How to Test Drive a Car


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If you’re thinking about purchasing a new vehicle, it’s important to take it on a test drive so that you know it's truly a good fit. But a worthwhile test drive involves more than just taking one make and model on a spin around the parking lot. To do it right, you’ll need a bit of research and a lot of patience.

Before the Big Day of Test Driving a Car

Do your research. In order to properly test drive a car, you’ll want to do your research ahead of time. Figure out how much you can comfortably afford to spend and then choose several vehicles that fit in your price range and have the amenities you need. If you have a hard time choosing, it might help to read some online reviews and hear what others have to say. Pay attention to the specs that matter to you, which might include the vehicle’s size, specific tech features, and towing capacity. Once you’ve done this, narrow down your list to three or four affordable options.

Schedule several appointments. This will give you a great excuse to move swiftly from one dealership to the next so that you can think over your options before committing to purchasing. It will also show the dealership you’re a serious purchaser rather than a browser, and they’ll likely have your car set up and ready to drive once you arrive.

To make sure that all of the vehicles you are test driving remain fresh in your mind, it’s a good idea to try and test drive all of the vehicles you’re considering on the same day. That way, you’ll be able to make direct comparisons.

The Day of the Test Drive

Bring a friend. It’s important to have a second opinion that isn’t trying to sell you anything. While you don’t need to have them get behind the wheel, ask them to pay attention to how smoothly the vehicle drives from a passenger’s perspective. Is there too much noise? Is the acceleration jerky? These are all things you might miss if you’re just focused on handling a new vehicle.

Bring your regular accessories. Do you head to the slopes every weekend, play bass in a jazz band, or have a hefty car seat? Bring these items along and make sure they fit in the vehicle you’re test driving.

Behind the Wheel

Pay attention to entry and exit. Is it easy to get into and out of the driver’s seat? 

Pay attention to the driver’s seat. Are you comfortable behind the wheel? If you have a much taller or shorter partner, will they be comfortable behind the wheel? Can you easily reach the pedals? Is there enough support for your back, head, and neck? Can you see out of all of the mirrors? Can you easily reach the climate controls and the stereo? Are the cup holders conveniently placed and deep enough to avoid spilling your morning coffee?

Test the tech. Does the backup camera provide a helpful view? Can you figure out the infotainment system and GPS? Is your phone able to pair via Bluetooth? Are the steering and audio controls intuitive and easy to use? Do the trunk and rear doors open easily?

Take it on a realistic drive. If you often commute on the highway, make sure your test drive includes a spin on the freeway. You need to see how the car handles situations that you will face often, not just around the parking lot. Pay attention to what you hear and feel:

  • Is there a lot of noise when you accelerate?
  • Does the car accelerate and climb hills smoothly?
  • Do the brakes work well?
  • Is the steering smooth and responsive?
  • Do you have enough room to ride a passenger in all of the seats?
  • Can you easily park it?

If you're purchasing a pre-owned or slightly used vehicle:

  • Were there any accidents with the car?
  • Was there one owner?
  • Does it handle well on sharp turns, such as a highway on-ramp or off-ramp?
  • Does the car have odd smells in it? Do you smell exhaust fumes when idling?
  • Can you bring someone along who's a mechanic or knows cars?

After the Test Drive

Take some time to think about it. Purchasing a new car is expensive, and it’s not a decision you should rush into. Thank the salesperson for their time and take a business card, and head to your subsequent appointments. Take a night to review your notes and sleep on it before making your final decision. There’s nothing worse than letting a little bit of momentary excitement push you to make a financial decision you’ll come to regret.

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