How to Test Drive a Car

Ah, that new car feel. The smell. All the fancy new options. Test driving a car can be one of the most fun aspects of buying a new car.

But if you want to ensure you’ll be happy with your choice for the next five, ten years, there are a few simple things you should know before you ever set foot on the lot.

Do Your Due Diligence

Today, there’s no reason to show up at a dealership with questions about models, features, mileage and so on. Do your homework online before visiting the dealer. Determine what you can comfortably afford. Run an auto calculator like Calculate a Vehicle Payment or Purchase or Lease a Vehicle. For most consumers, a car will be one of their biggest investments — and you need to be prepared.

On the Lot

Once you arrive, be direct. Let the sales person know you’re just here to test drive a car (or two) and will be visiting other showrooms to compare vehicles and prices, so there’s no reason to worry about negotiating at this point. This allows you both to focus on the job at hand: determining which vehicle is the one that will make you happy every day. Remember, the sales person is there to help you view all your options and make an informed decision.

Sit in the car and run through a checklist of common daily uses, from rear visibility to the number of cup holders. Are the seats too firm or do they lack adequate position controls? Check to see if there’s ample leg and head room. How do the doors function? Are they easy to open and provide enough room to add a child seat easily? Do they work for your wife or possibly a teen driver? In sum, how do the ergonomics work for you and your family?

Test Driving the Car

Drive the model with the options and engine you’re considering buying so you know how it performs. Test it in safe situations that mirror your daily drive as much as possible — stop-and-go traffic, interstate, lane changes, passing acceleration, curves and breaking — so you’ll get a true feel for how it drives.

Does it have the power to merge while keeping exterior noise to a minimum? How tight a turning radius does it have? It goes without saying: be safe and follow all the normal rules of the road, of course. Try the heating and cooling system to test its efficiency. How well does the wireless Bluetooth work with your devices? Is the sound system adequate while you’re on the interstate? Bring your iPhone along, park the car and try out the audio system. Only you can answer these questions.

When You’re Done Driving, Reflect

Back at the lot, take one last look inside and outside of the car. Then return the keys and go test the next car on your list. If you can test drive each prospective car back-to-back, the contrast between them will be obvious while the experience is fresh in your mind. Reflect on your choice; maybe see if you can take the car home overnight to test it further.

If you have children, let them try out the back seat. If they are small, place them in their car seats and see how everything works. The last thing a parent wants is a knee in their back every five minutes on a long drive to Nana’s house.

When you return ready to purchase, it’ll be time to close the deal. But that’s another story.