It’s time to buy a new car. You’ve done some research – looked at reviews, checked out specs, asked friends and family for their views – and you’ve drawn up a shortlist. Now it’s time for a test drive, which is always enjoyable. It’s fun to try out a few different models – and it’s also necessary.
You might have a favorite in mind, but if it doesn’t work for you and your lifestyle you’ll need to reconsider. That’s why try-before-you-buy is so important when it comes to car shopping. Most of us keep our cars for several years, so you need more than a few minutes behind the wheel before you make a final decision.
Here are a few points to keep in mind, to make sure you get the most out of your test drive and, ultimately, make the right choice when you buy.
- Drive it like it’s yours. Think about your typical day on the road. Do you spend more time in the town center, commuting in rush hour traffic, or out on the motorway? At least part of your test drive should replicate your real-life use.
- If you live in a hilly area or somewhere with lots of winding roads, make sure you drive them on your test route to see how the car performs. Find some speed bumps to drive over, too, to check how well it absorbs shock.
- Practice parking. How easy is it to parallel park, to reverse into a tight supermarket car park space, or to maneuver around narrow streets? What’s the visibility like – are you straining to see properly in the mirrors or all around you?
- Consider everyone’s comfort. At some point during the test drive, stop and try sitting in all the passenger seats. Are they comfortable? Is there enough leg room behind the driver’s seat once it’s in your ideal position?
- Access all areas. Note how easy it is to get in and out of the car from every seat. If you have children, consider whether they will be able to manage.
- Check the storage. Think about all the bits and pieces that tend to accumulate in our cars – phone chargers, coins for car parking, ‘just in case’ medication such as packets of paracetamol, and of course a set of EZFIX patches. Make sure there’s enough room to stash everything.
- Bring your accessories. If you have small children, take along their car seats to make sure there’s enough room for them and they can be easily fitted. Similarly, don’t forget the pram or stroller – is the boot big enough to accommodate them?
- Check out the sound system. Is it easy to pair or connect your phone for hands-free calls or playing music? If there’s voice recognition, check how well it works and responds.
- Coffee to go. It’s a small detail, but if you regularly use a travel cup – such as during the morning commute – take it with you and make sure it fits into the cup-holders.
- Night vision. If possible, you should also arrange to drive the car at night so you can see how much illumination the lights provide. If you can’t do this, find a tunnel or bridge to test them as best you can.
- Play with all the features. Make sure the sun visors are big enough to offer reasonable protection from bright rays. Test the air conditioning and heaters to see how quickly they work and how well the air flows.
- Note how loud (or quiet) it is inside the car as you’re driving and listen for wind noise, rattles and squeaks. Think about having a conversation at normal volume with a passenger, and how easy that would be.
- Don’t forget the add-ons. If you regularly tow a trailer, or use a roof rack or cycle mount, make sure those won’t be a problem to fit. You should also think about how they might impede your visibility once they’re in place and check the side view mirrors are up to the job.