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Essential test drive tips

Taking a test drive is one of the most important steps of the car buying process – it’s your way of making sure that vehicle you have researched and reviewed meets your expectations.

A test drive also offers a first opportunity to check that you’ll enjoy driving the car once you have bought it.

Taking a test drive is even more important if you’re planning on buying a used, or nearly new car. It’s your only chance to make sure the vehicle is in good condition and free of faults – if you don’t feel confident doing this, we recommend you book a qualified engineer to check the car on your behalf.

Don’t be afraid to ask to take a car out more than once. Dealers will be keen to close the deal, but If you’re close to making a decision, going back for an extended drive is the best way to confirm that those good first impressions are here to last.
Insurance

Before you even think of taking to the driver’s seat, make sure you are insured to carry out the test drive.
Dealers will have cover specifically for this purpose, but if you test drive a used or nearly-new car being sold by a private vendor, you’ll need to use your own.
If you are unsure, talk to your insurer. They will be able to offer you comprehensive cover over a short period of time so that you can test drive the cars you are thinking of buying.

Seats

Make sure you can adjust the seat and the steering wheel so you’ve got a comfortable driving position.
If a car has removable seats, ensure that they fit securely and that none of the connectors are damaged.
If you plan to use child seats, take them with you and make sure that they fit.

Engine

If you plan to buy a nearly new car, make sure that the engine’s cold before you start it – by placing your hand on the bonnet.
If the car feels warm, find out why, and bear in mind that the seller could be trying to hide a problem.
When the car starts, look in the rear view mirror to check for signs of smoke.
On the road, the car should accelerate smoothly.

Suspension

Make sure there are no unusual clunks or bangs from the suspension.
Check that the car doesn’t bounce or roll unevenly through corners.
Broken springs, a fault you may find on a used car, will reduce road grip and braking performance.

Steering

With the car stationary, turn the steering wheel from lock-to-lock to check that its action feels smooth and is free from resistance.
Check the turning circle in a car park to make sure it meets your needs.
Check that that the wheels do not rub on the bodywork while you drive forward on full lock.

Brakes

The brakes should respond immediately, and not need pumping or pressing very hard to make work.
There should be no loud noises from the brakes, however hard you use them.

Gearbox

Gears should be easy to engage, and the action should feel consistent.
Automatic gearboxes should swap gears smoothly and quickly.
If the clutch doesn’t engage until the pedal has reached the top of its travel, it may need to be changed.

Family

Take your family with you if plan to travel with them regularly.
They will help you spot problems with practicality and versatility.