It is vital to have a thorough test drive. The drive is your only chance to ensure you will be comfortable with the car, it is right for your needs and you will enjoy driving it. Some dealers might allow you to test a new car overnight or for a few hours. Be sure to ask. If you are buying a second hand car, a test drive is mandatory. It is the only chance you get to make sure everything in the cat is working efficiently. The only other way to make sure the car is in good condition is if you have an engineer or mechanic to look at it.
Test drive tips
Even if the seller is breathing down your neck, take time to thoroughly test drive the car. If you are looking at an unfamiliar model, try driving more than one example. This will provide you the opportunity to feel the car and may help you note differences between possible faults and characteristics. Things to consider include:
Is it easy to re-fit or take out removable seats? Ask the dealer before you try
Is the trunk low enough? Will you be able to easily unload shopping and luggage from the back?
Is there space for your pushchair, golf clubs, luggage, shopping bags etc.? Can the rear seats be folded easily?
Take child seats you use and check if they are compatible with the car
Try parking by reverse to check blind spots and all round vision
Can you reach the controls easily and see the instruments clearly?
Can you adjust the steering and seats for maximum comfort?
Can you get out and in easily?
Give yourself at least one hour to test the car on different kinds of road
Things you should check out
Suspension and engine: feel the bonnet to ensure the engine is cold before you start. If it is warm, the dealer or seller may be trying to hide an issue. Check out for excessive smoke when you start the car and during your test drive. The car should pull out smoothly and be quite as you drive. Listen for abnormal clonks and rattles from the suspension.
Brakes and steering: steering should be responsive with no ‘free play’ or vibration. Brakes should provide confidence and stop the vehicle in a straight line.
Gears and clutch: can all gears be engaged and disengaged smoothly without crunching? If it is a manual transmission, the clutch should ‘bite’ halfway to the top. If it doesn’t, it might be worn out and need replacing. If it is an automatic transmission, the gear should pick once engaged. Additionally, the vehicle should not disengage from drive to neutral when driving. This is a sign of a worn out gearbox.
Family: if you are searching for a family car, you should try to take your kids with you. It is better to hear their reservations and objections when you are testing the car, rather than when you are taking them out or going for a trip.