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Testing Testing...

Buying a car in 2017? Here's how to test drive like an expert

Tip and advice for when you are taking a potential purchase for a test drive.

AFTER YOU HAVE done your research and narrowed down the particular model of car you’re looking to buy, there’s the next important step: the test drive.

In general, the principles for getting the most out of a short test drive remain the same whether it’s a new or used car, but each comes with a few specifics to watch out for.

Let’s start with the new car.

Test driving a new car

In this instance, you don’t need to worry about listening out for mechanical gremlins, as it really shouldn’t have any. But do listen out for things that might be annoying to live with. Does the seat rub and squeak against the centre console for example?

These days many makes and models come in a wide array of specifications. It’s often the case that a dealership’s demonstrator model has lots of options and technology that you may not want in your planned specification.

That’s fine as long as they aren’t items that will give you a different impression of how the car drives. For example, if it is fitted with larger wheels there’s a chance that the ride will seem firmer than you might experience with your own car.

(That also works the other way, of course – remember that while larger wheels look great, they can detract from the car’s comfort.)

Shutterstock / Syda Productions Shutterstock / Syda Productions / Syda Productions

Getting into any car that isn’t your own is going to feel a little strange at first, so if possible try to arrange a test drive that is at least 20 to 30 minutes long. This added time gives you the opportunity to get used to where all the controls are and potentially a different seating position.

If you show the seller that you’re serious about making a purchase this amount of time won’t make a difference… but do also bear in mind that if it is a busy Saturday the seller may have other appointments.

On your test drive, try to pick a route that you are familiar with – or at least one that is representative of the type of driving you’re going to be doing. Try to do the things that you will do every day. What is it like going over speed bumps? Is it any easier (or more difficult) to park into a tight space compared to your existing car? And so on.

Test driving a used car

With used cars it is far more likely that you’ll be test driving the actual car you’re considering buying. Taking all of the suggestions mentioned above into account you also need to listen out for any noises that may be a tell-tale sign of a potential problem.

Be wary of any vibrations or mechanical actions – like steering, gear selection or clutch pedals – that don’t feel normal to you. Do keep in mind that it will feel different to your own car, but look for things that are beyond it just being a little different.

Most importantly, don’t feel obliged to continue with the purchase even if you’ve taken a test drive. If there is something about the car that doesn’t seem right to you either get a second opinion or move on.

If it makes you feel more comfortable, bring someone you trust along and get their opinion once you have finished test driving the car. Find someone who knows a little about cars, if you can.

READ: The ultimate guide to picking the right used car for you >

READ: Car review – the stylish and spacious Peugeot 508 RXH >