Buying a car, no matter new or used, is a big commitment that involves a long process of researching and decision making. Since you are going to own it for at least a few years, you definitely want a car that meets your needs and wants.
This is why test-driving a car before purchasing it is vital to find out if it’s the right fit for you. To help you maximize your test-driving experience, here is a complete guide on how to test-drive a new or used car including what to do in unexpected circumstances.
Why Should You Test Drive a Car?
When buying a car, you always have the option to request a test drive. This is when you can inspect the car up close and experience it first-hand by driving it. The sales representative will most likely be with you during the test drive, and as you go about driving the car, you can ask questions about it, or address any concerns you may have.
You can tell a lot about a car during a test drive, especially when driving at different speeds, varying terrains, and while taking corners. Just remember to drive carefully and obey road laws so you don’t end up ruining an expensive car like getting into an accident while test-driving a Mercedes-Benz. Here are two main reasons why you should test drive a car.
- Making sure the car suits your lifestyle: Given that a car is arguably one of the largest financial commitments you might make, you definitely want a car that suits you. When you take a car for a test drive, it gives you the opportunity to understand and feel what the car is like to drive. You can also check for items such as the boot space, the practicality of fitting in car seats (for children), and so forth.
- You can check the car’s condition or performance: Driving a car is very different from viewing it. There are certain factors you may not spot during a car viewing as some issues may only come to light in the form of noises during the drive, or in the handling of the steering wheel. This is especially important when you are buying a used car as some dealerships might not disclose if the car has faulty parts.
By test-driving the car, you have the opportunity to understand and experience it for yourself. If the price of a car is too good to be true, it most probably has some issues.
Questions You Should Ask Before a Test Drive
Here’s what you need to ask yourself before you decide on purchasing a car.
1. Does the Car Suit My Lifestyle & Needs?
When you pick a car (new or used), it is important to know what it is that you want from the car; if it will be used for your whole family, picking up your kids from school, bringing your pets around, to go to outdoor activities, etc. A test drive would be the perfect opportunity to answer these questions.
2. Is There Enough Room for a Child Seat or for the Kids to Sit?
If you have a family, the car will need to be comfortable for the front and rear passengers. If you are able to, bring your family along with you on your test drive and check if there’s any room for child seats. Make sure everyone is seated comfortably and there is enough legroom because the last thing you want while driving is to feel a jab in the back of your seat from your kid’s knee.
3. How Is the Performance of the Car?
When you take the car out for a test drive, take it through different terrains, including the highway. Pay attention to how the car steers, how it shifts gears, accelerates, brakes, and turns.
You should also ask about the car’s fuel efficiency. One way to determine it is by how much petrol is needed for a 100 kilometers drive. In general, five to eight liters per 100 kilometers would be considered a good fuel efficiency, while eight to 10 liters per 100 kilometers would be average, and more than 10 liters per 100 kilometers would be considered a relatively low fuel efficiency.
4. Can the Car Be Parked Easily?
Parking starts and ends every journey. Buying a car that’s easy to park will save you a lot of future frustration and time. So do take this into consideration, including the parking situation around your home and work. Try parking the car during your test drive and see how easy or difficult it is. New cars now come with updated technology features like parking assist that help you to park well with the help of cameras and sensors.
5. Does the Car Have Any Deal Breakers?
After taking the car out for a test drive, think about anything you didn’t like about it. Minor details like how easily you get in and out of the car (especially if you are tall or have special needs), or even the comfort of the seats might be a point of contention later on.
A Checklist of What You Should Do Before, During & After a Test Drive
Buying a car can be both an exciting and an intimidating process. Here’s how to test drive a car be it new or used, with a checklist that can help you make sense of your test drive and everything you need to do before, during, and after one.
Before Picking Out A Car
Do your research before heading down to your nearest dealership. You can read reviews online, join forums and find buyer’s guides on the specific car that you want which will be enough to provide you with the information you need about the car.
Before Getting in a Car
You should check:
- If there are any signs of rust around the underside, wheel arches, and exterior body.
- If there are any signs of dents and scratches.
- If the exhaust pipe is in good condition and is supported correctly and firmly.
- the color of the exhaust smoke.
- If all the lights and indicators are working properly.
- The condition of the tires. Are they worn out? If they have less than 3mm tread thickness, they need to be changed.
- The engine, including if the oil is filled up to the correct level, or if there are any signs of corrosion or leakage.
- Any cracks on the hoses and belts.
- The service and inspection report to know the health of the car.
- The complete paperwork for the car.
Before Starting the Engine
- Make sure the infotainment, including the audio system, works well. Listen for any muffled or dull sound as that might indicate a spoiled system.
- Check the mileage. Does that mileage make sense for the age of the car?
- Check if the air conditioners, windows, locking system, windshield wipers, and side mirrors work perfectly.
- Keep an eye out for the warning lights. Do they switch off after the engine starts? Do any warning lights come on while test-driving the car?
During the Test Drive
- Does the car accelerate when you need it to?
- Is the steering wheel moving smoothly? If the car drifts to one side when you are driving, that might be a result of uneven tire pressure or a problem with the suspension.
- Keep an eye on the temperature gauge and see if there are any signs of overheating.
- If it is a manual car, is the clutch easy to engage? Can you change the gears easily and does the car jerk when you change them?
- For automatic cars, does the gear lever ‘self-center’ over the correct gear, or do you have to do it manually?
- When braking, does the car come to a complete stop immediately, or is there too much effort needed to stop it? Do you hear unusual sounds when you brake?
- Test the handbrake, preferably on a hill.
- Drive over speed bumps to see how the car handles uneven surfaces. Listen out for unusual knocks and clunks.
After the Test Drive
- Wait a few minutes after switching off the car and restart it again while the engine is still hot. If it fails to start, there is definitely something that needs fixing, which could be expensive such as the fuel injector.
- Was it a comfortable drive? Is it suitable for your everyday needs? Is there enough leg space for everyone who would be sitting in your car?
- Do not make a decision straight away. If possible, it is always a good idea to test drive at least three times to familiarize yourself with the car and to keep your options open.
Mistakes You Want to Avoid During a Test Drive
Here are some common mistakes that you can avoid when you head down to test drive a car be it new or used.
1. Meet the Owner/Enter the Dealership without a Plan.
Before meeting the owner of the car or entering a dealership, it’s best to do proper research about the car that you want to purchase. Know what the car is worth, how much are you willing to spend for the car and its repairs, and know exactly why you want that car. Do not let the salesperson dissuade you by showing you something else.
2. Buying the car without a Proper Budget
When you are setting the budget for your new car, instead of just taking into consideration the market value of the car and your total loan amount, you should also consider the annual maintenance cost of the car and emergency repair costs.
3. Not Taking the Time to Think About Your Purchase
Whenever you purchase anything, you should never rush into it. You don’t have to test drive every car that is available at the dealership but it’s important to take some time to make your decision after evaluating potential alternatives.
How Long & Where Should You Test Drive?
Now is your chance to see how the car performs and whether you can detect any problems with its drivetrain, steering, suspension, brakes, or other important features. When it comes to how long you should take a car for a test drive, you should drive them for as long as possible and over different types of road surfaces, as well as in various driving conditions.
Most dealers would have a pre-set route that they’ll suggest you take which will typically take around 15 to 30 minutes. But don’t be afraid to ask for a longer time period if you feel like you need it. Some dealers might even offer special extended test drives that might last between 24 and 48 hours from time to time.
Now, where should you test drive the car? Unless you live and work right in the city, there is a chance that you will be driving on different terrains on a daily basis. So, when you take a car for a test drive, you should take it out for a drive in the city, on the highway, and even on small country roads. Test the car’s handling by driving at different speeds, then test the brakes at different speeds.
When You Test Drive on a Road with Stop-And-Go Traffic:
- Make sure to notice how the brake feels when you come to a complete stop.
- Listen to any grinding or squeaky noises which is an indication of a worn-out brake pad.
- How does it handle potholes and rough roads? You should drive slowly and listen for any rattling or knocking sounds which is a clear indication of steering problems.
- How is the car when you make a 90-degree turn? Does it navigate smoothly without swaying left and right uncontrollably? Resistance or pulling in the steering can be a sign of problems in the suspension.
When You Drive on a Highway Where You Can Speed Up:
- Does your car accelerate quickly and drive smoothly from gear to gear? If the car jerks between each gear change, that is a sign of an engine or transmission problem.
- Carefully switch lanes a few times to see how the car reacts to different speeds.
- Listen carefully to any squeaky, whiny sounds behind the sound of the engine. That might be a sign of a faulty belt or brake pad.
- Drive up and down a hill to check the brakes.
When You Practice Parallel Parking:
- Make sure the car shifts smoothly from drive to reverse. If the car jerks or makes a grinding noise when shifting gears, it can be a sign of bad transmission.
- How responsive is the car? When you are in reverse gear, do the gas and brake pedals feel different?
- How does the car fit in a regular parking space?
Now that you know what you need to do before, during, and after a test drive as well as the location you should test drive a car, you should know how to differentiate between a good used car and a high-risk used car. Here are what to look for when test-driving a used car so you can avoid buying high-risk cars.
How to Avoid Buying High-Risk Cars?
Here Are Some Tell-Tale Signs of a High-Risk Car:
- Check for signs that the car you are test-driving has been in a fire. A fuse that blows more than once is a sign of a compromised component linked to an electrical issue.
- Oil spills under the hood from a leaky gasket.
- Fluid leaks under the car.
- You can smell petrol when you are not refueling.
- There is a rapid change in fuel level, oil levels, or overall temperature.
- Broken or loose engine hose.
- The smell of burning plastic or rubber when you enter the car.
- Cracked or loose wiring with exposed metal.
Signs That the Car You are Test Driving Has Been in a Flood:
- Damp or musty smell when you enter the car.
- Pale and sticky engine oil.
- Dirt such as debris, grass, sand, and silt build up in unusual places such as inside the glove compartment, between the engine, in the boot, under the spare tire, in between the seating cracks, and under the dashboard.
- Any form of rust or corrosion on the metal elements (screws, door hinges, hood springs, exterior frame).
- Warning lights that are foggy from the water that may be retained inside.
- Bubbles on the external body may indicate an unusual paint job to cover rust
Read More: Dangers of Buying a Flood-Affected Car
How You Can Find Out If a Car Has Been in a Major Accident:
- Check the paintwork for any inconsistencies as these can be signs of covering up accident marks.
- Check for any mismatched or third-party spare parts that may have been used to lower the cost of previous repairs.
- Are there any gaps between the doors? Do you have to slam it hard for it to shut or can you stick your fingers between the fender and the door when closed? Since parts can get misaligned after an accident, they might not fit perfectly again after being fixed.
- Does the car pull to one side when driven? This is a sign of a misaligned wheel alignment.
- Check the tire for uneven tire wear.
- Do you see any welding marks on the exterior of the car?
You will want to avoid buying a car with these signs as you could be forking out high repair costs to fix some significant damages.
Now, What Happens if the Test-Driven Car Gets into an Accident?
You might remember a Mercedes-Benz AMG E43 getting into an accident during a test drive in Malaysia some time ago. Although that is due to the driver’s careless driving, you could still get into a collision even if you were extra careful during your test drive. So, what happens if you get into an accident?
An accident involving a Mercedes-Benz on a test-drive
You Don’t Have to Pay For Small Damages
If the damage is minimal such as a small scratch or a minor dent, the dealership would usually cover the repair cost.
You are usually covered under fleet insurance that is used for new, unregistered cars. This insurance will cover all the small damages no matter who is at fault.
Remember not to sign any liability waiver as that will make you responsible for any damage done during the test drive. Always read any document that might require your signature before a test drive, and always address any concerns you might have prior to that.
You Will Have to Pay For Major Damages
For major accidents such as if the car overturns, or one side of the car is completely damaged, you are e responsible for covering the cost.
You will have to make a police report first and the police will determine who is at fault for the accident.
If you are found responsible for the accident, your personal car insurance policy will cover the damage. But if you don’t have insurance and this would be your first car, you would have to fork out your own money.
What If It Is Another Driver’s Fault?
If another driver hits the car, the dealership will handle the accident reporting and claims will be made on that driver’s insurance.
If the test-driven car is faulty, the dealership will take full responsibility for the repairs. If anyone is injured, the dealership’s insurance company will have to compensate for it too.
Always remember to consult your insurance agent first before admitting to any fault.
Test-Drive with Confidence with CARSOME
When you’re shopping for a car with CARSOME, you can come in for a test drive any day of the week – just book an appointment and the car will be waiting for you. You can also expect full transparency from us as each CARSOME car has a full inspection report detailing its condition and every blemish (if any).
You can schedule a virtual appointment online and our Sales Advisor will bring you on a video tour around your used car of choice. If you decide to purchase the car, the Carsome Sales Advisor will handle the paperwork and arrange for home delivery. Once the car is delivered, you can ‘Test Own’ it which is essentially testing it out at the comfort of your own surroundings. If you decide that you don’t like it, you can return it within five days for a full refund – no questions asked.
To ensure peace of mind, all CARSOME cars go through a stringent 175-point inspection to make sure they are free of major accidents, flood, and fire damage. Besides that, CARSOME Certified cars are professionally refurbished to ensure their safety and quality.
Additionally, CARSOME Certified cars also come with a CARSOME Promise. It is our assurance for you to have total peace of mind in your purchase.
The CARSOME Promise includes:
- Five-day money-back guarantee: If you buy a used car from CARSOME and change your mind, you can return it within five days for a full refund. No questions asked!
- Professional inspection: All CARSOME cars go through an inspection that covers 175 points to ensure they are free of major accidents, flood, and fire damage.
- One-year warranty: Our journey with you does not stop after you buy a car. We will give you a warranty to ensure you are covered within your first year of ownership.
- Fixed price: The price you see on the listing is the actual price with absolutely no hidden fees. We practice full transparency in our prices to ensure you know exactly what you are getting.
We hope this guide will be able to help you secure the car you want, according to what you need.
This content was originally published on 08/07/2021. It has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.