How to take a test drive

Before you take the plunge and buy a new car, be sure to check out our guide to taking a test drive and making the most of your time behind the wheel

Written by Verity Hogan
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Buying a used car is a big purchase and something you want to be confident in before making.

And no amount of glossy photos, snazzy slogans, or sleek advertising can replicate the feeling of your potential new wheels when you get in and take a test drive.

It’s important to make the most of your test drive – after all, it’s your opportunity to really get to know the car before buying it.

Here we’ll give you the lowdown on everything you need to know before taking a test drive, from key questions to ask to pre-drive preparation. Read on to find out more.


What is a test drive and what does it involve?

For many people, taking a test drive is essential when buying a new car. It lets the driver test the car for compatibility, driving experience, safety and comfort. After all, looks aren’t everything.

A test drive usually involves you taking the wheel of your potential new car for up to an hour. In most cases, you’ll be assisted by someone from the dealership you’re buying from or a private seller, but some places will let you test drive the car on your own if you wish.

It also gives you time to get to know the car by asking the seller questions, inspecting for damage and, of course, driving it.

What do you need for a test drive?

First and foremost, you need to bring your licence as proof you can drive. It’s also a good idea to bring a notepad in case you want to take notes and answers to the questions you ask the seller.

If you regularly transport bulky items, such as a push chair, you might want to bring them with you to make sure they fit comfortably in your new car.

Key things to check on a test drive

There’s more to a test drive than simply taking the wheel and going for a spin. It’s best to make sure you’re comfortable with every aspect of the car, not just the driving experience. With that in mind, here are some key things to check when you’re there:

The drive

  • Make sure you drive around different kinds of roads, including in town centres, to see how it feels controlling the car in different situations
  • Try different manoeuvres, such as reverse parking, to see how you feel operating the car, especially if it’s a different size to your current car
  • Check the mirrors give you suitable visibility of the road behind and to the sides

The car

  • Make sure the steering is smooth and responsive
  • Be aware of any smoke or excessive noise from the engine
  • Test the brakes when safe to do so to make sure they’re in working order
  • Check that the gears change smoothly and don’t crunch
  • Test the biting point of the clutch to make sure it’s not worn
  • Try out the controls, such as air con, to see if they’re in working order
  • Test the sun visor – you want to make sure they keep out the sun but don’t obstruct your vision
  • If it has sat nav, try it out to see how intuitive and easy-to-use it is
  • Check the windscreen wipers and washers are working
  • Whack the radio on – because everybody loves a good tune when they’re driving!

Lifestyle fit

  • Comfort is key: make sure you can easily enter and exit the car, particularly if you’re tall
  • Adjust the seat and mirrors, so they’re comfortably in place and give you the visibility you need
  • Check the space in the boot to fit anything you might need for work or hobbies
  • Observe the dashboard as you drive to make sure you can see everything comfortably
  • Connect your phone via Bluetooth and check the USB ports are working if you use these functionalities often

Questions to ask before a test drive

Don’t be shy about asking questions – even if they feel silly, they probably aren’t. Don’t forget, this is your opportunity to get all the details you need.

Not sure where to start? We’ve got a few suggestions to get you started.

Firstly, it’s good to ask for demonstrations of any in-car gadgets, like the sat nav, to see how easy it is to use.

If you’re buying a used car, make sure you ask to see the service history to check if there’s been any previous damage you need to be aware of.

You can always ask the seller if you can get the car checked by a mechanic first too if you’re willing to pay the extra costs of doing so.

Can you test drive a car by yourself?

Some dealerships will insist you test drive the car while accompanied by one of their team. However, many will have no problem letting you give the car a spin on your own if you ask.

Do you need insurance to test drive a car?

Most dealerships will have insurance in place, but it’s always worth checking this before going to your test drive. If you’re unsure, make sure you bring your insurance documents with you.

If you’re purchasing from a private seller, then you will need your own insurance and it will have to cover you for driving other vehicles too, so make sure you check this in your insurance policy. If you don’t have cover for driving other cars, you can call your insurer to update it.

What’s the difference between virtual and physical test drives?

Virtual reality is becoming more and more prominent in everyday life, from gaming to sports, fashion to commerce, virtual reality technology is being used to simulate and enhance otherwise normal day-to-day activities.

And it’s the same for test drives too.

The main difference between virtual and physical test drives is that a virtual test drive simulates what driving the car will be like, while a physical test drive is more tangible in that you’re physically there, steering the wheel and changing the gears.

While nothing can 100% replicate physically driving a car, virtual test drives are increasingly coming close. Virtual test drives can also be more convenient as you can do them from the comfort of your own home.

Here are the different types of virtual test drives:

Headset

Some car brands are experimenting with VR headsets that immerse you in the car and allow you to ‘drive’ it and look around both inside and outside of the car. When VR headsets become as common as a kettle in a home, expect more car manufacturers to jump on-board.

Simulator

In 2018, Audi’s ‘Enter Sandbox’ marketing campaign allowed customers to hop in a simulator and drive the Audi Q5 around a track.

Great fun? Yes. Great marketing? Yes. Practical? Not really.

Unlike VR headsets, it’ll be difficult to get a simulator in every household…

Apps

BMW have developed an app that lets users drive their i3 electric car. By tilting your phone, you can control the car and look around it. Again, this sounds like good fun, but it’s not quite the authentic driving experience of a physical test drive.



Verity Hogan

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