Car test drive guide
Here's how to test drive a car like a pro.
Buying a car is a substantial commitment. It's also a unique purchasing experience. After all, would a landlord allow you to try a property out for a while to see if you like it? Would a clothing shop let you take a garment home to sample it for a few days?
When picking a new car, you have the option of taking a test drive. Here are six pointers to remember to make sure you don't buy a lemon.
Read reviews and create a hit list
First off, you should try narrowing things down. There are literally hundreds of different car models and specifications to choose from. If you go to a car dealership without an idea of even the type of car you're interested in, you'll be utterly bamboozled.
The best place to start is by jotting down a few ideas about how you expect to use your new car. Will it be for short commutes? Is this your second car? Are you looking for a motorway cruiser? This will help narrow down possible cars to investigate.
You should also check out our comparison car reviews. Our reviews help you save time by combining the findings of several automotive journalists into one easy-to-browse article. We also give each vehicle an aggregate Finder score to help you decide.
In this guide...
Check around local car dealerships
After creating your hit list of cars, it's time to pick up the phone. Ring around your local dealerships to see
- If they have any demo cars that match your preferred trim and specifications.
- To book a time to head out on a test drive.
If salespeople know you're interested in seriously buying a car, they should jump at the chance to offer you a test drive.
Ask for a loan for 24 hours
It's pretty hard to gauge how good (or bad) a car is after driving it less than a few kilometres. Having a car sales representative as a co-driver also means you'll be engaged in a quasi-trivial-conversation-come-marketing pitch. As a result, you'll be a little distracted.
To avoid this problem, see if you can secure a longer test drive. You may even be able to borrow a car for the weekend. With no salesperson in the passenger seat, you can spend time feeling out all the little nuances of the vehicle without pressure or disturbance. You'll also get the chance to see how well the car fits into your normal daily travels. For example, does the steering lock make navigating your workplace underground car park a hassle? Does the engine have to work hard to maintain speed on motorways? Having a loan car for longer lets you discover all these foibles.
Try every feature
Reading a car manufacturer's brochure may make your chosen car sound like the best vehicle ever made. In reality, some things on the car may be extremely well designed and excel expectations. On the other hand, certain features like the in-car infotainment system might be cumbersome and tricky to work while driving.
Consequently, it's important to try and use each feature on the car during your test drive. Operate the lights and wipers and if there's one installed – play with the voice control system. Note how easy it is to use the features and whether you like their layout. This way, you can make an objective decision on whether the car is to your liking.
One of the most important things to do on a test drive is to listen, especially if you're trying out a used car. Listen for any rattles, squeaks, metallic pings and clunks. These noises can be a sign that something is wrong, about to fail or even hanging off.
Even on brand new cars, there could be an irritating squeak from the interior plastics rubbing against each other. Also, listen to the general noise level in the cabin. At high speeds, is there an irritating drone from a lack of soundproofing during the build process? Can you no longer hear a front seat passenger talking at a sensible volume, even at relatively low speeds?
Take some luggage and a friend or two
Don't rely on your eyes to judge the size of a boot or passenger cabin. Subtle things like the roofline can make the rear of a car appear huge when in actual fact it's a small and cramped space. To get around this, take along a friend or acquaintance who is of a decent size and build. Ask them to sit in the back and see how they get on. If they are banging their head on the roof lining and suffering cramps due to a lack of leg room, they can report that back to you.
It isn't a bad idea to take some luggage or a travel case with you on a test drive, so you can load up the boot and get a sense of how much you'll be able to carry in this new car. You might discover the car sits higher than your existing one and this may prove an issue for those with joint or back problems.
New car test drive checklist
Here's a simple checklist to help you gauge how good a car is when taking it for a test drive.
|Test drive checkpoint||Tick|
|01. Take a knowledgeable friend or relative with you.||[ ]|
|02. Take a CD/SD Card or your phone to listen to some music you're familiar with.||[ ]|
|03. Do you like the styling of the car?||[ ]|
|04. Are the seats comfortable, even for long periods?||[ ]|
|05. Does the interior feel well made?||[ ]|
|06. Is the car economical?||[ ]|
|07. Is the interior noisy?||[ ]|
|08. Is the car easy to manoeuvre and park?||[ ]|
|09. Is the interior well designed (think ergonomics)? Can you find and adjust everything you need to?||[ ]|
|10. Does the car's body design create blind spots?||[ ]|
|11. Do you and your passengers have sufficient arm, elbow, leg and headroom?||[ ]|
|12. Does the car ride nice and smooth? Or is it a sports model with stiff suspension?||[ ]|
|13. Is there enough room for the number of passengers you'll have to carry?||[ ]|
|14. What kind of safety equipment, assists and features are included?||[ ]|
|15. Will it fit on your drive comfortably?||[ ]|
|16. Are there any irritating rattles or squeaks?||[ ]|
|17. Test the car at different speeds and types of driving.||[ ]|
|18. Does anything about the way the car drives put you off? (Sloppy steering, spongy brakes, slow acceleration or botchy gearbox)||[ ]|
|19. Research online about common faults, recalls and service bulletins.||[ ]|
|20. Finally, do you like it?||[ ]|
Compare the best finance deals for your new car
Don't forget to compare finance deals before taking a trip to the dealers. You could save a good amount of money using an independent lender.
Car Loan OffersImportant Information*
You'll receive a fixed rate of 5.49% p.a.
A low minimum borrowing amount of $2,000 that you can use to purchase a new car or one up to two years old.
You'll receive a fixed rate of 6.99% p.a.
Apply for a loan from $5,000 to finance a new or used car. Flexible repayments and options to finance a classic car.
You'll receive a fixed rate of 5.69% p.a.
Take advantage of a competitive rate, pre-approval and no early repayment fees when you finance a car under two years old.
You'll receive a fixed rate from 5.69% p.a.
A larger loan of $5,000 or more to help you buy a new or used car. 5-hour pre approval available and no ongoing fees. Note: Product only available to residents of Victoria.
Ask an Expert