Tips for test driving a car

On the Road 4 min read

Let’s face it—buying a new car is a pretty stressful. You’re spending a lot of money, you need to be on the lookout for tricks and sketchy tactics used by some car salespeople, and in the end, you’re never 100 percent sure that the car you buy is the exact fit for you.

Nevertheless, there are many aspects of car shopping that don’t have to be completely dreadful. One of the most enjoyable, for instance, is the test drive. It just sounds like fun, doesn’t it? “Hey, let’s go spend the afternoon driving cars around that don’t belong to us and we don’t even have to buy them if we don’t want to!”

Of course, it’s not quite that simple, and test-driving is actually one of the most essential phases of car shopping. And like all important tasks, you should go into it with a plan. Here are some helpful tips to follow when you’re ready to take some cars out for a spin.

Do your homework

It’s easy to feel pressured by the salesperson during all phases of the car-buying process and the test drive is no exception. It’s important to remember that you’re the one in charge and the best way to send that message is to come prepared.

Not only should you come into your test drive with a list of specific features you’d like your new car to have, it’s also smart to research ahead of time the reviews and ratings of the cars that interest you the most. If you sound like you know something about the car that you’re test-driving, it can go a long way toward earning the respect of the person trying to sell it to you.

Size matters

In an age where roomy spaciousness is often preferred, it can be tempting to walk onto the dealership lot with an eye toward the larger vehicles. But in those situations, it’s also possible that your eyes might be bigger than your garage space.

Young, growing families come with lots of accessories (car seats, strollers, diaper bags, etc.) so it often makes sense to lean toward a larger vehicle. Just make sure you have the space for it first. It’s a smart move to measure your old car beforehand, not to mention your driveway or parking space, to make sure you have the room to fit the new one. That shiny new SUV may look like a dream car on the lot, but could lead to headaches if you keep scratching it when you pull in and out of your garage.

 How does it feel?

Once you finally get behind the wheel, that’s when you really start to get a true sense of the “feel” of the car. It’s amazing how each individual car (even sometimes the same make and model) can have its own unique personality. It’s during the test drive that you finally get a first impression of how the car feels.

There are many things to look for during this part of the process. For instance …

  • Does the car handle and accelerate well?
  • Are there any sounds or engine noise that might be an annoyance later?
  • How do the brakes feel?
  • Does the steering and handling feel comfortable?
  • Are the seats easily adjustable?
  • Are the gauges and dashboard controls easy to read?
  • Are there any blind spots?
  • How is the visibility? Do the mirrors and windows allow you to see everything around you safely?

It can seem like a lot to digest in the relatively short amount of time that you often get during a typical test drive. That’s why it makes sense to create a mental checklist (or even a physical one) of all the ways to determine what you’re looking for in the feel of your new car.

Safety first

If you ever stop to think that cars are essentially just giant tin cans that travel at high rates of speed and can be deadly dangerous in the event of an accident, you may never set foot inside a vehicle ever again. Seriously, try not to think about it.

Fortunately, cars are being made safer than ever before and the test drive is your first opportunity to learn about how your potential new car can protect you in an emergency. Ask the dealer about air bags, anti-lock brakes, rearview cameras, automatic braking, and pedestrian monitoring, just to name a few.

The average American spends more than 17,000 minutes per year behind the wheel, so it’s imperative to know that when you’re getting into a car, it’s a safe one.

Know your bells and whistles

And now for the really fun part of your test drive—trying out all the fun accessories that are available with your new car.

Long gone are the days when a tape deck, CD player, or windows that didn’t require a hand-crank represented the extent of a car’s fancy accessories. Depending on how much you’re willing to spend, the bells and whistles are practically limitless.

Looking for a heated steering wheel and seats? Check them out during the test drive.

Bluetooth phone and audio capabilities? Give them a whirl.

GPS navigation and smartphone app options? The test drive is the time to check them all out.

Consider that when you’re test-driving your car, you’re essentially going on a first date with it. It can go well, or you may decide that it’s just not a good fit. Either way, it’s an important step in what may turn out to be a long-term relationship. And it’s always smart to be sure you’re making the right choice before saying “I do.”

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