What to Look for When Test Driving a Car

Discover how to make the most of your car test drive with this step-by-step guide, whether you’re buying from a dealer or a private seller.
Published on December 1st, 2020
  Written by 
Adrian Edlington
Adrian Edlington is PR & Communications Manager at Savvy. With a keen interest in personal finance, car loans, the mortgage industry, cost of living pressures, electric vehicles and renewable technology, Adrian's research includes conducting primary data surveys and analysis of up-to-the-minute secondary Australian data sources. His work on behalf of Savvy has been featured on ABC.net.au The Conversation, the Sydney Morning Herald, AFR, News.com.au, The Age, Herald Sun, Adelaide Now, SBS On The Money, 7News, Car Expert, Which Car, Drive.com.au and more. In his spare time, Adrian enjoys mountain biking and business podcasts.
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   Reviewed by 
Bill Tsouvalas


Bill Tsouvalas
Bill Tsouvalas is the managing director and a key company spokesperson at Savvy. As a personal finance expert, he often shares his insights on a range of topics, being featured on leading news outlets including News Corp publications such as the Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun, Fairfax Media publications such as the Australian Financial Review, the Seven Network and more. Bill has over 15 years of experience working in the finance industry and founded Savvy in 2010 with a vision to provide affordable and accessible finance options to all Australians. He has built Savvy from a small asset finance brokerage into a financial comparison website which now attracts close to 2 million Aussies per year and was included in the BRW’s Fast 100 in 2015 as one of the fastest-growing companies in the country. He’s passionate about helping Australians make financially savvy decisions and reviews content across the brand to ensure its accuracy. You can follow Bill on LinkedIn.
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Test driving a car is an essential step in the car-buying process. It offers you the chance to experience firsthand how a vehicle performs on the road and whether it meets your expectations and requirements. However, to make the most out of your test drive, it's crucial to know what to look for and how to assess various aspects of the vehicle. In this comprehensive guide, we explore the key factors to consider when test driving a car, from performance and handling to comfort and safety features.

Step 1: Research and prepare

  • Research the car: familiarise yourself with the specific car model you’re interested in, including reading reviews and noting down key features.
  • Know your needs and priorities: consider your lifestyle, driving habits and passenger/cargo requirements.  Are you looking for fuel efficiency, comfort for long commutes or sporty handling? Prioritise the features most important to you.
  • Prepare a checklist: create a checklist of aspects you want to evaluate during the test drive. This could include interior space, comfort features, technology functionalities, visibility and driving dynamics. Don't forget to jot down any specific concerns you want to address.
  • Don’t forget your licence: you will be required to show your driver’s licence to test drive the car.

Step 2: Schedule the test drive

Once you've identified the vehicle(s) you want to test drive, book appointments with the dealerships. You can usually do this by phone, though many places now offer online booking systems. If possible, you may want to schedule test drives for multiple vehicles on the same day, so you can compare them more easily. Make sure to allocate enough time for each test drive to thoroughly evaluate the vehicle. Some dealers may even allow you to borrow the car for a longer period up to 24 hours.

Step 3: First impressions

  • Exterior inspection: take a close look at the exterior of the car. Check for any dents, scratches or paint imperfections. Inspect the condition of the tyres and look for signs of uneven wear, which could indicate alignment issues. Ensure that all the lights, including headlights, taillights and turn signals, are functioning correctly.
  • Interior features: once inside the car, take note of the overall comfort and ergonomics of the interior. Adjust the seats, steering wheel and mirrors to your liking. Pay attention to the quality of materials used in the cabin and the layout of the controls. Test out the infotainment system, climate controls and other features to ensure they are intuitive and easy to use.

Step 4: The drive

The most crucial part of the test drive is evaluating how the car performs on the road. Pay attention to:

  • Engine: listen for any unusual noises or vibrations. Listen to the smoothness of the engine start-up.
  • Acceleration: merge into traffic and test the car's pick-up and power. Does it feel sluggish or responsive? Pay attention to turbo lag if applicable.
  • Handling: turn corners and try different types of roads. How does the car handle curves and maintain stability? Does it inspire confidence in your ability to manoeuvre?
  • Braking: test the brakes in a controlled manner at varying speeds. Ensure they feel firm and responsive without any pulling to one side.
  • Steering: evaluate the steering feel. Is it light and responsive or heavy and requiring more effort? Does it provide good feedback on road conditions?
  • Ride quality: drive over different road surfaces, including potholes and bumps. Assess the car's ability to absorb bumps and maintain a comfortable ride. Is it excessively noisy or smooth and quiet?

Step 5: Consider other features

Beyond the drive itself, think about:

  • Cargo space: open the boot or cargo area. Is there sufficient space for your needs? Consider the ease of loading and unloading groceries, luggage or sports equipment.
  • Fuel efficiency: ask about the car's fuel economy ratings and compare them to your research findings. If possible, take note of the fuel consumption during your test drive.
  • Safety features: inquire about the car's safety features, including airbags, traction control, blind-spot monitoring and automatic emergency braking (AEB), and if possible test them during the drive.

Step 6: Final impressions and questions

After completing the test drive, take some time to reflect on your experience and impressions of the vehicle. Did the car meet your expectations in terms of performance, comfort and features? If you have any lingering questions or concerns, don't hesitate to ask the salesperson for clarification. Also take into account:

  • Cost of ownership: research the car's insurance costs, scheduled maintenance requirements and estimated fuel expenses. Factor these costs into your overall car budget.
  • Availability and service: check the availability of the specific car model in your area. Also, research the reputation and service quality of the dealership's service department.
  • Warranty coverage: understand the warranty coverage offered by the manufacturer and the dealership. Look for warranties that cover major components and offer peace of mind.

If you are happy with the car and coverage, you can start negotiations to make it yours!

Can I test drive a car from a private seller?

Yes, you should be able to test drive a car from a private seller in Australia! However, it's important to take some extra precautions to ensure your safety and a smooth transaction. Here's a breakdown of what to keep in mind:

Safety first:

  • Bring a friend: don't go alone. Inform someone of your plans and meeting details.
  • Public place: meet in a public area during daylight hours.
  • Verify ownership: check the car's title, registration and seller’s ID for a match. Consider a vehicle history report.

During the drive:

You should follow the same test drive strategies outlined earlier. It is common for the seller to accompany you during the test drive but some sellers may insist on driving the car themselves. If this is the case, politely explain your preference to be behind the wheel to fully evaluate the car. If they refuse, consider it a red flag and walk away.

Additional tips:

  • Independent inspection: before finalising the purchase, consider getting the car inspected by a certified mechanic. This can uncover any hidden problems and provide valuable insights into the car's condition.
  • Don’t feel pressured: don't feel you must buy the car just because you test drove it. Take your time, gather your thoughts and compare your options before making a decision.
  • Trust your gut: pay attention to your intuition. If something feels off about the seller or the car, continue your search elsewhere.

Test driving a car is a crucial step in the car-buying process, allowing you to assess the vehicle's performance, comfort and features for yourself. By following these tips and guidelines, you can make the most out of your test drive experience and make an informed decision when choosing your next vehicle. And if you're in need of financing for your new car purchase, Savvy is here to help you find the right loan option tailored to your needs and budget. Get started with a car loan through Savvy today!

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This guide provides general information and does not consider your individual needs, finances or objectives. We do not make any recommendation or suggestion about which product is best for you based on your specific situation and we do not compare all companies in the market, or all products offered by all companies. It’s always important to consider whether professional financial, legal or taxation advice is appropriate for you before choosing or purchasing a financial product.

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