When buying a new car, the importance of a road test is sometimes overlooked. A good road test will allow you to see if a vehicle meets your personal requirements. You will soon know if the performance is what you’re after, and if the vehicle offers the comfort that 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, check that the car starts quickly and maintains a steady idle. Briefly rev the engine, turn around 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, RWD (Rear Window Demister) and electric rear windows. While most drivers check to see if the electric front windows work, the ones in the back are often too easily forgotten about.

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.

The drive

Make sure that 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 from the car are just some of the things that a passenger should be looking out for.

Test the brake performance by applying the brakes during low and high speeds. Be vigilant for any shudders, grinding or rumbling noises. Also continue to check for smoke during acceleration.

Find a good spot to test the vehicle’s manoeuvrability. Empty car parks are usually the perfect place for this. 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 with the express purpose of using it to carry or tow a heavy load? If this is the case, always try to do a road test while traveling with typical items that you are likely to carry in your car. Try to replicate hills, speed bumps and driveways that you may encounter on your daily route, to see how the load changes the ground clearance and performance of the car. If you usually drive with a family, it’s also worth having them on-board during a test drive too.

Following these simple steps during a test drive will make you aware of any major faults with a vehicle before you buy it. Invest your time in taking a car for a road test before you spend any money on professional checks, such as a history report or a pre-purchase inspection. After all, only you can determine whether a car will truly 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. Dealers will often sell cars with a vehicle appraisal. So, don’t fall into the common misconception that a vehicle appraisal is the same as a pre purchase inspection as the latter is far more comprehensive.

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