Websites, ads and brochures can only tell you so much. If you’re buying a car, you have to test-drive it. Sure, you’ll get behind the wheel, drive around and 5 or 10 minutes later the salesman will say, “That’s it Sir, please head back.” That’s all they want to give you. But that’s not how it should be. We’ve put together six basic things to check when you head out for a test drive.
1. Do your homework
It all starts before the actual test-drive. Check the website, e-brochures and ask the dealership to email you the price list. Also make sure you read up independent and credible reviews about the car. You’ll get a fair idea about how it looks, how it performs, its variant list and the features offered. Check how many safety features come as standard and which are optional. Accordingly, inform the dealership which variant you’d like to test-drive. Plan when you’d like to test it, whether you’ll be going to the dealership or if they’ll be bringing the car to you. Inform them that in order to make a decision, you’ll need to spend at least an hour on the test drive. Tell them that you want to drive it on the route you normally take every day to work at the time you normally go to work or return from work. Let them know you’re only willing to commit time if they agree to this. Check with multiple dealerships as some may refuse.
On the test drive
2. Pre-drive check
First, ensure that the test-drive vehicle is the one you’re interested in buying. This means, that it has the right engine option (fuel type, engine capacity, power output) and that it has the transmission type you want. If they’re not providing the option you want, it’s up to you to continue or leave. Check which trim level they’ve provided for the drive and understand the differences. Sit in the passenger seat and on the rear seat. Check for under thigh support, lateral support, lumbar support and overall comfort.
3. Check the build quality
Walk around the car and gain a perspective on its dimensions. Look at the lines and design features carefully. See which parts bulge out and could cause issues in traffic. Check the tyres and ground clearance. Check for panel gaps and point them out. Open and shut all the doors. Do they close with a satisfying, solid sound like those on a Ford? Take a closer look at the doors. A good sign is if they have dual sealing. This will keep a lot of dust from entering the car. And dust is a major problem in India. Check this video and see how the dual sealing on the doors of the Ford Ecosport keeps dust out even in conditions that resemble a dust storm.
4. Behind the wheel
Adjust the driver’s seat to ensure you’re comfortable. Adjust the mirrors so you can see what’s around your car clearly. Check where all the buttons and switches are. Is everything intuitively laid out or is figuring out the switches and knobs a bit of a task? Check how many storage spaces are there inside the car. Is there enough space to safely keep your mobile phone and the other things you carry regularly? Turn on the engine and ensure the windows are down. Does it start on your first try? Listen to it? How noisy or quiet is it? Does it make the car vibrate as it idles or is it refined and steady? There should be no harshness experienced in the cabin. Roll up the windows. How quiet is it?
5. The drive
Finally set off. See how easy it is to shift gears and accelerate. Be careful as you may not be used to how this car responds and handles. Once you’ve gotten more comfortable, drive as you normally do. Unless you drive like a maniac. Then never drive like that. If you drive regularly in the city, then the car you are testing should be easy to manoeuvre. City roads are filled with hazards, errant drivers, pedestrians and tight spaces. The car has to deal with all these without getting a scratch on that shiny new body. A good example is how a Ford Figo Aspire handles sharp hazards in difficult conditions smoothly. Watch the video.
Drive it at different speeds. Slow down, speed up. Obviously before you do any of these things, inform the salesperson of your intentions, get their consent, and ensure that the stretch of road you’re on is completely empty. If yes, then test how the car feels when you panic brake from about 30kph. Also see how the car feels at high speeds. The car should be stable and inspire confidence in you. At no point should you feel that you’re out of control. Observe how the car rides. Does it handle bumps and potholes well? Is it bottoming out on speed humps?
6. After the drive
Take stock of everything you went through on the test drive. How was it? Did you come away satisfied or feeling that the car lacked something? Put your experiences down as a reference. Test-drive some competitor cars as well. It’ll help when you take delivery weeks or months later and have to negotiate on the final price.