How to test drive a car

Getting behind the wheel of a car is the best way to confirm that it's right for you. Here's how to get the most out of a test drive...

Skoda Kamiq long termer

Taking a test drive is a vital part of choosing the right car for you; it's the only way you're going to find out whether it suits your personal tastes and needs. So, even though the number of people who buy cars online has risen significantly since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, we still advise you to get behind the wheel of any potential purchase before buying it. 

Which car to test?

Always try to take a test drive in a car that's the same specification as the one you intend to buy, because this can make a big difference. If the exact model isn't available, make it a priority to find one with the right engine and gearbox – those are the two most important elements that could affect how much you enjoy driving the car. If you can't test drive a model in your chosen trim level, make sure you read about it in the What Car? review so you know exactly what you'll be getting.

Using computer to shop for cars online

It's also worth bearing in mind that you might be able to save money if you choose a 'pack' instead of a bunch of individual items.

Some car dealers like to put customers into more powerful and higher-spec versions in an attempt to 'up-sell' them into a more expensive car. If your dealer tries this, don't be afraid to ask for a drive in a more appropriate car and consider taking a test drive at another dealership.

The test drive

When it comes to driving the car, you'll probably only get a 20-minute drive on the roads near the dealership and, depending on the current coronavirus restrictions, you will either be alone or accompanied by the salesperson.

If you are taking a test drive with a member of the dealership's staff, you might want bring another adult along so that they can to keep the salesman chatting while you concentrate on driving. As well as making you feel less like you're being watched by the salesperson, your companion will also be able to comment on the car from a passenger's point of view.

Volvo XC40 side

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

If you're test-driving a used car, listen out for any rattles when starting the engine and for any unusual noises while you're driving. Also check that the car changes up and down through the gears smoothly, and goes into reverse easily. If you're not mechanically-minded, you might want to take along a friend who is, or have the car inspected by an expert to give you confidence before you buy. 


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