How to Make the Most of a Test Drive

By Kevin | 16th March 2016 | Category: Blog | Leave a comment
Car Salesman in showroom

Image via You Tube

If you are looking to lease a car from Nationwide Vehicle Contracts, the wide choice of great deals available may leave you wondering which car to choose from the multitude on offer.

Obviously the car needs to be right for your needs; so whether you are looking for a small city runaround, a family car, a people carrier, an off-roading SUV or a sporty little number, it is worth considering a test drive before you sign any contracts to ensure the vehicle is right for you.

But what should you do on that test drive?

Pre-Test Drive

Before you even go on your test drive and, in fact, before you even book it, you need to decide the reason for getting the car, and the usage that it is going to get, because these will impact on what you will need to look at when you actually get into the car for the test drive.

If it's a family car, then you will need to take particular interest when it comes to space, practicality, safety, fuel economy and comfort.

If it's a more sporty little number, then design and style take a bit of priority along desirability, performance, handling and the ubiquitous 'fun factor'. 

For the smaller city runaround, fuel economy again is an important factor along with size, ease of parking, comfort and practicality.

For an executive car, you should focus on equipment levels, refinement, leasing rates and also taxation issues such as Company Car tax

At The Dealer

Tesla Showroom

Image via Flickr User Wesley Fryer

It is important to test drive a car to see what car you want to drive, whether you are looking to buy or just try out the car prior to entering into a leasing deal, and it is your decision after all.

When you are there, be prepared for car dealers trying to 'upsell' into a more expensive car. In the end it may work to your advantage because you may find that the car they try and get you interested in may be a better option for you than the one that you originally went to test drive. But make sure that you DO at least test drive your original choice - or as near a version as you can find.

What to look out for on your Test Drive

Whatever you are looking for, there are some factors that you should be looking at when test driving - factors that will help you decide whether the car is the one for you, even before the car requirement-specifics are factored in.  

  • Performance: Will the car do what you want it to? Accelerate and brake suddenly to see what it can do, but remember that a supermini won't give you the same acceleration as a supercar. Obviously you will want to see some acceleration, but remember the limitations of the car that you are in. If you are looking at a family car, see how often you have to change gear to check the flexibility of the engine.
  • Ride and handling: Look for a good balance between the comfort that you enjoy and the control you have over the car. And try and test drive over a variety of roads to try to suss out the all-round ability of the car - especially on any roads nearby that could be considered 'broken' (need repairing). Obviously this may prove difficult if you want to test the off-road capabilities of the car!
  • Refinement: Here we are looking at not only the quiet nature of the drive (looking at internal noise levels) but also the smoothness of the gearbox, be it manual or automatic. Make sure that you test the car's audio set-up, but also make sure that you turn it off to check out whether or not you can hear too much engine, wind, road or suspension noise too.
  • Quality and reliability: Although reliability isn't really something you can check physically on a test drive, a chat with the salesman can tell you a lot more in the confines of a cabin than in the vast expanses of a showroom or forecourt. Quality you will be able to see from the inside materials. From wood and leather to top-quality, well-assembled synthetic materials, you should be able to make a judgement.
  • Safety and security: When it comes to safety and security, you will need to take a look at many things, some of which you will not be able to physically check, but it is important that you make sure that at least some of them are in situ in the car that you are interested in. We are talking; Stability control, Curtain airbags, Front side airbags, Rear side airbags, Active anti-whiplash head restraints, Driver airbag, Passenger airbag, Driver knee airbag, Laminated side glass, and traction control, some of which are more important and necessary than others when it comes to safety; and Deadlocks, Immobiliser, Visible Vehicle Identification Number, Marked mechanical parts, Etched windows, Locking wheelnuts, Secure spare wheel, Secure storage, Fully integrated/unique fit stereo with removable panel when it comes to security - again with varying degrees of importance. Also check the Euro NCAP test results of the car.
  • Behind the wheel: You will be spending an awful amount of time behind the wheel of your chosen vehicle, so you will need to check the driver's seat not only for comfort but for support also, the range to which it can be adjusted, ease with which pedals and steering wheel can be reached, and also your ability to reach and use any technology in the car without letting it affect your driving. Are the controls easy to reach and use? Are the switches within reach and are all instruments easy to read? You will also really need to check your field of vision whilst driving and whether or not the design of the car affects your field of vision.
  • Space and practicality: Is the car easy to get in and out of - not only for you but any passengers that could include children and more mature people such as grandparents? And is there room in there for your usual cargo- and that includes child's seats both now and in the future! Is there enough storage space for all your bits and bobs, and maybe work stuff?
  • Equipment: With technology constantly improving, it is easy to get carried away with this side of the car-getting business. From reversing cameras and touchscreen satellite navigation systems to Active Brake and warning sounds when collisions are a possibility, the range available is staggering - with more and more available as you creep up the luxury ladder. But think about what you actually need, and make sure that you try them out on your test drive - because you might not actually like them and not be able to use them; and that may be a cost consideration at a later date. And think about whether or not you need a tinted sunroof, or heated seats when comparing them against maybe an air conditioning alternative. Whatever you do, check out every piece of technology and electric additions in the car on the test drive.

Thinking Time

When you are on your test drive, the salesperson will, in all likelihood, explaining features and possibly trying to guide you towards a different model that may be a bit more expensive.

Car Dealer parody from You Tube

Image via YouTube

You will need thinking time as you try to stay focused, so What Car? suggest that you bring another adult to keep the salesman chatting so you don't feel like you're being watched. They will also be able to offer a passenger perspective too; your adult will also be able to comment on the car from a passenger's point of view. In fact, it is often a good idea to take anyone else who is likely to be driving the car (wife, husband, partner etc.) so that they can see how it drives, and maybe even the kids to see how they 'fit' in the car and maybe enjoy the benefits of it too. Both of these will undoubtedly point out anything they don't like - some in a more blunt manner than others!

It is also a good idea to try and test drive around an area you know to enable you to concentrate on the car and its performance, rather than trying to find your way  around streets and roads that are a mystery to you.

The AA suggest that you take your time driving around, even if you have the salesperson breathing down your neck, and to also try and use the car on roads that you would usually use. After all, there is no real point testing the car in the city environment if you spend all your time on motorways, and vice-versa.

Test Driving an Electric Car

Green, Hybrid and Electric cars are on the rise, and if you are looking at getting one, such as the Nissan Leaf, BMW i8, Tesla Model S or Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, there are two other considerations you need to look at, having already been satisfied when it comes to fuel economy. This is range and recharging time.

Obviously hybrid cars offer the best of both worlds, including battery regeneration, but in order to truly test a battery/electric car, the AA suggest that you really need to borrow one to test drive it over a day or two.  This is so you can:

  • Check the range expectations. The last thing you want is to be walking home the last few miles if the car doesn't live up to the promised range, so check to see if you can get there and back on a normal day's journey.
  • Check charging capabilities. Are you able to charge the car at work (or nearby?) Will there be enough charge to do whatever you do in the evenings if required? How often do you need to charge, and how long does it take? How long does a fast charge take and how much does it actually charge it?
  • Check Charging options. Can you charge it at home without trailing a long extension through the kitchen window? Are there any public charging stations nearby that you could use?
  • Drive as you intend to drive normally, including taking passengers, and make sure that you use all electric technology in the car (such as radio, Bluetooth etc) to see how much the actual battery use is, allowing for shortening battery life as it ages.

As Car Buyer state in their test drive guide, remember at all times that you are the one in control, and that the salesperson is just that: a person trying to sell the car to you. Don't feel under pressure to rush the test drive, explaining to the seller that you want to fully assess the car before making a decision.

Stay level-headed at all times, and make sure that you sleep on your decision. Don't rush into anything and don't feel pressurised. Asking for time to think, and even a second test drive at a later date is perfectly acceptable. After all: "It's often said that buying a car should be a pleasurable experience, but that's only partly true: test driving and choosing the car should be an objective process. Taking possession of and driving away in the right car is the pleasurable bit, and conducting a thorough test drive should help ensure you make the correct choice."

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