You’ve done your research, you know the models you want to look at and you have a list of private sellers or dealerships you want to check out. You’re almost ready for a day of test driving. There’s one thing you may want to do before you step out – get a pre-approved loan!

If you’ve been saving the money for this and you don’t need a loan that’s great, get on out there. But if you need either part or full finance, having a loan pre-approved means you know your budget for certain, you won’t miss out on the car you want, and you may be able to haggle the price down based on your ability to buy today.

Now you’re ready to go for a test drive. It’s pretty exciting shopping for your first car but try not to look too excited. Play it cool…

Before The Test Drive

Whether you’re at the dealership or a private sale, don’t be afraid to ask what the insurance coverage on the car is. Dealerships will usually have some form of insurance on their vehicles but not all will have full coverage and they may expect you to pay part of the claim in the unlikely event of an accident.

Definitely ask what the coverage is for a private sale. If the current owner either doesn’t have the car insured or their cover won’t include any driver other than the themselves… well, you may not want to get behind the wheel. That choice is yours.

Setting Up

Adjust the mirrors, steering wheel and seat to suit you. It’s important to know if you feel comfortable and you won’t know that if you’re moving around just to see the mirrors on the test drive. Make sure you can sit properly, reach the pedals easily, and see through all windows and mirrors to drive safely.

The Drive

A quick drive around the block won’t tell you much, you need to go for at least half an hour to get a feel for a new car. The seller may go with you or they may not, but if they do try to ignore them. This is about you getting a feel for the car, not them going off on a sales pitch.

Try to test it out on suburban streets, arterial roads and the motorway so you know how the car handles at all speed limits. Some cars handle great at 60km/hour but have could have surprising sounds, handling and steering characteristics when you open the throttle.

Test out all the functions within the car while you’re driving. Can you reach everything and do they all work? Crackly speakers or a defective air-conditioner may not be a deal breaker but it’s a haggling point to get the price down later.

Try out a parallel park and difficult turns. The car might run like a dream but if it has the turning circle of a battleship you’re going to struggle in the CBD and tight parking lots.

Test it for what you want it for. If you want a people carrier – bring some mates to see how it handles a full house. If you want to go off roading – find some dirt tracks in the area. Haulage – bring something to haul. You get the idea.

Make your decision on the car before you get back. Whether it’s a dealership or a private seller you’re going to get the sales talk the moment you get back. Just remember that a test drive involves no obligation to buy.

Don’t stop at one! It may feel wonderful to drive but that doesn’t mean you can’t shop around. Check out all the cars and dealerships you researched earlier so you can make an informed decision on what you want. There could be something better out there, but if you still can’t stop thinking about that one car out of a dozen then you know it’s the one for you.

Follow all these steps on the test drive and you’ll be getting ready to make a decision and start making a deal.

Read Part 4: A Beginners Guide to Car Shopping: Making a Deal