How To Test Drive A New Car
One of the most important aspects of buying a new car is the test drive. Unfortunately, most people are so excited about driving a new car, they miss the opportunity to conduct a critical assessment. And truthfully, a lot of people simply don't know what to look for. In this article, I’m going to walk you through how to test drive a new car, so when you’re done, you’ll have more than enough information to make a detailed evaluation.
If you’ve already read the article here on how to get the best deal on a new car, you know there’s a fair amount of research you should do before you even set foot in a dealership, to avoid wasting time driving cars you shouldn’t buy. If you have yet to read that article, please do so before you go shopping for a car.
If you have already, let’s continue.
Take A Friend
Bring along a friend or a relative to serve as a second set of eyes and ears to help you make assessments. Going with a trusted friend also makes it less intimidating if it’s your first time buying a new car. Most importantly though, they can help you keep track of all the things to which you should be paying attention. I’ll lay it all out for you here, but you’ll want to make a checklist based on what you learn here. Your wing person is perfect for ticking the boxes as you go through the list, so you’ll cover everything.
Make sure you select a patient person, someone who will get into it with you and have fun with the process. And yes, you absolutely should buy them lunch.
When you arrive, you’ll be greeted by a salesperson. Be cordial, and tell them right up front exactly what you’re doing, where you are in your process, and why you’re there. Let them know you’re working your way through a list of potential models, and you won’t be making a purchase decision during this visit. Then, go ahead and make your evaluations.
By the way, in all likelihood, the salesperson will ask to make a copy of your driver’s license before you drive. This is a standard procedure; just make sure you remember to ask for it back when the salesperson returns with the key to the car. Sometimes they forget and leave it on the copier.
Compare Peaches To Peaches
One of the most important things to remember as you learn how to test drive a new car is to keep in mind options can transform the ambiance of a car completely. Some actually vary the way a car drives. This is where your pre-conducted research into what you can afford comes into play.
First and foremost, only test-drive models equipped as closely as possible to the car you can afford to buy. Driving the V6 if you can only afford the four-cylinder, will give you a false sense of the car’s capabilities. Similarly, a more luxuriously optioned interior could mislead you about the overall comfort quotient of the car. Bottom line; drive the version of the car you’ll actually be buying.
Before You Get In The Car
Yes, the temptation to jump in and start driving is great, but don’t fall for it. Before you drive, look the car over carefully. Envision it in your parking space at home and at work—will it fit?
Check out the cargo compartment, yes you saw the specs on this when you were doing your online research, but what does it look like in reality? Will you be able to fit luggage, a stroller, or your pet carrier? Where is the latch? Is it protected from mud and dirt, or will your hands get dirty trying to open it? When you close the cargo compartment, can you reach it easily, or do you have to stretch? Is there an inside handle so you don’t have to get your hands dirty when you shut it? Open and close all the doors and the engine compartment cover (the hood). Do they open nice and wide?
Under the hood, where are the items you’ll need to deal with for routine maintenance? Where does oil go into the engine? Where is the dipstick for checking it? Pull it out. Does the stick go back in easily? What about the reservoirs for brake fluid, transmission fluid, and coolant, are they easy to reach—can you top them off easily?
Long story short, look past the new, and think in terms of old—what’s it really going to be like to live with this car?
Get In — But Don’t Drive Yet
Slip in behind the steering wheel and adjust everything so you can drive comfortably. Where is the mirror switch, is it easy to find and logical to operate? What about the seat and steering wheel adjustments; are they easily positioned, and once you’re comfortable, can you see out OK? Are the instruments clearly visible or are they blocked by the steering wheel? Can you reach the controls on the center console OK?
Now that you have the driver’s seat positioned for yourself, get out and sit in the seat behind it. If you have friends who are as tall as you (or teens), will you have to move the seat forward so they can be reasonably comfortable seated behind you? Ask your shopping companion to join you in the back seat; is it comfortable with two people side-by-side? How easy is it to get in and out? Would you be comfortable seated back there for a long drive?
If you have a very young child, make sure you bring their safety seat along and install it. Will it go through the doorway easily? Will it settle securely on the rear seat? Does fastening the seatbelt through it take a long time? Are the seatbelt buckles easy to reach with the seat in place? Once the seat is installed, is securing your child easy?
Pay Attention To The Details
Once you’re satisfied the back seat is livable, get behind the wheel again. If the car has Bluetooth, pair up your Smartphone. Was the process easy, or would you have to consult the owner’s manual if the system ever drops your phone? They do sometimes. With your phone paired, place a call. Can the recipient hear you clearly—and—can you hear them? Activate the audio system. Can you navigate through its menus logically? Does it have dials for adjusting he volume ans changing radio stations? Imagine yourself in traffic and desiring a source change, can it be ccomplished in one or two adjustments? You're lookimg for something logical and easy to use.
Open the center console storage area and glove box. How spacious are those areas? Will you be able to stash things out of sight if you need to leave valuables behind? Is the glove box within comfortable reach of the driver’s seat? Are there USB ports? How many? Is there a cover for the area housing them? If no, you'll have to remove devices whenever you park to avoid theft. How many cup holders are evident? Where are they placed? Imagine them holding tall water bottles, can you readily operate the transmission lever and handbrake with them in place?
Start the engine; does it idle smoothly and quietly? Think about listening to it every day; is it a pleasant prospect? With your foot on the brake, try each of the transmission positions; reverse, neutral, drive and “sport” or ‘low”. Does the transmission shift into each position quietly and smoothly?
If the car has a manual transmission, step on the clutch. Does it go in easily or does it require a significant effort on your part? With the clutch pedal still depressed, run the gear selector through each of the gates. Does it go from slot to slot easily, or is there a lot of resistance? If it’s difficult, driving in traffic might be challenging if you're planning to use the car to get back and forth to work everyday.
Time For The Test Drive
In some cases, the salesperson will insist upon driving the car off the lot, and that’s fine. It gives you a chance to focus on the ride quality from the passenger’s perspective. Take advantage of the opportunity. Is the passenger seat comfortable? How easy is it to adjust? Will you have to constantly tell your passengers where to look for the controls?
When you stop to change seats, see what the car looks like out in the real world. Take another walk around; see if it still looks good to you off the lot. Once you’ve settled in and got everything adjusted, look over your shoulders to the left and right. Can you see out OK, are there any blind spots? If so, can you adjust the mirrors to cover them?
As you start driving, the salesperson will likely start talking up the car’s fine points. Politely ask them to hold up for a bit, and let you listen to the car. Also, let them know you already have a short route you’d like to take, so they remain relaxed when you turn left instead of right.
About Your Route
Visit dealers close to where you live so you can drive the car over familiar roads. This will help you see how it rides and handles compared to the car you’re currently driving. It also helps you compare subsequent cars in similar situations.
Go over rough roads as well as smooth ones, take it through a number of traffic signals, drive it on the highway/freeway, and parallel park. On the highway, try having a conversation with your friend in the back seat to get an idea of the level of ambient sound. Yes, this will be different depending upon the type of car you’re looking at, but if it’s an important aspect of your decision, you’ll want to know. This is also a good time to place another phone call, to see if you can hear and be heard when the car is moving rapidly (noise levels can be higher at speed).
If the car has a manual transmission, how easy is it to match the clutch and throttle to set the car into motion? Does it start off easily, or is the engagement tricky? Getting on the highway, how readily does the car accelerate to help you merge? When you exit the highway, do the brakes slow the car readily, or does it take a long time to stop?
When you drive over bumps, does the car absorb irregularities or crash over them? Further, does the car track straight, or does it pull to one side or the other? Hit the brakes on a bumpy road, does the car stop smoothly, or does it skitter over the bumps? Make a couple of turns just a bit more quickly than usual to get a feel for how the car responds in avoidance situations.
On a straight and level stretch of road, accelerate hard to the speed limit. Does the engine run up smoothly? Does the car track straight or pull to the side? Does the transmission shift smoothly and crisply?
Look for an opportunity to parallel park. Is it an easy maneuver, or is the car difficult to park? Park between two cars in a lot. Can you get out OK? Pulling in and out of the lot, does the car’s front end scrape the ground? Once you're back out on the street; perform a U-Turn. Did the car make it in one pass?
Returning To The Dealership
When you get back, ask to tour the service department. You’ll want to meet the service manager and get a look at the area where they’ll be taking care of your car. You'll also want to make sure the lounge is comfortable, should you ever have to wait for them to perform a minor repair.
This is also a good time to talk about the maintenance requirements of the car. What do the various services cost? How often do they need to be performed? Do they have loaner cars? Does the car run on regular or premium? Is there anything specific to this particular model you need to be aware of?
At this point, every good salesperson will ask what they can do to help you buy the car today. They’re supposed to do this; it’s part of their job. Just remind them you still have a number of factors to consider before you start talking deals. Take their card and assure them you’ll give them a fair opportunity to win your business if their car makes the final cut.
Sometimes, they’ll try to get you to wait to talk to another “more senior” salesperson. Politely refuse the offer. If they get irritating about it, leave their card on their desk and walk. Plenty of dealerships will afford your words the respect they deserve.
While we're on the subject of respect, some folks have a tendency to behave condescendingly to women when it comes to things automotive. If you ever feel you're being disrespected at any juncture during your interactions with a salesperson, you owe it to them to walk. Tolerating such behavior only teaches them it's OK, and you can bet they'll do it to the next person. It's not incumbent upon you to correct them though, just leave. Eventually, their lack of sales will show through and they'll get what they've earned.
Always remember, you got the money—you got the power. We’re talking about five- and six-figure purchases here. If you feel pressured, disrespected, or slighted in any way, you can always get to steppin’.