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How to test drive your new car like a pro - and the big questions to ask before you commit

Car hunting? Dealer Paddy Ryan shares his tips on what to check, look and listen for during your test drive.

THE TEST DRIVE has long been an important step in buying a new car.

It’s a chance to see if reality matches up to expectation, to figure out how this car might fit in with your daily life, and – for a used car – to notice any red flags like a worn-down clutch or loose steering.

With dealerships open to the public again, test drives are back in action too, which is a positive development for everyone involved, says Paddy Ryan, sales director with Toyota Long Mile in Dublin.

We really encourage test drives, and we’ll often suggest people take a car home with them overnight. They can get to know the car without a salesperson next to them, and try it out in a few different settings.

Long-Mile-2020-Web-39 Toyota Long Mile in Dublin.

Ryan has noticed a shift in the way buyers approach test drives in recent years. It’s not just about trialing a car. It’s now the stage where a buyer confirms their belief that a particular car is the right match for them:

Previously, customers might have spent a weekend going from one dealership to another and trying a few cars. Now, it’s a lot more focused. Customers have done their research already, they know the market inside out, and they want to validate their choice.

The pandemic has streamlined the process even more. “Customers will make an appointment with us to see a particular car. They want to know that it’ll be ready and waiting for them on the forecourt so there won’t be any waiting around.”

As part of our Buying With Confidence series in partnership with DoneDeal, Paddy shares his advice for getting the most out of your all-important test drive, starting from the moment you step onto the forecourt…

Before you get into the car

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This is your chance to make sure the design and footprint of the car is going to fit with your needs. The boot is an obvious one to check at this point, says Ryan:

If you have kids, will the pram fit? We’ll often suggest someone goes and gets the pram from their own boot and tries it out in this new car. If you have sports equipment or something like a walking aid, can all of that be put in and taken out easily?

Doing an external check of tyres, bodywork and so on is always important, but particularly so if you’re buying a used car. Even the most well maintained of used cars might have a scratch or two, and while a reputable dealer will point those out to you, it’s always worth doing a thorough walkaround. “For your own peace of mind,” says Ryan. 

Getting set up in the driver’s seat

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Sitting into the car is the first step of any journey, so take the time to notice how everything feels, says Ryan, particularly if you have mobility issues. “If you have a bad back or bad hips, you’ll want to make sure the car is comfortable to sit into and get out of.”

Once you’re in, take some time to figure out and test the various controls: lights, mirrors, electric windows, wipers, reversing cameras, parking sensors, seat alignment, and so on. In a well-serviced car, all of these should be functioning perfectly.

If this car has higher-spec safety features or a different transmission than you’re used to, get to know the basics before you set off:

With a hybrid or EV test drive, it could be someone’s first time driving an automatic car. They’re used to having their left foot on the clutch, left hand on the gears. We’ll usually give people a mini lesson and show them how simple it is.

On the test drive

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Whether you’re taking a car for a few hours or a whole day and night, your aim should be the same: to get a sense of how you feel while driving, and to confirm the car performs as expected.

For a used car in particular, take notice of how the clutch, gears and steering operate, and keep an ear out for any rattles or squeaks that don’t seem right. “Make a note of any of those things so that you can ask the dealer later,” says Ryan.

If you’re taking the car overnight, test it out in a few different settings – the school run, a supermarket car park, your typical commute. “You want to see how this car is going to fit into your lifestyle and routines,” says Ryan.

Back at the dealership

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With the test drive done, now’s your chance to ask questions, raise issues and ensure you’re making the right choice for you.

“Buyers might have noticed something on the test drive that they want fixed or checked before committing, like a noise or a paintwork scratch,” says Ryan. “That’s all part of the process.”

Just because you’ve taken the car for a test drive doesn’t mean you’re automatically expected to hand over a deposit once you return it. “Sometimes a car just won’t be the right fit,” says Ryan.

People see cars on the road and aspire to own them, but in the end the driving style might not suit them – they might want a sportier drive, for example. Or it’s a two-driver household and the other person feels the car isn’t for them. Overall, you want to make sure that you feel comfortable in this car and you’d be happy to drive it every day.

Want to buy a new or used car with confidence? DoneDeal hosts the widest selection of cars for sale in Ireland, with over 80,000 on sale today. The vast majority of those, over 60,000, are from over 1,000 trusted local car dealerships that offer certainty in your purchase through warranties and history checks.

To check out DoneDeal’s range of cars from all of Ireland’s trusted car dealerships, see here.

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