When it comes to buying a car, whether you’re buying your first or fifth, the process can both be overwhelming and exciting. A test drive offers more than just a chance to get a feel for the car you’re considering. It also allows you to clear up any questions or doubts you might have and offer peace of mind.
It can be a critical aspect of the car buying process so keep these tips in mind on how to get the best experience out of your test drive.
Do you need insurance to test drive a car?
Yes, you will need insurance cover even if you’re just test driving a car. Always check you’re properly insured before you set off on your test drive. Usually, if you’re browsing or purchasing a car from a main dealer, this most likely will not be an issue since they’ll have insurance in place, but it’s always better to check and make sure.
On the other hand, if you’re buying from a private seller, check if they have extended insurance to cover other drivers but be prepared to have your own insurance cover. Check your policy document for “driving-other-cars cover” (DOC) or call up your insurance provider to ensure what is covered under your policy before you head off for the test drive.
If you don’t have an insurance policy for driving then you can also opt for temporary car insurance that’s usually comprehensive – which means it will also cover any repairs in case you get into an accident during the test drive.
What to do before a test drive?
Make sure you’re covered
As outlined above, it is absolutely essential that you have the proper insurance before you set off on your test drive. Don’t drive the car unless you’re absolutely sure you’re insured to do so. Don’t forget to carry your driving licence.
Do your research about the car
Find out more details about the car you’ll be driving such as the exact model, engine, etc and do your research online. This will help you evaluate the car a lot better once you’re in the driver’s seat. It will also help you prepare any questions you may have for the salesperson or the seller.
Take a friend along
Or someone who can accompany you while you test drive the car. This will help you get a passenger’s perspective. While you focus on the driving bit, you can also ask them to observe and assess other aspects of the car that you may otherwise miss and help with questions for the seller if any.
Plan your route
Check beforehand how long you have to test drive the car. Most sellers allow 30-60 mins so plan your route accordingly. Try and test it on different kinds of roads, most importantly on roads that you’ll be commuting on regularly.
Try and seek out roads with good and bad road surfaces. Drive the car on the motorway and try to find roads with lots of start-stop traffic. That way you can build a better picture of how the car performs under different circumstances.
What to look for during the test drive? A handy test drive checklist
As soon as you get in the car, take a few minutes to familiarise yourself with the interiors and controls. Adjust your seat and the side mirrors. If it’s going to be a family car, especially if you have children, make sure you check how easy it is to get into through the passenger doors. Also, check the boot to ensure it matches your expectations in terms of boot space.
Starting the car
The engine should be cold. If you find that the bonnet is warm, the seller could be trying to hide a starting issue. Make sure there are no funny sounds or rattling when turning on the ignition.
Brakes and steering
If you hear or feel any vibrations with the steering wheel that’s a big no. If it’s a newer car check to see if the power steering is working as it should.
For brakes, if you feel they’re ‘spongy’ and the car doesn’t stop in a straight line, then that could be pointing out a problem with the brakes. This article on brake issues has more detailed symptoms of what you can look out for during a test drive, especially on an older used car.
Clutch and gear system
The clutch should engage and disengage properly. If you hear any sounds when changing gears this could be a sign of a faulty gearbox.
Air-conditioning and other controls
If there is an air-con system, check if the air conditioning system is working properly. Give the controls a quick once over as well and press the buttons to make sure they’re in working order.
When driving the car, speed up slowly and listen to any strange noises like squeaks or clunks. Any noise can mean that there is something wrong with the suspension. Once you’re up to speed take note of how the car handles and whether it’s smooth. Especially when going through corners. If the car pulls to one side or doesn’t go over bumps smoothly can be a sign that something isn’t quite right. The same goes if the car shakes or becomes unstable when braking.
Top things to keep in mind when you take the test drive:
Check for vehicle history
If it’s a used car, you probably would’ve confirmed details such as vehicle history, MOT status, service history, etc. If you haven’t yet, ensure you double-check these details with the seller.
Ask for a demo
To be sure you’re making the best of your test drive experience, ask the seller for any tips before setting off. If the car model is one you’re unfamiliar with then ask them for any features you should be aware of – for example, some newer models have inbuilt CarPlay that has Google Maps to help with navigation.
Getting a non-biased professional opinion
If you want to have complete peace of mind about the condition of a car, the best thing to do is pay for a professional mechanic to conduct a pre-purchase inspection. It’s a small price to pay to be confident you’re investing in a car that’s fit for purpose and also to potentially avoid a bad deal. A basic pre-purchase inspection starts from £55 with ClickMechanic.
Do I need a pre-purchase inspection before buying a used car?
If you don’t have the confidence to test drive or check a used car before buying, it’s worth getting a pre-purchase inspection with a professional mechanic. Mechanics will be able to check over the car in detail. Using the expertise they have built up over many years to give an accurate appraisal of what is wrong with the vehicle.
How to test drive an electric car
An ideal scenario would be to test drive an electric car over a period of at least 24 hours. This will ensure you have enough time to test out the charging time as well as the range of the car on a regular day.
Electric cars have some distinct differences from traditional ICE vehicles. Before setting off, it’s a good idea to spend some time understanding how the controls work.
Speak to the seller or salesperson to understand features you should know about such as automatic start and stop, keyless ignition, autopilot mode, etc. Electric vehicles have maximum torque from the get-go which means you can go 0 to 60 mph in a matter of 3 seconds – so keep this in mind when test driving especially on busy roads.
Once you have test driven the car make a note of any faults found. If you do decide to buy the car despite these issues, then use them to bargain. Make the seller aware of the problems you found when negotiating to buy the car. That way you may be able to bring the price down or get the seller to repair these issues.