may feel different to your current or previous car, but here you are looking to test the functionality, handling, and practicality of this model.
Adjust the seat to your preferred settings and take note of how comfortable and supportive the driver's seat is. Fiddle with the climate control buttons and any gadgets throughout the vehicle. Don't be afraid to ask the salesman to demonstrate all the features - you can make up your own mind about whether you think they do the job or not!
Is the car well made?
Inspect the exterior of the car, under the bonnet and in the boot: you're looking to see if the car has been made well. Doors should be solid and close firmly and the bonnet cover and boot door should be easy to lift. When trying the boot, note whether the door opens and stays open on its own or if you have to hold it open yourself. It may seem like a minor detail on a test drive, but it makes a big difference when the car is yours and you're trying to open the boot with hands full of groceries!
Is it practical for your lifestyle?
The boot should be big enough to store things that you drive around regularly, such as a week's worth of groceries, your child's pram or the golf clubs. If you do use a pram or buggy, bring that along to the test drive and see how it fits in the car. Similarly, if you use a baby- or child-seat in the car, try installing that for the test drive and note how easy or difficult it is to install. Consider the ease of entering and exiting the car from the front and rear doors, taking into the account the abilities of the people that will be riding in the car on a frequent basis. For example, a narrow rear door or large step may make it difficult for children or elderly people to get into the vehicle easily.
Take note of the car's height and consider whether that could be a problem for you using the car on a daily basis. A vehicle that doesn't fit in your local shopping centre's car park could become inconvenient if you do buy the car. In a similar vein, if the underside of the car is too low, you may end up scraping the underside of the car every time you park in your driveway. Again this could make the car impractical for day-to-day use.
When looking at buying a new car, a test drive can play a big role in the decision making process. Because a car is a significant financial commitment, it's important to compare models and take your time choosing. Consider taking the car for a second test drive a week later than the first. It will help reinforce your decision, particularly useful if you've test driven several cars. The novelty of the first drive can wear off and you can look at the car with fresh eyes once again. Then, if you still think the car is perfect for your budget and you do buy it, you can be confident that your decision was a fully informed one.
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