Top 5 questions to ask on a test drive

Top 5 questions to ask on a test drive

According to The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Motor Vehicle Census, there were 19.5 million registered vehicles in Australia in 2019, almost one per person. And the average age of all these vehicles was more than 10 years!

If the time's come for you ditch your old car and buy a new one, then you might just pop down to a dealership to do so. And in doing this you'll usually have the opportunity to take your ideal car for a test drive to see how you like it. 

Rather than the five questions you definitely shouldn't ask in a test drive: 

  • Which one's the brake again? 
  • Left or right-hand side of the road? 
  • Reckon I can overtake this semi-trailer on a tight corner? 
  • Will you take my credit card for this car? and
  • Are human beings allergic to crashing into walls? 

Here are five important questions you should ask in a test drive before buying a car. These don't have to be directed at the salesperson either - you can ask yourself these questions. 

Question #1: how many of these do you sell? 

While sales volumes aren't the only thing that matters, a car model that hasn't been sold much might be an indication there are some problems with it, while a really popular car model might be deemed good value by the general public. 

If you don't trust the answer the salesperson gives you, consult some free data available from the likes of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) or the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCIS), which both collect data on car sales month-on-month.

As an example, here are the most popular cars across Australia in September 2019, as reported by FCIS: 

RankVehicleSep-19Sep-18% diff
1 Toyota Hilux 3,364 4,338 -22.5%
2 Ford Ranger 3,116 3,228 -3.5%
3 Mitsubishi Triton 3,001 1,857 61.6%
4 Hyundai i30 2,447 2,508 -2.4%
5 Mitsubishi ASX 2,419 2,138 13.1%
6 Mazda CX-5 2,335 1,506 56.4%
7 Toyota Corolla 2,219 2,917 -23.9%
8 Kia Cerato 2,022 1,574 28.5%
9 Nissan XTrail 1,769 1,908 -7.3%
10 Mitsubishi Outlander 1,731 1,404 23.3%

A car with low sales figures isn't always a bad thing however, and you could get a great deal on certain models as dealers try to sell them all to hit their end of year targets. Ask the dealer about that too. 

Question #2: what service problems does this car normally have? 

While pretty much every vehicle needs regular servicing, you don't want to spend any more time - or money - than you need to getting it maintained or repaired. 

Salespeople are usually very favourable towards the car they're selling so they might be a bit hesitant to discuss the car's negatives, but there's no harm in asking about common service requests previous buyers have made. By phrasing the question correctly you could squeeze information out about the car that might change your mind about buying it, particularly if you find out this type of car commonly blows a tyre, for example. 

Question #3: how does this car fit my lifestyle? 

Think about the type of driver you are and what you'd need from your ideal car: 

  • Are you a city-slicker who only drives about once a week? 
  • Are you an adventure-lover who loves to drive a 4WD through perfectly-placed mudholes like in the ads? 
  • Do you like to go for long, cruisy drives? 
  • Or do you maybe have a young family, and want a nice big and safe car? 

If, for example, you fit into that last category, then you're probably going to want a car that has a high safety rating and useful safety features, whereas an adventurer will probably want a powerful car with ample room in the back that can safely collect dog hair. 

Before walking into a dealership, make a note of your requirements for safety, fuel economy, seating, power, performance and features and describe them to the salesperson during your drive. It might be that they have a car that's even better suited to your needs out the back somewhere. Or maybe this dream car isn't actually the one for you. 

Question #4: is there any room on the price? 

While you should definitely do your research ahead of time on the price of the car and any comparable prices elsewhere, you should also be prepared to haggle with the dealer. If you manage to find a better-priced car elsewhere of the same model or happen to come across some negatives during your test drive, mention this to the dealer: chances are they'll be willing to go lower on price to encourage you to buy it quickly. 

Come prepared to walk away as well - if the dealer won't budge on a price you feel is too high, then take your business elsewhere. 

Question #5: do I really need this car? 

Finally, ask yourself this time: do I really need to buy this car? Cars are an expensive purchase, often costing in excess of $10,000 at the very least for a new model. Upper-end models will be much more expensive, and the luxury car tax adds even more to purchase prices in Australia. 

So while you're driving around asking the dealer the above questions, ask yourself if you have a genuine need for the car if you're just buying it to boost your status. If it's the latter, you might be better off saving that money or downgrading to a cheaper car. 

Bonus question: what are my financing options? 

If you do decide to buy the car, then great! Now you need to decide how you're going to pay for it. 

Unless you have the cash to pay for the car upfront, you generally have three different options: 

  • Dealership finance 
  • Novated leases 
  • Or car loans 

Given that the cost difference between options can be a matter of thousands, choosing the right car financing is extremely important. When it comes to car loans, you want to make sure you get a good interest rate, so check out some of loans.com.au's car loans here to begin your search.