How To Test Drive a Car

Taking your future car for a test drive might be the most critical piece in your decision making process. A good, planned-out test drive, can really help you determine whether or not you see yourself in this car for the long term and for your everyday life.

The car buying process, however, can be a bit overwhelming. While it’s certainly a lot of fun, it’s easy to let the hustle and bustle of shopping around distract you from things you shouldn’t overlook — especially during a test drive.

To help you through this process, we’ve put together some tips for every stage of the test drive — before and during — to help you make the most of your experience. Use our advice to ensure you’re thoroughly inspecting the car at hand. We hope to help you gain a better sense of what questions you might need to ask and in general, what you should be thinking about when you’re behind the wheel.

Are you ready? Let’s go for a test drive.

At Home

If you arrive at the car lot prepared, with a good sense of what you’re looking for in a new-to-you vehicle, your test drive should go smoothly. When you’re doing research on the type of car you’re looking for, make a few lists to solidify the features or add-ons you must have, and the things you could live without.

Whether it’s a sun-roof, tinted windows, automatic transmission, or heated seats — there are certain features you might really, really want, or on the other hand, might not want to pay the extra costs for. Consider these options ahead of time, and you’ll be able to approach your test drive with more of a level head.

Another tip in preparation to test drive a car, is to call the dealership ahead of time to make sure they have what you’re looking for on the lot. The car you test out should be as close as possible to the model you ultimately think you want. This way, your experience is a more accurate simulation of what it might be like to actually own and drive that particular vehicle.

Before You Drive

There’s a lot to test in a car before you even put pedal to the metal. Before you get into the driver’s seat, do a thorough inspection of the exterior of the car. Check out the lights, the windows, door handles, mirrors and tires. Then, pop the trunk and make sure there is adequate space for your lifestyle.

It’s also important to take a look under the hood of the car. Even if you’re not 100% sure what you’re looking for, you’ll want to make sure the battery and oil dipstick are easily accessible. In addition, make sure you can locate the spare tire, and note whether it’s a full tire or just a donut.

Once you’re sitting in the car, it’s time to test comfort. Play around with the seating adjustments until you find a position that’s comfortable. If you struggle to find something that feels good, this could be a sign that the car is a poor fit for what you need as far as ergonomics.

As you’re getting comfortable in the driver’s seat, keep making adjustments. Adjust the mirrors, fully examine and test out the control panels, stereo system, and anything else that comes with the vehicle as far as the front dashboard, including heating and the air-conditioning unit.

Also, don’t forget to take a look inside any and all storage compartments. Look in the glove box, center console, and overhead compartments, and make sure they meets your needs. If you go on a lot of road trips, these small details could be very important in your ultimate decision.

During the Test Drive

Now, it’s finally time to hit the road. While you might be hesitant at first, it’s really important to test the car out in the same environments you’d be driving it in everyday.

By all means, take a spin around the block, but if you typically drive on highways, take the car out on the nearest highway. If you have to wind through back roads to get home everyday, head out in that direction to see how the car handles.

There’s a lot to consider when you’re operating the vehicle. Here’s a quick list of things not to overlook:

  • Visibility. Can you still see clearly out of all windows and mirrors? Where are the blind spots?
  • Smoothness. How does the ride feel? When you go over minor bumps, does the car maintain a smooth feeling, or does it shake you up in the driver’s seat to cross a railroad track?
  • Noise. Try driving with the radio on, then turn it off. Is the car overly loud? Or does it sound pretty normal?
  • Speed. How long does it take the car to “pick up”? Can it keep up with traffic on the highway?
  • Brakes. If you have time, try to find an empty parking lot or another clear area where you can brake quickly going at a moderate speed. Check how responsive and smooth the brakes are. Make sure there is no noise coming from them, especially if you’re buying a used car.
  • Steering. Test out the turn radius, try parallel parking, and getting a general sense of how responsive the steering wheel is and if it feels stable to you.

Once you’ve completed your test drive, you should take some time to reflect on the experience. Maybe you know right away this is the car for you, but chances are you should spend a little more time weighing the pros and cons of each car you test drove.

Talk it through with someone who knows you well, and try to remove any emotional attachment you might have towards a car. Although, we know how difficult that can sometimes be!

All in all, remember that a test drive is the best way to thoroughly learn a vehicle before you buy it. Congratulate yourself that you’re taking the time to buy a car the right way and most of all, don’t forget to have fun!


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