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Your Guide to Test Drives

Test-driving a car can make or break a car purchase. We have advice for a successful test-drive experience.

Tips for Test-Driving a Car

If you are unfamiliar with cars or the process of buying a car, the test drive can feel a bit awkward. You may not know how you are expected to react or what you are supposed to do during the test drive itself. In order to help you train yourself to get the most use out of a test drive, here are some tips.

Do your homework

Before you even begin test-driving, do plenty of research about the specific car you are interested in. You should have a pretty clear idea of what sort of vehicle you are looking for before you even walk through the dealership door.

Ask friends about the cars they like. Buy a car magazine or two. Go online to websites that review vehicles, especially those which provide lists of their choices for certain interests and uses – such as everyday driving, fuel-efficient road trips, or the best family cars – that might apply to you.

Focus on statements such as, “This car felt good around curves”, or “This vehicle had trouble getting up to highway speed, but drove comfortably at about 100km/h”. These nuances will help you understand the differences between different vehicles, different engines and different specifications.

Also pay attention to vehicle options and trim levels. Certain variations of a nameplate you might like can be completely different in small or big ways. This makes it crucial to consider the exact vehicle that most perfectly suits your requirements.

Drive the car you have in mind

Once you have a few cars under consideration, go to the respective car-manufacturer dealerships and ask to drive them. If the showroom does not have the specific model you want, ask them if they can find one for you. It is important you drive the exact car, or as close to it as possible, that you are interested in purchasing. The reason is that a test drive is the way you truly understand the connection you have with a vehicle.

When you find the car you want to test drive, start by walking around it and making observations. Do the doors open wide enough? How quickly does the boot pop open? How easy is it to access the rear cargo area once the boot or tailgate is open? Try and imagine what it would be like using the vehicle every day to quickly spot pros and cons.

After giving the car an exterior scan, sit in the driver seat and get as comfortable as possible. If necessary, ask the salesperson how driving position adjustments can be made, which can include shifting the steering wheel up and down (height adjust) or forwards and backwards (reach adjust). Test out the sound system, windows and air-conditioner, along with the general control interface. If music or being connected to communication devices is important to you, try syncing your smartphone to the car to play music or place a phone call.

Another factor to consider is storage. Check console bins, door pockets, gloveboxes, and cup- and bottle-holders to get a feel for the size and array of areas available for storing items such as smartphones, takeaway coffees, bottles of water, wallets, etc.

Getting in motion

After poking around a bit, it is time to drive the car. Be gentle on the accelerator at first to get a feel for how the car moves from a stop. Also pay attention to how it handles at low speeds since you will most likely be doing a lot of manoeuvring and parking. For example, is the steering nicely light or overly heavy?

Travel on typical city roads for a while and drive modestly. Make notes of how the vehicle accelerates during certain conditions, such as going uphill. Also note how it handles in curves at different speeds and how it brakes when stopping or slowing.
Now that you have become acquainted with the car in a city setting, you should get a feel for how it performs on the freeway – so find the nearest road where you can reach a speed of 100km/h. It is important to know how well the vehicle can get up to freeway-merging speed, how it feels when trying to overtake someone, and how smoothly it handles and accelerates at higher speeds. Especially in Australia, weekend getaways often involve longer drives due to the distance between destinations. This makes it imperative that you are comfortable with a vehicle’s performance on the freeway.

Return and reflect

Once you have finished your test drive, thank the dealership and tell them you are going to think it over. You should now reflect on how the test vehicle felt compared with your past or current vehicles. What do you want in your new vehicle? Did the test drive give you that feeling of control and comfort you are after?

Nothing can beat test-driving a vehicle to find the right car for your needs.