First impressions count when taking a car for a test drive

Money | Personal Finance

Taking a test drive is a bit like a first date. Much like dating, first impressions matter and that first test drive is a great way to get up close and personal with a potential new vehicle.

So, what should you look out for when you take a new vehicle for a spin? We’ve put together some tips to help you get the most of the experience.

Do a bit of cyber stalking

Before you even step into a dealership, it’s a good idea to Google first. Browse different makes and models to compare prices and technical specifications (engine capacity, fuel consumption, etc). Read online reviews and comments to get a balanced view.

Shop around for financing or pre-approved loans from your bank or financial institution, as this will help you set a realistic budget.

First impressions

We often have a visceral or emotional reaction to a car. You must enjoy the style and shape of it and it must suit your personality and lifestyle.

That doesn’t mean going for a more expensive make and model, it’s about being comfortable with a car you will probably keep for the next five to seven years.

Go out on the ‘first date’

Once you’re in the car, observe the visibility from the driver’s seat – check mirrors and blind spots. Get a feel for the basic controls and the layout of the instrument panel. It may be a bit awkward at first, but when you’re comfortable you can venture out on to the roads.

Typically, a test drive should last for at least a half an hour, so that you can get a feel for the speed, handling, brakes and overall performance. A sales person from the dealership will probably accompany you on the drive and feel free to invite a trusted friend along. (Don’t take a friend along on a real date though!)

It’s the perfect opportunity to ask the sales person about the engine, fuel consumption and features such as cruise control, connectivity and, of course, safety features.

Don’t limit a test drive to the quiet and smooth back roads around the dealership. Test the vehicle in different road conditions and at different speeds, especially if you’re testing an SUV or 4×4.

You can ask to take the car on the highway to try out its acceleration and maneuverability. As daunting as it seems, doing an emergency stop is critical to understand how the car will react in a crisis. You don’t want to skimp on safety features, like ABS braking or extra airbags.

Find out how easy it is to park, especially in tight spots and in parallel or reverse parking. You should be comfortable with the size and handling of the car.

Second date? Cool your engine first

After the test drive, don’t feel obligated to rush into a deal. A common mistake is to sign on the dotted line right after a test drive, especially if the sales person is persuasive.

Rather take some time to let your excitement cool. Weigh up the pros and cons more rationally. For example, you may get a better price for selling your old car privately than with an immediate trade-in at the dealership.

 

Plenty of fish… at the dealerships!

If you can’t decide between a prestigious and established brand or a less expensive and well-known make with similar technical specs, don’t be shy to test drive as many as you need to.

If you can afford it, premier brands often hold strong pedigrees of safety, performance and comfort. And the proof will probably be in the test drive.

Once you’re ready to commit, resist choosing a car in an exotic colour like gold or green. According to SA Auto Trader’s 2018 report, the most popular colours for cars are white, silver and grey. Popular colours improve a car’s resale value.

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