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At 17 years-old, when I bunny-hopped and gutter-jumped my brand new (to me) Holden Barina out of the car yard, I didn’t realise it would cost me approximately $62.55 more than I expected during the course of my three year ownership.

I knew my loan repayment, servicing, insurance and registration costs, and with the know-it-all enthusiasm of any teenager freshly moved out of home, buzzing with the freedom four-wheels brings, I’d also budgeted for incidental repairs. This also included the 78c it would cost to buy products to wash the car.

What I didn’t budget for however, was the amount of loose change that would fall, forever lost, into the vortex under the front seats.

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It was frustrating because it would slip through the cuts made in the carpet for the seat frame, never to be seen again. The seats didn’t move much and even when I could see a glint of silver or gold down the side of the seat, my hand couldn’t fit down to rescue my hard earned dollars and cents.

This also doesn’t consider the hours I spent locked out of my house waiting for a locksmith when my key slipped out of my pocket and into the blackhole that existed beneath those seats.

It may seem like a little thing, but it’s one thing I wish I had checked before I made my purchase decision. I spent many months thinking, “I’ll get those later” before I realised that those coins were lost forever. Yes, I probably still would have bought the car but I would have been keenly aware of the fact that anything that goes down the side of the seat stays there.

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Then there was another car (that shall not be named) with the big sun visors – the rough, plasticky, poorly-sealed edge on the corner clipped me across the forehead and drew blood when, blinded by the sun, I hastily flicked it across to the side one day. My driving position and the size/position of the visors were not a good match, and I had to duck under or get hit in the head.

A new car is a major investment and when you are shopping around, it’s important not to get too excited in the heat of the moment and part with your hard earned dollars prematurely. The test drive is a big part of the decision making process and shouldn’t be rushed. Here are our tips to get the most out of your time with your potential new car.

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Research and decide

First things first. Know what you’re looking for. Narrow down your options and plan to test drive at least your top three vehicles. The CarAdvice website is full of useful reviews that can help, so enjoy reading up on the cars that interest you and be prepared to spend the necessary time figuring out what’s right for you and your family. Window shopping is dangerous, as that hot looking car (in the perfect colour, no less) may harbour hidden quirks that will drive you nuts within days.

Once you’ve decided on the most appealing and practical makes and models, you can then dig a little deeper to figure out which variant is right for you.

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When in Sydney, I struggle in a car without a good satellite navigation system. I don’t want to use my phone, because if I have to change travel plans mid-trip that means pulling over to reset my destination on Google Maps. Sure, it works as a back-up but I much prefer in-built systems.

Do you need parking sensors, but could do without a reversing camera? Or maybe its vice-versa? Are you a bit retro (like me) and still enjoy popping a real CD into the slot? What about safety features like city braking or extra airbags? How about a digital speedo, leather seats, touchscreen, Bluetooth audio, a sunroof? Make a list of your needs and wants so that when you start to narrow it down to a specification you know what you’re prepared to sacrifice.

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Know your budget and know what you’d be prepared to spend on options. Once you identify the trim-levels among your model options that have everything you “need”, you then move onto determining which ones have most of what you “want”. When you have your final list, start contacting dealers to find the most suitable test drive options.

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Booking time

Some dealerships will offer a drive around the block and some will allow an extended drive, while others may allow an overnight or even a weekend loan. Though as a guideline, if you’re shopping for low-priced, high-volume cars, you’re unlikely to get it for the weekend.

If you need to check if it fits in your driveway, or to check if you get back pain after 30mins behind the wheel and therefore need more than just a run around the block, discuss these specific needs with your dealer.

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Also be aware of which variant you will be test driving. Ideally you want to get behind the wheel of your preferred spec. If a base model is on your shopping list and your local dealer has the top-spec with a raft of options, you’re not going to get a good idea of what it would be like. Shop around, and put the effort in to travel further if needed.

Book your test drives and plan where you will go, as it’s always a good idea to drive a road you are familiar with so you can get a better idea of things like road noise, comfort and ride.

Oh, and make sure that when you sign the paperwork you know what you’re covered for, insurance wise. You don’t want to have an accident and become the owner of a broken car, or be stuck paying off someone else’s car.

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Take props

Did a psychic once tell you you’d have triplets one day? If you believe it, and a micro car is on your shopping list, just try and fit three car seats in the back. Go on. We dare you.

If you’re a super-size slushy fanatic, bring along a cup and check if it fits. Take your favourite refillable coffee cup, your usual travel luggage, golf clubs or sporting gear. Check that they fit, as there’s nothing worse than arriving home with your shiny new car only to realise you should have optioned roof racks because heading off for your morning surf just became infinitely more difficult.

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Anything that you can’t go anywhere without, or the important things that you will need to fit in your car at one time or another should be with you when you go for a test drive. Don’t rely on the spec sheets to determine whether the cargo space will work for you; the access angles, boot hinges or wheel arches could all have a big impact.

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Poke around

Are there secret compartments under the seats to hide your wallet/handbag/phone out of sight? Some cars have clever storage nooks hidden away under the floor, seat or even wet storage compartments under the boot floor.

Look for the USB points. Are they within easy reach? Do you need 12V outlets in the boot for off-roading or camping? Some have more cup holders than others, even bottle holders in the glove box. In some cars I’ve driven, the location of the cup holders can make it difficult to use the armrest, access centre-console bin or even the gear-shift.

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Try and fold the rear seats down. Some cars have simple systems that are literally one-touch while others require you to pull a handle, push a button, pull the seat forward and do the hokey-pokey all at the same time.

So hunt around and check for those little surprises that aren’t obvious on the spec sheet, as they could be a great bonus or a great annoyance if the car doesn’t work for you ergonomically.

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Get Familiar

Before you hit the road, familiarise yourself with the functions you’d be likely to use while driving, for instance a car’s voice command is something that can get quickly frustrating if it’s not an intuitive system. Test it out because there’s nothing worse than feeling like you’ve travelled back 10 years in time and feel like you’re stuck using Vodafone’s classic voice recognition “service”.

Fiddle with the radio, try to pair your phone, plug an address into the satellite navigation. Remember, any new infotainment system will take some time to get used to.

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When you’re on the road, keep an ear out for things like road noise and focus on figuring out if you’re comfortable and if you can reach everything you need. Do you feel good in this car? What’s the visibility like? Even if you’ll be in the drivers seat most of the time, jump in the back seat and pretend you’re a passenger. Do you have enough room? What about storage? Are there air-vents? Can you see?

Oh, and don’t wear thongs on a test drive. That’s just silly.

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Take a cold shower

It is easy to get caught up in the moment, but please, go home and have a cold shower and sleep on it, particularly if you’ve talked about adding options or jumping up a spec from what you’d previously decided on. Take the time to make sure it’s the right decision for you.

Purchasing a new car is an exciting time, and buyers remorse is something we’d wish on no one.

Click on the Photos tab for more images by Christian Barbeitos






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