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What Does This Button Do?

Right.  You’ve read up all the reviews to find out which set of wheels suits you best.  And now you’re down at the car yards and you’re about to take the model you’re interested in for a test drive.  While the basics are the same in all cars – you have the steering wheel in front of you, the gear stick somewhere on your left (unless you’re in a left-hand drive car imported from the US or Europe), the accelerator pedal by your right foot and the foot brake down by your left – the layout of the dashboard and the various controls available to the driver vary from car to car.  One of the things that you’ll be doing while you’re doing that test drive – and in the first week or so of owning your new car – is finding out where all the controls are and what they do. And what do you do first?

Firstly, how do you get into the car and how do you get started?  A lot of new cars these days have Smartkey entry and/or a quick-start function.  Some don’t.  So this will be the first thing that you have to sort out.  However, before you start the car, take a quick look around to see where the handbrake is and where the gear stick is – if you’re test-driving an older car, especially one with a bench seat, you may find these in places you don’t expect.  Next, if you’re driving a manual car, take a moment or two to check how many gears the car has – four, five or six – and where reverse is, as some cars want you to push the gearstick to the far left to get into reverse, while others have it on the far right.  There has been a horror story about a car reviewer (not me!) test driving some very expensive Alfa Romeo sports car and putting the car into reverse rather than sixth gear while at high speed.  Ouch!

OK, so you’ve got started and you’ve backed out successfully – possibly with the help of some rear sensors.  Now to get onto the road.  To get out of the car yard, you’re going to have to use the indicators.  This is where the fun really starts, as some cars have the controls for the lights on the left, while others have them on the right.  Most of us put the windscreen wipers on by mistake at least once during that first test drive if our old car had the indicators on the other side.  Test drives don’t usually take place in the dark, but when you get your new car home and you want to take the family for a spin in the evening, you are you are going to have to find the lights, and you are going to have to work out where high beam is, and how to turn it on and off.

These are the most important things to become familiar with in a new car – the gears, the brake, the indicators and the lights.  But after that, you can start playing with the other odds and ends and finding out how they work.  The last time this writer bought a car (a second-hand Honda Accord), the stereo was high on the priority list for a “what does this button do?” session, closely followed by the climate control (I wanted the air con off to save petrol) , and figuring out how to adjust the seats and the steering wheel to suit, especially as I’ve got a completely different driving position from my other half (a situation where a memory function really helps!).

When you’re taking a car for a test drive, you will be able to ask the salesperson for a bit of help, but it’s once you own the car that you can really become familiar with all the bells and whistles and learn how to make them do what you want.  Have fun while you’re doing it – it’s all part of the thrill of discovering just how good your new car is.