Buying a car is an expensive decision.  You can research online, you can read reviews or talk to current owners, but there is no better way to understand if a car is right for you and your loved ones than to test drive.

Annoying car salesman riding shotgun

Test drive vehicles are known in the industry as demonstrators.  The car is usually registered, and the dealer does not get the car for free, they have purchased it, and eventually, before 5,000km has been put on the odometer they will have to sell it.

In most cases you won’t be able to test drive by yourself – the dealer will cite insurance clauses or they plain just don’t trust you not to throw the handbrake on or to flog the car they’ll eventually have to sell.

For a car you are unfamiliar with, a good salesperson will point out all the features and benefits, usually ALL the positives – this can be helpful but also distracting.  If you go into a test drive with these key points in mind, no matter what the salesperson does to continue his pitch from the passenger seat, you will have a good idea if the car is suitable.

Is the test drive car the same?

You may be looking at a particular variant, but the salesperson has put you in the model up, or even the top of the range.  There is obviously a tactic to this (showing you the best!) but also economics at play for the dealership. They cannot have every models variant as test-drive vehicles, so they usually will purchase a top-spec car for test drives.  If you are going to demo, you are going to show the best!  Of course, they hope that you will fall in love with the features of the top model and go for it.

Some things to ensure you find out is whether the car you are driving have the same

  • Engine
  • Transmission
  • Body style
  • Wheel size and type
  • Technology
  • Specifications

If your test drive car is not the same spec, make sure you find out the exact differences and see if you can live without them.

Try out the tech

In this modern age, cars have become computers/entertainment hubs/navigation/voice activated assistants on wheels.

Whilst these generally are great additions to a car and a ‘nice to have’, do you need them?

A lot of people now will want Android Auto or Apple Car Play as standard – it makes long hours of driving much better and integrates your phone into the car.  Like the prior tip, make sure the model you are looking at rather than the car you are testing has the tech you are looking for.

  • Is the audio crisp and loud enough? Does it have enough bass?
  • What driving technology is included? (Lane departure, cruise control, adaptive cruise, driving assistance, parking sensors, reverse camera etc) These technical marvels can make your ownership of the car that much better if you will use them.
  • Is the Bluetooth easy to connect and setup?
  • Is the satellite navigation intuitive and easy to use and understand?
  • Where are the USB ports for charging? (if any) Do they make sense, or will they be inconvenient?

Ask a lot of questions about the buttons and tech, if you are not going to use them in the future, what is the point of spending the money if you do not want or need it?

Power trip

We are not talking about a drag race machine here, but if you needed power to get out of trouble is it there?   Check how the car accelerates from a standstill and whilst cruising.  Many things can contribute to a car feeling underpowered including the type of transmission.   If you do not put it through it is paces in the test drive, then you really will have no one to blame if you find issues later.

Give me a brake

Most modern cars come with some amazing technology when it comes to brakes.  Testing the brakes is still important.  Do they feel powerful? Is there lock up?  Do you feel like the brakes are adequate? You probably will not be taking the car for a blast around a racetrack, but brakes are probably the most important system in any car.

Peace and quiet

Wind the windows up, turn the air conditioner and radio off and listen for noises.  Tyre, wind, and engine noises can be a deal breaker for some.  For others, not enough engine noise!  If you can get on a highway and do 100km/h legally, that would be an ideal test for wind noise and ‘drone’ from the exhaust system.  Whilst you are up at that speed, how does it feel? Solid on the road?  Try different road surfaces to see how well the suspension works over speed bumps or contoured roads.

Carry on

Some people forget about things they will have to carry.  Is there enough luggage or boot space?  Test it out. Put the seats down if necessary and visualise the things you normally cart around.  Shopping bags, golf clubs, surfboard, kids’ bikes, prams, camping gear, fishing rods. Think about the things you carry before getting carried away with signing on the dotted line.

Have a look at the cockpit storage.  This is a big deal. Handbags, wallets, phones, tablets, people carry a lot in a car. Is there adequate and logical storage?

Cram the pram

If you have kids, take your child seats, prams, and baby bags.  Do the child seats fit?  If you have one child seat, does it still allow for 2 adults in the back? Imagine fitting your shopping or other items you normally carry around along with the necessary items that you store.

If you have 3 child seats, will they all fit?

Where are the anchor points and if you must take seats in and out, how easy are the buckles to access? These little things checked now will mean a more positive ownership experience in the future.

Final approach

Parking, reverse parallel, 3-point turns.  All incredibly stressful at the best of times.  Do them all in a test drive.  See how the car handles, see how easy or hard it is to park.  Consider that you potentially have a salesperson sitting beside you and try not to choke, but if you do, it is ok.  The idea here is to see how manoeuvrable the car is.   Some cars will have a very wide u-turn footprint or be horrendously difficult to reverse parallel park.  It is good to know before time and to know you can live with it.

To tow or not to tow?

If you are going to be towing a boat, caravan, trailer, or anything on wheels behind your car, make sure you check the towing capacity.  There are two measurements.  Load on the tow ball (how much weight the suspension will handle) and towing capacity (how much weight the car can pull).

Backseat driver

It sounds weird, but a lot of car owners have never sat in all seats in the car except the driver’s seat.  Testing out all seating positions is important to make sure there is enough room for all intended or potential passengers.  Are the seats comfortable? Is there good visibility out the windows?  Are there air-conditioning vents in the back or does the AC system have a way of cooling the back of the car if they do not?


Sit in the driver’s seat and really feel it.  Adjust your mirrors and check visibility.  While you are there, see if the location of the hazard lights, indicator stalks and other switches and knobs are in a logical place that you can get used to.  A lot of cars in Australia now have the indicator on the opposite side to what most drivers are used to.  This is not a hard no situation, but you must ask yourself if you can live with it.

Warp speed

Does the car have any driving selection modes?  A lot of cars come with intelligent computer driven adjustments to save on fuel or to provide more power when needed.  Test all the modes out if the car does have them and ask any questions about them you need to.

Use sparingly

Most modern cars only come with a space saver spare tyre.  Although this is common, for some people who may do a lot of highway driving, this could be a deal breaker.  Space savers do offer the names intended purpose – to save space, but it also means in the event of requiring to use it, you will be restricted to 80km/h until you get the main tyre fixed.

Baby sitting

If you can, leave the kids at home.  Children as wonderful as they are and probably the main reason you are wanting to buy a car will become a distraction.  Telling Johnny to get his feet off the back seat or to stop poking the nice salesperson will inevitably cause you to miss something or not to get the experience you need to decide.


Before the salesperson leads you back into his or her office and starts their process of getting you to sign up, take some time.  Unless you need a car yesterday, emotional decisions can be costly ones.   Do not just test drive one car, find other cars in the same class and test drive those, preferably on the same day so you can do a like for like comparison.

Accentuate the negatives

Even if the car is perfect, it is a good idea to talk about what you do not like about the car with the salesperson.  The more positive emotions you show, the more likely you are to fall prey to a good salesperson.  It is not their fault nor are they bad people for doing this. Their job is to understand your needs, match you to something they have and ultimately sell you a car. If you only show positive ‘buying signals’ then you will likely drive out in that car.  Some easy things to say are comments such as “I’m not sure if I like the seats” or “I don’t like the layout of the instrument panel”.  If you actually spend the time looking for things you don’t like, you won’t notice them 3 months down the track and regret not taking the time to do this.

Insurance and maintenance costs

Always get a quote on insurance before signing anything.  Some cars in some location have astronomical premiums.   It is always good to be forewarned on costs including insurance and even servicing prior to ensure the total cost of ownership fits in your budget.

Put the pen away

Again, unless you are desperate to buy, do not sign anything on the day.  We always encourage buyers to have their finance in place first.  It will put you in the driver’s seat when it comes time to negotiate.

Final word

Hopefully, this has helped you create your own mental checklist of what to look for.

If you would like help in setting up a hassle-free test drive, please complete the form below and Journey Finance will help you.

Get In Touch

1800 861 009





Sunshine Coast



[email protected]


Mon:10am – 5pm
Tue: 9am – 5pm
Wed: 9am – 5pm
Thur: 9am – 5pm
Fri: 9am – 3pm
Sat: 8am – 1pm
Sun: Closed