How to Test Drive a Car

Doing a new car test drive can make or break your car buying experience. Do it right, and you can get a car that’s perfect for you. Do it wrong, and you could have some serious buyer’s remorse. Test driving a car, new or used, is both an art and a science. If you don’t know how to test drive a car, we have a few tips to help you learn the turns.

Do Your Research

Before you set foot on the lot for a car test drive, you’ll want to do some research. You can find a wealth of information on cars online. Find videos and reports of road tests, so you can get a good feel for how the car drives without even getting behind the wheel. Read reviews from respected car reviewers. Consumer reviews are invaluable in selecting a car model that you like, and more importantly, that meets your needs. You can find out if the vehicle has had any problems, and if most customers like it. When you’ve gotten up to speed on the cars on the market, you’ll be one step closer to your new car test drive.

Make a Shortlist

From your car market research, make a list of cars that you really like. These should be cars that you would want to buy today, based only on what you’ve read about them. Three is the magic number, but four can work too, if you find another one that you just can’t leave out. Before you even talk to a dealership, be determined to look only at these models at the car lots that you visit. That way you don’t have to waste a lot of time in the lot looking at different models that the salesperson wants to show you. The car buying and test drive process can take a long time if you don’t have a good idea of what you want. Firmly stick to your shortlist so can cut straight to the chase and get started on your car test drive.

Get an Appointment

Making a car test drive appointment at the car dealers you visit will help you save time and avoid delays. Let the dealers know ahead of time what car or cars you want to test drive with them on that day. That way, they’ll have your preferred model or models ready to go when you get to the lot. With those preparations made beforehand, you can get right into your car test drive when you reach the dealership. If you’re hesitant about aggressive sales tactics, tell the salesperson that you’re still researching, and not quite ready to buy. Then they’ll know not to push you too hard to make a deal.

Kick the Tires

Once you’ve made all of your car test drive preparations, you’re finally ready to learn how to test drive a car. But you’re not going to get behind the wheel just yet. Before you drive it, you’ll want to do a full visual inspection of the interior and exterior of the vehicle. Check for scratches, dents, and rust, even in new cars (they can be damaged in shipping or other test drives). Look at all of the features of the car, and check that they align with what you learned about the car in your research. If taking notes on the car helps you sort out what you like and don’t like, bring a pad of paper and a pen, or take notes on your phone. Note taking also makes it easier to compare the three or four cars that you put on your shortlist.

There are many features to look for before you go on a car test drive. When reviewing the exterior, look at the color. Does it match the photos you saw online? Do you like it in person? Inside the car, assess the cargo and seating space. Will you have enough room to carry all of your stuff? What about kids or friends? Test the entry and exit by getting in and out before you drive. Do you have to crouch down uncomfortably low to get in? Climb up uncomfortably high? Also in the comfort category, sit down in the driver seat to see if you’ll have enough legroom. Take a look under the hood to make sure everything is in working order as expected.

Put the Tech to the Test

Before you start your actual new car test drive, take a look at all of the technology in the car. It’s a good idea to do this when you get behind the wheel, but before you start driving. You’ll want to test all of the tech in the car, not only to make sure it works, but to make sure you can easily use it. That means you’ll want to get as practical as possible here.

There are many kinds of different technology in new cars today. Test the onboard bluetooth connectivity. Is it easy to connect? Does it work well? Does it allow hands-free use with voice commands? Check out the in-dash computer too. Does it have a touch screen? Is the interface user-friendly? The navigation system is important as well. Give it a try by plugging in an address and seeing if it gets you there accurately and quickly. Run your hands along the steering wheel controls. Do they work well? Does the steering wheel have all of the buttons you need?

In addition to this tech, there may be new technologies in the car that you’ve never used before. With the dealer’s go-ahead, you can try these in the relative safety of the car lot. New features like a backup camera, drive assist, lane keeping, and turn assist can all take some time to get used to. You’ll want to make sure you like these features, and that you can comfortably use them, before you buy the car.

Drive It Like You Bought It

Now, you get to learn how to test drive a car by experience. When you start driving, try to treat the car like it’s already yours. Drive the car in conditions similar to the conditions you’ll have once you’ve bought it, as much as the dealer will allow. Obviously, if you plan on off-roading, the salesperson might not like that. Try as many different kinds of driving as you can. Take it through neighborhoods, busy streets, and freeways. Drive the car over some railroad tracks or speed bumps if you can, to see how it drives over them. This is a good way to put the vehicle to the test, since you want to know that it can handle what you’re going to throw at it.

When you do a new car test drive, you’ll want to keep your senses open to anything that seems not quite right. Pay attention to the acceleration. Does it speed up adequately when you put your foot on the gas? Listen for any kind of noise. Make sure to turn the air conditioning off with the windows up to see if there are any unusual or loud sounds. See how the car brakes. Are the brakes squishy? Too sensitive? Check out the steering and handling of the vehicle as well. How does the car take turns? You’ll also want to pay close attention to the suspension. Does the ride feel rough? Is it too bouncy? If you notice anything that seems off, that could be a possible red flag for not buying the car.

Sleep On It

When you’ve finished your new car test drive, it’s probable that the salesperson will try to get you to come inside to negotiate a deal. Even if you love the car you tested, don’t succumb to the salesperson yet. If you can, hold off on closing the sale for at least a day. You might still have other cars on your shortlist that you want to test drive and compare against this one. Even if this is your last test drive, it’s a good idea to get some space and think about it. If you took notes, this would be a good time to review them to help you make your final decision.

After driving all of the cars on your shortlist, you may end up liking two of them about equally. If this happens, it may actually be good for you. You can always use that fact as a bargaining chip to get a lower price, and that lower price might help you choose between the two if you’re torn. After taking some time to make up your mind, you’ll be able to make your final purchase decision and rest easy knowing you put as much thought into it as possible.  

Now that you’ve learned how to do a car test drive, you can use your new test drive expertise to find your dream car. Once you’ve taken your new car home, you’ll want to get the best accessories for the interior of your car. Visit Autopreme’s site to see how our premium products can make your car comfortable and classy.