In order to make the most out of your test drives, we have put together this guide of tips and what to look for when test driving a car.

Remember, if you are buying a second-hand car, a test drive is even more important as there are more likely to be faults with a used vehicle than a brand new car.

Insurance

Although dealers will have special insurance cover in place for customers test driving their cars, there is a good chance that you will not be covered if you test drive a car that is being sold privately.

Before test driving a car, you should check your own car insurance. The part on your policy that you are looking for is the section that says you can ‘drive another car with the owner’s permission’ – known as Driving Other Cars (DOC) cover.

Remember:

  • If cover is included, it is usually third part only
  • The seller of the vehicle may have extended their cover temporarily to ‘any driver’ in order to cover test drives
  • You must talk to your insurer if you are unsure whether or not you are covered

Insurance providers may offer comprehensive cover to customers over a short period of time if they are thinking about buying the car that they are test driving.

Test drive tips

When test driving a car, you must ensure that you try to take your time – even if the seller is breathing down your neck.

There is no point rushing a test drive and purchasing a car, only to find out that it doesn’t suit your needs afterwards.

If you’re looking at a model that you are unfamiliar with, try to test drive more than one example of it. This will give you a better idea of what the particular car should feel like to drive. In addition, it can help you to tell the difference between the car’s characteristics and possible faults.

Here are some tips to consider when test driving a car:

  • Allow at least half an hour for the test drive and make sure that you take the car out on all kinds of roads
  • Make sure you can get in and out of the car easily
  • Check if the seat and steering can be adjusted for your comfort
  • Also check whether or not you can see the instruments clearly and whether you can reach the controls easily
  • Try and reverse into a parking space to check the car’s all-round vision and blind spots
  • If you have children, take them with you and check that they are comfortable in the rear seats
  • Take any child seats that you use with you and check they fit in the back
  • Is there space in the boot for your regular shopping bags or other items such as luggage, golf clubs, pushchair, etc? Also, can the rear seats be folded easily?
  • Check to see whether unloading shopping and luggage from the back is easy – is the boot sill low enough?
  • Also check to see whether or not it is easy to take out and re-fit removable seats – you must ask the owner’s permission first before you try.

What to look for?

When test driving a car, there are many things to look for, from the engine to the steering and occupant space to gear changing.

Engine and suspension

Before you start the test drive, the car’s engine should be cold – so make sure to feel the bonnet. If the bonnet feels warm, then the seller could be trying to hide a starting problem with the vehicle.

When you start the car and when you are driving, check for any signs of excessive smoke. The engine should also be quiet and pull smoothly.

In terms of suspension, make sure to listen out for any unusual rattles or clonks – as this could indicate a problem with the car’s suspension.

Steering and brakes

The car’s steering should be responsive with no vibration or ‘free play’. Furthermore, if the steering feels heavy, it could indicate a problem with the model’s power steering.

When braking the car, the brakes should give confidence and stop the car in a straight line. Anything else would imply that they need to be repaired or recalibrated.

Clutch and gears

Check that you can engage all gears smoothly without crunching. If the clutch does not start ‘biting’ until the pedal has nearly reached the top, then it may be worn and possibly need changing.

Family

Those buying a family car should take their children with them, as it is better to hear their objections before buying the car rather than every time they take them out afterwards.

Furthermore, it is useful to see how much room children have in the back of the vehicle, as well as checking that any child seats can be fitted easily.

Electric cars

When test driving an electric vehicle, there are two aspects that need special consideration: range and charging time.

If you are opting for an electric vehicle (EV) to be a practical alternative to a petrol or diesel car, then you should take one to test drive over a day or two.

It is best to have the car for long enough to ensure that it suits your lifestyle. For example:

  • Are you able to get to work and back on a single charge? Or, can you charge it enough while you’re in work to make the return journey?
  • Once home, is there enough charge in the battery to make any regular evening trips without needing a recharge?
  • If you are only making shorter journeys, how often are you likely to have to recharge? Also, what would be the consequence of forgetting to plug in the car one night for a recharge?

You must also make sure that you find out where public charging points are located – especially in and on the way to places that you may visit frequently.

If your plan is to charge your car’s battery while in work, you should check with your employer whether it is OK to do so, rather than simply assume.

Remember that carrying loads and passengers, using electrical items (such as lights and heaters) and driving in cold weather will reduce an electric vehicle’s range on a full charge.

In order to gain a good idea of an EV’s true range, you should follow the suggestions below:

  • Drive as you would intend to drive normally
  • If you carry passengers regularly, take them with you on your test drive
  • Switch on everything electrical within the car.

Even if you follow the above suggestions, you will need to allow some safety margin as the electric car’s maximum range will decrease over time as the batteries get older.