Woke up, got outta bed, dragged a comb across my head, found my way downstairs and drank a cup of coffee… then I picked up the keys to the Ferrari 599 GTO parked outside and sped off to work.
…And so begins a day in the life of a paid test driver.
Of course, not all test drivers get to put supercars through their paces every day – somebody somewhere has to test drive the Suzuki Swift – but getting paid to push any car to its limits has to be a better way to earn a living than most nine-to-fives.
So if you take up a position as a test driver, what can you expect from a typical working day?
Testing, testing, testing
The primary role of a test driver is to work with the company’s engineers to make sure all the car’s components are working as they should be – from the front headlights, to the tip of the exhaust and everything in between. Even things like the sun-blinds and cup holders need rigorous testing.
As a test driver you’ll be handed the keys to a car and told to put it through its paces, on the test-track and under ‘real world’ driver conditions, with the average test taking in 20% city driving, 20% suburban driving and 60% motorway driving – to really see how the car handles when it’s pushed to its legal limit.
But would you want to test an unfinished prototype…?
Things can get really exciting if you’re testing a car that’s not quite the finished article, but testing a prototype requires a lot of experience. Being a test driver requires a lot more than just a willingness to floor it and an ability to pick holes in a project – you’ll be expected to know exactly how the car should be performing and what areas need improvement.
A day in the life of a BMW test driver
We caught up with a test driver for BMW, to see what’s involved in a test-driver’s typical day.
“The day will usually begin with a warm-up around the test track, taking the car around at an average pace and keeping in the one lane before opening up the whole track, where you’ll have to pick out markings to remember where you hit the brakes, hit the gas, and how the car performed.
“Next up will be the slick track, which will handle more like an ice-rink, where you’ll check how the car’s ABS handles and how the car performs with the ABS switched off, at all times listening to the sounds coming from the tyres and brakes for an indication of how they’re all coping.
“After a spot of lunch, it’ll be back on to the track for some high-speed lane-changing which will see you set off down the track at about 30mph before throwing the car left and right to safely change lanes. You’ll eventually work up to more high speed lane changes of around 70mph to mimic motorway conditions.
“You’ll probably round off the day by doing some of the fun stuff – as if all that wasn’t fun enough – such as perfecting the safe bailout by inducing and properly controlling understeer and oversteer.
“This is where your driving expertise really come to the fore as you need to be able to sense when the car is going to do something abnormal – you’ll have find the car’s limit, stay on the limit and then push beyond the limit while keeping control at all times. It’s all in a day’s work.”
Sign me up!
It all sounds great, but how do you land this dream job?
“Hard work, determination and a bit of good timing – being in the right place, at the right time never did anyone any harm!”
“There are no tailor-made qualifications that can set you on the road to becoming a test driver, but a degree in mechanical engineering could give you a good head start – it’s by no means a prerequisite, but if you can get on a course that includes modules on automotive design and manufacturing, it’ll give you a great grounding.
“It also helps if natural risk-taker – it’s one thing having the qualifications, but if you’ve not got the bottle to push the car to its limits, it’s not the career for you.”
So what do you think? Have you got what it takes to become a test driver?