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Test driving tips to help you find your dream car

Our2Cents

Test driving tips, key checks, and research strategies to find the perfect car for your lifestyle.

In today's digital age, snagging a car online is easier than ever. Online descriptions and reviews give almost all the info you need. BUT the feel of a car – its handling, interior comfort, and overall driveability – can significantly differ from what you might expect. A test drive offers a firsthand experience crucial for evaluating a car's true feel and performance, making it an essential step in the car-buying process.

1. Before stepping into a dealership, become an expert at Googling

Research car models. Look at the different features, tech, specs and pricing online. Watch YouTube reviewers; South Africa has many who offer valuable advice. Also, read reviews and user experiences to see how satisfied people are with the car and if there are any issues.

Ask yourself what’s important to you. Is it fuel efficiency, space, or cutting-edge technology? Knowing what you want helps in narrowing down options.

Prepare a list of your top 5 models. This focus can help streamline your time at the dealership.

2. Carefully plan your stops and avoid the crowds

You might want to look at different brands so plan where you want to go first. Also, try to choose a time when there aren’t lots of other shoppers around. You don’t want to feel hurried.

3. Don’t forget to take your licence and a buddy for a second opinion

Licence please: Don't forget your driver's licence and any other required ID.

Make some notes: Use your phone to jot down impressions and questions.

Take a buddy with you: It’s helpful to bring along a friend or family member for a second opinion, especially if they have good knowledge of cars.

4. Put your Inspector Gadget hat on and check the car

Take a walk around the car: If the car is second hand, make sure you check for any signs of damage or wear and tear. Check the condition of tyres, lights, and paint. If it's new, everything should be in check.

Do an interior check: Sit in the car and get a feel for the space. Are the seats comfortable? How much legroom do you and other passengers have? Also make sure to check the quality of all the finishings.

Also look under the hood: If you're knowledgeable, a quick look under the hood can tell you a lot about the car’s condition and maintenance.

5. Take it for a spin and get to know the car

How does it handle on the road: How does the car handle acceleration, braking, and cornering? Is the steering responsive? How smooth is the transmission? What is the visibility like, especially when reversing?

Do you like the driving experience: Pay attention to the noise in the car at different speeds. It always helps to test drive the same car at another dealership to see/feel if there is a difference. Don’t forget to test that the AC system works.

Make sure the tech works: Play around with the infotainment system, test the GPS, and experiment with any driver assistance features.

6. No question is a dumb question when it comes to buying a car

You’ve got the salesperson right there, grill them with all your questions.

The car's warranty – how much is left of it, what does it include, what are the limits, etc. What is the service history? Has it ever been in an accident? Tell them you want proof of the accident history and service history. Ask about financing options if that’s the route you’re going and clarify any hidden costs.

It’s efficiency and safety: Ask about fuel efficiency, safety features, and what kind of maintenance the car typically requires. When is the next major service due?

7. Reflect on your test drive

Was it a match? Think about how the car fits into your lifestyle. Was it comfortable? Did it meet your performance expectations?

Compare and score: If you've tested multiple cars, how does this one stack up against the others? Scoring each car can help you make a more objective decision.

A test drive isn’t just a spin around the block. It’s about feeling the connection, understanding the car, and making sure it fits into your world. Remember, the perfect car doesn’t just look good – it feels right.

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