How to test drive a new car – advice from the experts

new car

Any dealer worth their salt is going to welcome your request to test drive a car, but how do you make the most of your test driving experience and find out what you need to know in about 30 minutes?

Although a lot of your searching for a new car can be done online, and websites such as even allow you to search multiple dealerships from the comfort of your own home, the one thing that will really tell you whether the car is right for you is the test drive.

The team at the AA recommend you allow at least half an hour and try to drive on a variety of different roads. They recommend a number of key questions to consider as part of the test. Ask yourself whether you can:

  • Get in and out of the car easily?
  • Adjust the seat and steering so you’re comfortable?
  • See the instruments clearly and reach the controls easily?

If you can, also try reversing to see whether you can see properly. Then look at the practical bits – if you have children, are they comfortable in the back? Is there enough room in the boot for the things you’ll need to put in there (pushchair, golf clubs, shopping bags or luggage)?

Of course, in the heat of the car-buying moment, it’s easy to get carried away and forget to look at the basics. To help you stay focused, the What Car website has a downloadable, printable checklist of things to look for in a test drive.

Advice on also recommends that you check electrics as part of the test: “Make sure you’ve switched on all electrical items – from air-con to heated seats – and tested them thoroughly. Don’t forget the windscreen wipers just because you’re driving on a sunny day, and if there’s a specific bit of kit that’s made you interested in the car then make sure it’s present and working properly.”

Buying a car is a big financial investment and don’t feel embarrassed about checking things out thoroughly – you can even ask for another test drive if you’re not sure. The Money Advice Service offers a very comprehensive, online set of advice about how to test drive and check a car before you part with your cash.

If you do discover things aren’t quite what you expected when you started looking at the car, you still have a couple of options. You can, of course, walk away and keep looking – there are plenty of other cars available to buy. Or, you could drive the asking price down by working out what it will cost you to fix the problems. Naturally, this will depend very much on what the issues are and how much you know about cars and how to look after them. If in doubt, don’t be tempted to buy something you’re not completely happy with – the niggles you experienced on the test drive will soon become major irritations.

3 thoughts on “How to test drive a new car – advice from the experts

  1. David Miles says:

    Good post, I would just highlight that every car has its strengths and weaknesses, research the car you are going to look at and make a list of the cars usual weak points.

    Check anything that’s going to be expensive to repair, the engine shouldn’t make any rattling noises, ideally you want to start it from cold as there is when its most likely to make any strange noises. Breaks are not cheap either, make sure that under breaking the car continues to travel in a straight line, this shows that the breaks are all in working order. As you say check the air con, if its not working it will either need to be regassed (relatively cheap) or there is a hole in the system somewhere, which is actually very common and more expensive to fix.

  2. Spencer Broadley says:

    Being an ex- rally driver I wont comment heavily – I would say make sure the brakes and tyres are good – but dont have these silly auto-handbrakes – make sure a proper handbrake.

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