For many a car purchase is a major financial commitment – even if the money isn’t initially yours. Chances are, you’ll be spending a lot of time behind the wheel, so it makes sense to poke, prod, ask questions and get comfortable before you take the plunge.

To help avoid a bad buy it’s a good idea to give yourself plenty of time and study all the relevant facts and figures in advance.

Follow our ten point plan and you shouldn't go far wrong.

  • It may sound obvious but set your budget before entering the showroom. Sticking to a sensible figure should avoid you being tempted by something you can’t afford.
  • You need to find out how easy the car will be to live with, not simply to drive. Try opening the bonnet, doors and boot - how simple are they to operate, and how secure?
  • If you'll often be carrying passengers, see what sort of access and room they have. Sit in the back. Would they be comfortable on a long journey? What’s the interior like? If a demonstrator car looks tatty now, how will it look in a few years' time?
  • Is there room for your shopping? If you'll frequently be carrying bulky or heavy loads, is the car suitable? Is the lip of the boot too high? Is the engine powerful enough to handle the sort of loads you carry?
  • Do your homework. As all manufacturer figures such as fuel consumption, CO2 emissions, crash test performance and interior space have to be officially approved, they are a valuable tool to help you compare one car against another.
  • Get as comfortable as you can. Can the seat slide, tilt and rise? Can the steering wheel position be moved? Is forward visibility acceptable?
  • With your foot on the clutch, run through the gears. The shift can be 'notchy' when a car is cold but shouldn’t be so stiff it's a problem. How smoothly does the car pull away? A 'sharp' clutch, or one which is very heavy, can be hard work - especially in urban traffic. So does it suit your driving style and needs?
  • Remember that on most test drives it'll be just you and a salesman in the car. If you'll be pulling a caravan or driving with a full complement of adults, you’ll need to estimate whether the engine could handle it.
  • Are there any irritating rattles or buzzes from the interior? What about wind and tyre noise? If something is a mild distraction on a short test drive, it is likely to be infuriating on a longer drive.
  • If the ride is too hard, you'll go crashing and jolting over potholes. If it's too soft, you'll find the car 'wallows' over small bumps and rolls in corners. Both will make journeys uncomfortable.
  • Test again. Even if you're satisfied and are eager to sign on the dotted line, promise yourself that you'll take at least one more test drive before you commit to anything. If your second test is as good, it will reassure you about your original choice. If it's not you'll have saved yourself from making an expensive mistake.