Pre-purchase test drive

Pre-purchase test drive

Organise a test drive for the car or campervan you are interested in

Now that you have taken your time inspecting the car inside out following our pre-purchase car or campervan inspection checklist, you should be ready to test drive the vehicle.

To best test drive a car you will need to pick a route that includes a highway to gain speed and test the car’s speed handling, and also include a hill to test the engine’s power. But first, make sure that you have your driver license or international driver license with you to be able to test drive a car.

What to look for when test driving a car or campervan

Test driving a car requires different skills that simply inspecting it. You will need to pay attention to how the car sounds, responds and feels. This will require all your senses, so forget about the radio and tell the seller that you would like to drive in silence. Most sellers use the test drive as an opportunity to give you a sales pitch and even a discount on the asking price. Before making a deal, finish your inspection!

Sit down and start the engine

A few check points before starting the engine

Sit comfortably in the car then adjust the seatt and mirrors to your liking. Buckle up and place your hands on the steering wheel. Try moving it before starting the engine - a steering wheel should not move much if the engine is not on.

Start the engine

Place your keys in the ignition and start the engine. The engine should start at the first try and quite smoothly. If you have to give it multiple tries, even on a cold day, just walk away - this car is not for you. If the engine takes a few seconds to start, turn it off and try again. This should not happen the second time.

Test the engine

Let the engine turn by itself for about 20-30 seconds. If it turns unevenly (if you hear a coughing noise for instance) or if it stops by itself, this is a strong sign that the engine is not up for touring the whole country.

Lastly, before driving off, leave the car or campervan on “park” and press on the gas pedal. You should hear a strong and healthy engine roar.

Test driving uphill

Is the car going uphill easily?

Going uphill is the best way to test the engine’s power and make sure that the car goes uphill smoothly. You will be two passengers in the car so that you make up for your huge backpack once loaded.

Switch gear while going up

While the car is going up, switch gear to see if the transition is smooth enough. New Zealand has an incredible amount of hills including some very steep ones. You might need to go down a gear when your car struggle, make sure that this car or campervan can handle it.

Listen to the engine

The engine noise will be louder and stronger for sure, but it should still be even with no coughing.

Stop the car or campervan uphill

Half way up, stop the vehicle and put the handbrake on. At this point, it should not be moving. A good handbrake should keep your car still even on a steep hill.

Test the car downhill too

When going down, make sure to test the brakes to see if they are working properly. You should be able to stop fully without problem. Also, take the time to feel the suspension and see if it “bounces” correctly and that there are no steep shocks to be felt.

Test driving on the highway

Listen to the engine (again)

Similarly to the uphill test, the engine will make more noise than usual but the noise should still be even and regular.

Feel for overheating

Check the temperature around your's or the passenger's legs and feet. It should stay about the same or become slightly warmer. Any extreme heat coming from the engine is a sign of a badly maintained one and can be a sign of future major issues.

Take a deep breath

Smell for any oil or gas while driving at high speed. This is one of the best ways to spot a leak, or another major issue even if well hidden within the engine.

Other things to look for when test driving a car or campervan

Test the wheel alignment

At some point when driving let the steering wheel go for a few seconds. The car should stay straight and the steering wheel too. On a similar note, hold the steering wheel perfectly straight and check if the car is going straight.

Test the break

A loose break is a bad break. You should not have to press the break peddle down to the floor for the car to stop. The breaks needs to be responsive as this is one of the most important safety features of your car or campervan.

Test both

Finally, combine both tests and check that when breaking the car stops perfectly straight.

Park the car and check a couple of more points

Look out for smoke

Check the exhaust pipe at the back of the car for smoke and open the engine again to see if nothing is smoking after playing with the engine extensively.

Stop the engine

Last point of check: this seems obvious, but when turning off the engine, check that the engine actually stops straight and don’t keep going for a little while by itself.

Did the car or campervan pass your tests?

This pre-purchase test drive checklist, along with the car or campervan inspection checklist, should help you evaluate if a vehicle will go the distance. Remember a road trip in New Zealand will be very demanding on a car with a lot of hills, narrow roads, uneven roads and a lot of kilometres on the counter. It is worth spending time finding the right ride and not just getting the first one that fits your budget.

Now that your car or campervan has passed all tests, it is time to get on with the purchase paperwork.

Car insurance for backpackers

Don’t forget that Backpackers Motor Insurance offers reliable and affordable car insurance for travellers like you. It includes unlimited kilometres, low excess and has no age limit. You can even add fire and theft cover and roadside assistance! Get a free quote right now:

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