How to test drive a car

Getting behind the wheel of a car is still the best way of confirming that it's the right choice for you - and here's how you can get the most out of even a brief test drive...

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What Car? team
21 February 2018

How to test drive a car

Taking a test drive remains a vital part of choosing the right car for you. It's the only way you're going to find out if it suits your personal tastes and needs. So, while the number of people who buy a car without trying it continues to rise, we'd always advise you get behind the wheel before committing.

You can follow a few simple steps to ensure that you make the right decision.

Do your research

The first question to ask is, "What kind of car do I need?". If it's a family car, then you need to focus on practicality, safety and comfort, as well as anything that might impact on your wallet.

If it's a sports car you're after, then emphasis will shift to desirability, performance, handling and the 'fun factor'.

And for a small car, you should focus on equipment levels, running costs, manoeuvrability and space.

Paying close attention to these salient areas will pay you back at resale time, because they're the same points the next owner will be thinking about when looking for a car. The more boxes you tick now, the more chance you'll have of attracting a buyer later.

Having worked out your needs, spend a good evening reading the detailed What Car? review on the car in question. Our experience team will have tested most engines and gearboxes on sale, and offer shrewd buying advice to make sure you get the best model. It's worth playing with the manufacturer configurator, too – and take a note of which options appeal; you may be able to save money if you choose a 'pack' instead of a bunch of individual items.

Which car to test?

Some car dealers like to put customers into more powerful and higher-spec versions in an attempt to 'upsell' them into a more expensive car, but ask your dealer to provide the engine, gearbox (manual or automatic) and trim level that interests you.

If the exact model isn't available, make a priority of finding the right engine and gearbox; these will have the most direct impact on your driver enjoyment, and if necessary you can view your chosen trim via the manufacturer's website or our own images.

The test drive

When it comes to driving the car, you'll probably be given just 20 minutes or so on the road, all in the company of the salesman.

To help you stay focused, bring another adult to keep the salesman chatting so you don't feel like you're being watched. Your companion will also be able to comment on the car from a passenger's point of view.

Try to take a test drive on a route that you know, so you can concentrate on the car and not finding your way around. It's best if the route includes a mixture of slower, rougher roads and at least a minute or two on a dual carriageway or motorway.

Whether on the road or off, knowing exactly what to look for is key to making the most of a test drive, and feeling confident when it comes to finally making a purchase.

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Buy a new car with What Car?

Before you buy, visit What Car?’s new car deals section.

We have discounted deals on most new cars on sale, so you're never far away from finding a new car deal in your area.

It's all based on Target Price, which is the price we think you should pay based on research by our team of mystery shoppers, and the best discounts they can achieve.

If you’re still not sure then our deals team can help; call them on 03302 216207 – lines are open from 8am until 10pm seven days a week.