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Test Before You Buy

By Tegan Lawson

A new car is a major investment and when you are shopping around, it’s important not to get too excited in the heat of the moment and part with your hard earned cash prematurely. The test drive is a big part of the decision making process and shouldn’t be rushed. Here are our tips to get the most out of your time with your potential new car.



First things first, know what you’re looking for. Narrow down your options and plan to test drive at least your top three vehicles. You can find useful reviews within these pages in Monthly Motor or surf the web for useful reviews that can help. So enjoy reading up on the cars that interest you and be prepared to spend the necessary time figuring out what is right for you and your family. Window shopping is dangerous, as that hot looking car may harbour hidden quirks that will drive you nuts within days.

Once you’ve decided on the most appealing and practical makes and models, you can then dig a little deeper to figure out which variant is right for you.

Make a list of your needs and wants so that when you start to narrow it down to a specification you know what you’re prepared to sacrifice.

Know your budget and know what you’d be prepared to spend on options. Once you identify the trim-levels among your model options that have everything you “need”, you then move onto determining which ones have most of what you “want”. When you have your final list, start contacting dealers to find the most suitable test drive options.



Some dealerships will offer a drive around the block and some will allow an extended drive, while others may allow an overnight or even a weekend loan. Though as a guideline, if you’re shopping for low-priced, high-volume cars, you’re unlikely to get it for the weekend.

If you need to check if it fits in your driveway, or to check if you get back pain after 30mins behind the wheel and therefore need more than just a run around the block, discuss these specific needs with your dealer.

Also be aware of which variant you will be test driving. Ideally you want to get behind the wheel of your preferred spec. If a base model is on your shopping list and your local dealer has the top-spec with a raft of options, you’re not going to get a good idea of what it would be like. Shop around, and put the effort in to travel further if needed.

Book your test drives and plan where you will go, as it’s always a good idea to drive on a road you are familiar with so you can get a better idea of things like road noise, comfort and ride.



If you’re planning on having kids one day, then it would be wise to try and fit car seats in the back.

If you’re into carrying coffee or tea around, bring along a cup and check if it fits. Take your favourite refillable coffee cup, your usual travel luggage, golf clubs or sporting gear. Check that they fit, as there’s nothing worse than arriving home with your shiny new car only to realise you should have optioned a towing bar because heading off for your kid’s motocross races just became infinitely more difficult.

Anything that you can’t go anywhere without, or the important things that you will need to fit in your car at one time or another should be with you when you go for a test drive. Don’t rely on the spec sheets to determine whether the cargo space will work for you; the access angles, boot hinges or wheel arches could all have a big impact.



Are there secret compartments under the seats to hide your wallet, handbag ad/or phone out of sight? Some cars have clever storage nooks hidden away under the floor, seat or even wet storage compartments under the boot floor.

Look for the USB points. Are they within easy reach? Do you need 12V outlets in the boot for off-roading or camping? Some have more cup holders than others, even bottle holders in the glove box. In some cars I’ve driven, the location of the cup holders can make it difficult to use the armrest, access centre-console bin or even the gear-shift.

Try and fold the rear seats down. Some cars have simple systems that are literally one-touch while others require you to pull a handle, push a button, pull the seat forward and do the hokey-pokey all at the same time.

So hunt around and check for those little surprises that aren’t obvious on the spec sheet, as they could be a great bonus or a great annoyance if the car doesn’t work for you ergonomically.



Before you hit the road, familiarise yourself with the functions you’d be likely to use while driving, for instance a car’s voice command is something that can get quickly frustrating if it’s not an intuitive system. Test it out because there’s nothing worse than feeling like you’ve travelled back in time and feel like you’re stuck using an out-dated voice recognition service.

Fiddle with the radio, try to pair your phone, plug an address into the satellite navigation. Remember, any new infotainment system will take some time to get used to.

When you’re on the road, keep an ear out for things like road noise and focus on figuring out if you’re comfortable and if you can reach everything you need. Do you feel good in this car? What’s the visibility like? Even if you’ll be in the driver’s seat most of the time, jump in the back seat and pretend you’re a passenger. Do you have enough room? What about storage? Are there air-vents? Can you see outwards?



It is easy to get caught up in the moment, but please, go home and have a cold shower and sleep on it, particularly if you’ve talked about adding options or jumping up a spec from what you’d previously decided on. Take the time to make sure it’s the right decision for you.

Purchasing a new car is an exciting time, and buyer’s remorse is something we’d wish on no one.