Buyers Guide: Always try before you buy
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When buying a new car, the importance of a road test is sometimes overlooked.
A good one will allow you to see whether a vehicle meets your needs. You will soon know if the performance is what you're after, and if the vehicle offers the comfort you're looking for.
During a road test, you may also become aware of any vehicle problems as some are easy to identify and you don't need to be a petrol head to know when something doesn't seem right.
From the driver's seat
Adjust your mirrors, and position your seat and the steering wheel, if possible. When you turn the ignition on, check the car starts quickly and maintains a steady idle. Briefly rev the engine, turn in your seat and look for smoke coming from the exhaust. Blue smoke signifies oil being burnt and sweet smelling white smoke could be from coolant leaking into the combustion chamber.
Keep an eye on the instrument panel for any flashing or illuminated warning signs. If the oil pressure, water temperature or safety warning lights are on, be aware that these could lead to serious repairs. These systems monitor any faults within the vehicle, so they should all be monitored closely throughout your journey.
Before you take the car out on the road, familiarise yourself with the vehicle as it may be quite different to what you usually drive.
It's also worth trying out as many of the car's functions as possible to ensure they're all working, before you take to the road. Common items that tend to be missed are the air-conditioning system, stereo speakers, rear window demister and electric rear windows. Most drivers check to see if the electric front windows work, but the ones in the back are easily forgotten.
Finally, this is a good opportunity to make sure the vehicle's WoF is current. Legally, sellers need to ensure that a vehicle's WoF is less than a month old at the time of sale.
Make sure you're insured during the test drive before you get behind the wheel. It's also hard to pick up on every issue with a car while driving. To ensure you don't miss anything and stay fully focused while driving, it's a good idea to take a passenger during a test drive as they'll be able to keep an eye out for any warning signs. General clattering, vibrations in the trims and bodywork, and unusual smells are some of the things a passenger should be looking out for.
Test the brake performance during low and high speeds. Be vigilant for any shudders, grinding or rumbling. Continue to check for smoke during acceleration.
Find a good spot to test the vehicle's manoeuvrability. Empty carparks can be perfect. If you're test driving a front-wheel-drive, turn the steering to full lock in both directions and listen out for any cracking noises as this could potentially be worn CV (Constant Velocity) joints. Once you've completed these checks, leave the vehicle running, give the instrument panel one final look and ensure that all the warning lights are working.
Also open the bonnet and step out of the car to check for any fluid leaks. Once the vehicle reaches its operating temperature, any large leaks should be visible. This is the perfect time to check for any overheating issues as well. Keep an eye on the temperature gauge and wait for the cooling fans to come on. Most fans on a vehicle will start up after a few minutes and stop when the engine has been sufficiently cooled.
Carrying a load
Are you buying a car to carry or tow a heavy load? If so, always try to do a road test while travelling with typical items that you are likely to carry in your car. Try to replicate hills, speed bumps and driveways that you may encounter daily. If you usually drive with a family, it's also worth having them along during a test drive, too.
Following these simple steps during a test drive will make you aware of any major faults before you buy. After all, only you can determine whether a car will fit your needs.
Not all issues are easy to detect, so we'd recommend getting a pre-purchase car inspection carried out by a professional if you're still happy with the car after your road test.