Re-set the trip-meter
If you re-set the trip meter you’ll get a realistic idea of the car’s fuel consumption. Rest assured it will be worse than what the manufacturer says. So, drive like you normally drive, and at the end of the test-drive the trip computer will tell you what the actual fuel consumption was.
Room to move
Whatever you’re into – pushbikes, dogs, kids, kayaks, golf, DIY or towing – make sure the gear fits in the new car. For example, there’s no point buying the car if you’re a surfer and you cannot fit your board inside. Physically put the stuff in the car if there’s any doubt. For towing, make sure the new car can accommodate the total weight of what you normally tow.
Take as much time as possible
Let the dealer know you’re a serious buyer – but you need to know the car is right, so you’ll need to drive it for at least half an hour. If you’re not used to driving dozens of different cars, it takes a while to get used to them. It also takes a while to play with all the gizmos. And then you need to assess it for comfort. You cannot do all that in five minutes around the block at the dealership.
Drive on familiar roads
This gives you some feeling for noise, vibration and harshness levels. You want to assess the car, right? So, it’s not ideal if you’re also assessing the road. If you drive on roads you are used to, you’ll know how the car performs relative to those surfaces. Think about ride quality, road and wind noise.
Don’t be fooled by ‘new-car feel’
There’s no point in comparing your old car with a new one. Let’s face it, a seven-year-old (or whatever) car with 100,000km on the clock will make just about any new car feel beyond excellent. The point is: compare new cars against other new cars, not against the one you’re getting rid of. The aim is to buy the best one available – so take a day out of your busy schedule and drive your top three or four contenders back to back.
Makes sure it fits
You need to ensure the car fits your domestic arrangements. It’s not going to be fun if it’s just too big for the garage, or if it scrapes every day on your driveway from hell. Take it home if there’s any doubt, and make sure it fits.
Test the gadgets
To get a clear idea of practicality, connect your phone to the car’s Bluetooth; make a couple of calls. Confirm the voice quality is OK. Stream some music. Use the cruise control. Play with the nav system. Reverse-park the car. Use the reversing camera (if fitted). Make sure you like all this stuff – and identify anything you hate.
Be a passenger
Take a ride in the passenger’s seat, and sit in the back as well. See how comfortable or otherwise all the seating positions are (especially important for parents of strapping young teenagers).
Don’t be seduced
You think the test drive is about evaluation; the salesman knows it’s about you falling in love with the car and signing on the dotted line because you’ve become infatuated. Stick to your plan. Drive all three (or four) shortlisted cars. Sleep on it. Then decide.
Make sure the car you test drive is as close to the car you intend buying as possible. Don’t fall into the trap of going for a test drive in the fully loaded model variant – the leather, the grunty engine, the low-profile tyres, all the bells and whistles – and then sign off on the base model. The difference between the top of the range and the base model is often chalk and cheese, so drive the one you intend to buy – otherwise you could find yourself hating it.