How to Test Drive a New Car – And What to Look For


Test driving a new car is no mere joyride, but a serious exploration of how well the vehicle’s capabilities mesh with your driving style, how easily you can use its controls, and similar facts. You also need to keep an eye out for unexpected advantages and problems.

When test driving a car, it’s important to keep it out long enough to check almost all the situations you’re likely to encounter daily. A spin around the block isn’t enough to get a feel for an unfamiliar auto. Try to drive 8 to 12 miles in the vehicle to form a well-rounded assessment, though you may need to talk the sales personnel into this.

Basic Test Driving Investigation

You should always schedule an appointment for a test drive, to make certain the vehicle you want to try out is available when you arrive. Measure your garage or driveway parking area, and bring a measuring tape to ensure the vehicle fits without tight squeezing. Some leeway is necessary to avoid eventually scraping the mirrors or even the paintwork along the frame of the garage door, so be sure there is at least 4” clearance on either side.

Your initial inspection should include noting the amount of cargo area, and paying attention when you climb into the vehicle. It should be easy to get in and out of the car without straining or risking hitting your head. While seemingly fairly minor, uncomfortable access grows tiresome fast when experienced constantly.

Putting the Car Through its Paces

Pay careful attention while driving and don’t allow the running patter of the salesperson accompanying you to distract you from noting the details. To develop an informed opinion of the car’s quality, check out the following at a minimum:

  • Drive at different speeds to see how the car handles and how comfortable it is.
  • Take sharp corners, stop and start when possible. Drive up and down hills to see how well the car copes with them, if there is hilly terrain in town.
  • Test the acceleration by stepping on the gas on a straightaway, then see if the brakes are strong and crisp by slowing again (rapidly, if it’s safe to do so).
  • If the opportunity exists, take a short trip on the highway. Pay attention to steering stability and the amount of interior noise at fast highway speeds.
  • Make certain that the handling is accurate and responsive, the steering feels good, and you are comfortable in the seat in all normal situations.
  • Be sure to note how good the lines of sight are through the windows. Poor visibility can lead to stressful and even dangerous driving experiences in heavy traffic.
  • Park the car in a parallel parking space to test its maneuverability.
  • Find somewhere you can drive in reverse to determine visibility and ease of backing. If your house is nearby and the salesperson allows it, drive to your house and actually pull the car into your garage, then back out.
  • If you encounter rough, pot-holed pavement, drive over it, seeing how well the car handles it and how easy it is to maintain full control.

Ergonomics and Interior Functions

Besides its exterior driving functions, you should pay heed to the interior layout and features of the vehicle as well. With today’s feature-laden vehicles, this may take a little time, but is well worth it due to ensuring your convenience and comfort during day-to-day use. Some of the features you should observe include:

  • Note the visibility and readability of gauges and dashboard controls. You should be able to get all the information you need (speed, fuel level, etc.) without taking your eyes off the road for more than a second or two. All control knobs and buttons should be easy to reach.
  • Seat convenience is important, and includes not only the general feel of the seat and the tactile qualities of its covering, but also its adjustments. It should be easy to set it up for comfort and good driving posture.
  • If the car is equipped with GPS navigation, test its accuracy by navigating to one or two local businesses. Screens should be clear, bright, and easy to read.
  • Check the mirrors and, if the car is equipped with a backup camera, use it to determine image quality.
  • Test the radio, bluetooth, and other electronics for function and quality.
  • If possible, take a nighttime test-drive also, once again checking the visibility of gauges. You should also see if the gauge and dashboard lights create distracting reflections on the windshield, which could partly block your view in places.

Don’t Buy at the End of the Test Drive

The salespeople will naturally try to get you to sign a purchase contract as soon as you return from your test drive. Unless money is no object, you should politely decline to do so and instead take their business card before heading home.

After a test drive, you should wait overnight to let your impressions settle. Review your experience for anything you overlooked. Then, if the car still seems like a superior choice, contact multiple dealerships to get competing price quotes and start the process of negotiating a purchase.



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