Buying a car is an exciting process, but it can be a stressful one, too.

We have already explored the ins and outs of choosing a vehicle in previous articles, but now it’s time to look at the deciding factor in many a car purchase – the test drive.

The car may add up on paper, and its logbook may appear impeccable, but in the end everything comes down to your driving impression.

Are you comfortable in the car? Is the steering balanced, and visibility good? Remember, a car is not just for Christmas. Chances are, you’ll be driving this vehicle for at least a year, if not longer, so your comfort while behind the wheel is paramount.

But, you may wonder if that model has excellent reviews online, and ticks all the boxes you require – is a test drive really necessary?

So, is a test drive important?

In short, yes, a test drive is absolutely necessary. Just because someone on the Internet finds the seat height perfect, doesn’t mean you will.

And cars will differ depending on a number of criteria, including fuel type, mileage, and how well it has been looked after.

To thoroughly assess the vehicle, two test drives are suggested. This may sound like a lot of effort, but test driving a car twice will really allow you to decide whether you’re happy to drive it in the long term.

The first test drive should be when you make your own decision on the vehicle. If you’re unsure, or don’t like it, then now is your chance to withdraw your interest.

If you like the car, however, arrange a second viewing, and jot down the Vehicle Identification Number and number plate so that you can later run an online vehicle history check.

The DVLA provides a free vehicle information check service, for which you just need to enter the car’s registration and make. This returns information including the year of manufacturer, engine size, CO2 emissions and whether or not the car has previously been exported.

A more in-depth check can be purchased online for as little as £3, and this will reveal whether the car has previously been written off, reported as stolen to the police, been scrapped or had a colour change, and well as showing the number of previous owners.

Once you have made your way through all of these steps, you can relax knowing that the car isn’t a lemon, and proceed to your second test drive.

This second test drive is then your opportunity to take along a trusted mechanic, or take the car to a trusted garage, to ensure the vehicle is mechanically sound.

What should you do while on a test drive?

So, you like the car, the dealer seems honest, and insurance is affordable. You’re about to take the car on a test drive, but are wondering what you need to check.

Follow the steps below to ensure that you give the vehicle a comprehensive assessment.

Firstly, while outside of the car, carry out preliminary checks.

1. Examine the tyres, checking that they are all matched in both brand and size and each has at least a quarter of an inch of tread, with even wear across the circumference.

2. Peer through the rims on the wheels to check the brake discs, looking for scratches or other marks.

3. While the engine is off, check underneath the car for fluid leaks. Turn the engine on and then check again.

4. Check the vehicle’s panels for ripples that might indicate body repairs.

5. Test all doors and the boot, ensuring all operate smoothly. Lock and unlock the doors from inside and out, using both the key and the keyfob – if the vehicle has one.

6. Ask someone to sit behind the wheel and operate the headlights, brake lights and turn signals, while looking at the vehicle from the front and rear, to check that they all work.

7. Open the bonnet with the engine running and listen for any strange sounding noises, including knocks, hisses and ticking.

8. Check thoroughly around the vehicle for rust – including around the doors and edges and under the carpet inside the car.

Next, jump in the car and sit behind the steering wheel.

9. Do the controls for every system operate properly? Do the air conditioner and heater work quickly and efficiently and does the infotainment system/satnav work?

10. Open all doors for a few minutes to allow any air freshener smell out. When this smell is gone you should be able to tell if the vehicle has any strange odours.

Finally, take the car on the test drive.

11. Make sure to drive at a variety of speeds, including over 60 miles per hour. At higher speeds, check to see if the front end shakes, shimmies or vibrates. This could indicate a front-end issue, which normally wouldn’t be detectible at lower speeds.

12. Does the steering wheel vibrate at all?

13. Work your way through the gears to make sure that it shifts smoothly, and doesn’t stick or grind at all.

14. Accelerate quickly from a standstill, to see whether the car makes any strange noises.

15. In an empty car park, take your hands off the steering wheel at 20 miles per hour or so, and check to see if the vehicle pulls to one side .

16. And again, while at a low speed in a safe environment, apply the brakes sharply. Does the pedal feel squishy or does the vehicle pull to one side under braking.

If any of the above tests flag up an issue, ask your trusted mechanic to take an in-depth look at that part of the car.

Of course, don’t limit yourself to the above checks. Follow your instincts to decide whether or not the vehicle is for you.

Have you had a recent test drive experience you would like to pass on, or are you looking for advice for an upcoming vehicle purchase. Let us know in the comment section below!