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  • Claire Vorster

How To Test Drive A Car – Important Check List

After a house or HDB, a car is the most expensive purchase many of us will make. A proper test drive is essential. Why? Because it's your opportunity to make sure the car is right for your needs and comfortable for you. After all, you are going to spend a significant amount of time in it!

If you're buying an older car, this test drive will be even more important. Now you can find out if everything works as it should. When you get into a car you want to drive and are excited about the possibility of purchase, it’s easy to get carried away (excuse the pun). Here is our expert guide to help you make the most of your test drive.

First Things First - Am I Insured?

“Dealers will have special cover in place but there's a good chance you won't be covered if you test drive a car sold privately. Check your own car insurance – you are looking for the words on the policy that says you can 'drive another car with the owner's permission'. This is known as DOC or Driving Other Cars cover. Cover, if included, is usually third party only. Your own insurer may offer you comprehensive cover over a short period of time so that you can test drive cars you are thinking of buying.”

How Long Should I Test Drive?

“Allow at least an hour for your test drive – in town, out on the open road and on a motorway if possible.”

What Am I Looking for?

1. Before you even get into the car, walk around and inspect it for dents and scratches. Even new cars can suffer from problems arising shipping or transportation. In older cars, look for signs of repainting, or scratches that have been filled in. Take note of the quality of important items like wing mirrors, lights and bumpers.

2. Insist that you start the car so you can spot potential problems.

“Of potentially greater importance are the car's mechanicals. Check the engine temperature, either by the dashboard gauge or by placing a hand on the bonnet of the car. Is there a reason the seller isn’t letting you start it from cold? A warm engine can cover up untoward rattles or starting difficulties.”

3. Once you get out onto the open road, you need to check visibility.

“ Visibility, or lack thereof, is another factor to consider when behind the wheel. Observe how well you can see out in all directions, particularly through the rear window. Does the vehicle have dangerously large blind spots, and if so, does it have blind-spot monitors for assistance?”

4. Check for comfort and practicality. If you have children, consider how the car will work for them. Check child locks, seatbelts and legroom. If your child is younger, it may be worth taking the car seat to see how it fits into the car.

“Observe how certain features might become irritating in day-to-day use, such as inadequate storage cubbies and cup holders, as well as a trunk that is difficult to operate or has an opening that is too small or too high. Are the running boards necessary, or are they just going to dirty your pant leg for more money?”

5. Do not allow yourself to be pressured by an over-excited car dealer or seller. Take your time on a test drive or you may regret it.

Handy Checklist

  • Is the engine quiet, does it pull smoothly, are there any signs of smoke?

  • Are there any rattles from the suspension when the car is in motion?

  • Do the brakes work properly, does the car stop in a straight line?

  • Can you engage all gears smoothly without crunching, does the clutch ‘bite’ where it should?

  • With electric cars, what is the range and charging time?

  • How easily can you get in and out of the car?

  • Can you adjust the steering and seat comfortably?

  • Are all the instruments working, can you reach the controls easily?

  • When reversing into a parking space, do you have all round vision?

  • Is there space for the things you will be carrying on a regular basis - groceries, bags or luggage, a pushchair, your golf clubs?

  • If needed, could you fold the rear seats without difficulty?

  • Will you be able to unload things easily from the boot?

  • Is it simple to work with any removable seats? Ask the owner's permission before you try taking them out.

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