How To Get The Most Out Of Your Test Drive

Buying a car can be expensive, stressful and one of the largest financial purchases one makes.


With the average new car price at nearly R300,000 many South Africans will opt to purchase a pre-owned car, but a thorough test drive is important to avoid buyer’s remorse.

This is according to Jamie Surkont, director at used car retailer getWorth, who says that a test drive gives you an opportunity to determine how the car drives, how it performs and its level of comfort. However, if you don’t know what to look out for you might find yourself regretting your decision. He explains that an average test drive is 10 to 15 minutes, which is a very short time in which to make a sound decision, even more so if you are purchasing a pre-owned car and are not entirely sure of the history of the vehicle.

“According to a recent Kia Motors survey, one-in-five drivers regret buying their car within minutes,” Surkont says. “Many people choose cars based on emotion when in fact they should rather be considering practical aspects like; will it suit your driving style and lifestyle requirements? Are you happy with the vehicle specifications?”

A thorough test drive will help you determine if the car you’re considering will meet your needs.

What to check during your test drive

“Ideally do a test-drive in the early morning when the engine is cool,” he says. “This will allow you to detect if there are any problems when starting the vehicle.” Surkont adds: “Visually check; paintwork, glass and the condition of the tyres.”

“Look out for exterior and interior damage and check that the wear-and-tear on pedals and steering wheel is consistent with the mileage. On the exterior, check specifically for dents, scratches and rust,” he says.

“The vehicle should drive smoothly and have good visibility from all angles when driving. Check the brakes (they shouldn’t be sticky) and that the car is responsive,” he adds. “Make sure when you do the test-drive it is in the conditions you would usually commute in. For example, if the bulk of your travels are done on a freeway, ensure your test includes freeway driving.”

“If possible, expose the car to multiple road surfaces,” he continues. “It is important that you get a sense of its handling ability as well as the suspension, which will expose any issues with the shocks.”

Surkont says that one should also check the braking system. “Choose an open, clear road and conduct an emergency stop – the car should pull up straight; any swerving may point to a fault,” he advises. “Also brake lightly when you are travelling around 80 km/h and feel for any shudder or vibration on the brake pedal that can indicate wear on the discs.”

“Keep your senses alert during the drive – listen for any unusual engine noise and feel for any shudders in the clutch. Also listen to your gut response – pay attention if something about the car doesn’t feel like the right fit for you,” he says. “Take a trusted friend with you, who can give you some objective advice.”

Benefits of a 7-day test drive

“While in the US and in the UK a 7-day test drive policy has become a popular offering from second hand car businesses, it is not the norm in South Africa,” Surkont explains. “Most specifically in the pre-owned market where some traders still adopt a ‘voetstoots’ attitude despite the Consumer Protection act.”

Surkont adds: “The Consumer Protection Act allows you to return a product if it is materially defective (meaning something significantly wrong), but there are several issues with trying to enforce a return and even then, you may not get a full refund.”

He explains that getWorth’s view is that a 15-minute test drive isn’t always enough to provide the confidence and comfort one should expect for such a high-value transaction. He adds: “Following global trends, we developed getSeven, a 7-day / 700km policy that goes well above the CPA protections in that there is no argument about wear-and-tear, it covers more than material defects, it is a no-questions-asked return policy.”

He says, “With getSeven we remove any concern the purchaser might feel about making the wrong car choice under pressure. Seven days of driving is plenty of time to settle into a car as well as relieving some of the concerns of there being issues you didn’t pick up.”

He says one of the major benefits of having this seven-day return option is the comfort of knowing you can buy sight unseen, from another city knowing that if it is not what you expected you can return it within seven days.

“You can be sure that if you have made the wrong decision based on the test drive it does not cause any issues,” he explains. “You can also buy a car as a ‘gift’ for someone like a partner, a child or a parent and if they don’t like it they bring it back.”

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