How To Test Drive a Car

Jeff Youngs | Apr 19, 2019

how to test drive a car

While buying a new vehicle is an exciting experience, it can also be a stressful one. Not only is there the stress of the negotiation process, but there's also the test drive. In fact, the prospect of getting in an unfamiliar vehicle with a perfect stranger and driving down the road together can be uncomfortable. What's more, the pressure is on: for in this short time span, most shoppers will make a decision on whether they will purchase their next new vehicle.

What to expect

Part of what makes a test drive so stressful is that most consumers don't know what to expect, since buying a new vehicle isn't something they do very often. Be prepared to provide the dealer with some commonly requested information such as your driver's license, and, in some states, proof of insurance. The salesperson may want to make a copy of this information. This is done not only because they want to confirm that you are a registered driver, but also so they have your personal information should something problematic happen during the test drive. As unbelievable as it sounds, there have been cases of scams involving teams of people attempting to steal a vehicle during the test drive.

Once the salesperson gets the appropriate license plate for the vehicle and the keys, he or she will accompany you on the test drive, in most cases. Due to the risk of vehicle theft and joyriding, many dealers simply require that someone on their staff accompany the prospective buyer. But there's also a far more practical reason why the salesperson wants to join you; it provides the ideal opportunity for them to present details about the new vehicle in an effort to sell you a new car.

Frequently, the dealership will have a predetermined test drive route, which often provides a variety of driving conditions (city, highway, twisty roads, hills, traffic, etc.) that allow prospective owners to experience how the vehicle responds to different situations. Often the salesperson will drive first, demonstrating the vehicle's characteristics and talking about its features.

Learn from the passenger seat

If the salesperson takes the wheel first, take advantage of this time to familiarize yourself with the vehicle's comfort and convenience features, including the seats, climate control settings, and stereo controls. This is also a good time to ask questions because when you're behind the wheel, you'll want to focus on the driving experience. Often, you get a different perspective of a vehicle while traveling as a passenger, rather than driving.

In the driver's seat

When you do get to sit in the driver's seat, resist the temptation to just "get in and go." Start by making all the necessary adjustments for comfort and safety. Fully adjust the seat, mirrors, steering wheel, seat belt, and foot pedals, if they are adjustable.

Although the vehicle should always be operated in a safe manner, it's also important to get an idea of how it performs. Drive normally and pay close attention to how the vehicle responds during acceleration, braking, and cornering. Make sure that visibility on all sides is acceptable, and that parking and backing up can be done with ease. Pay special attention to blind spots when backing up, and try to adjust the mirrors to reduce or eliminate those areas you can't see.

After the drive

After the test drive, take some time to look closely at the vehicle. Sit in the front and rear seats to determine if passengers will be comfortable. If the seats fold, reconfigure or can be removed, test those features to see how easy they are to use. Lastly, look at the trunk or cargo space. Determine if there is enough room for luggage for a long trip and see if there are any unique features that will be useful such as a cargo net or hooks.

Take time to think

Expect the test drive to last between 15 and 30 minutes, including the salesperson's time behind the wheel. Be prepared for the salesperson to ask if you're ready to buy when you return to the dealership after the test drive. Don't be hesitant to say that you need some time to consider your options, whether it's a few minutes or a few days. Take time to decide if you've had enough time behind the wheel to be confident in your decision and, if not, ask for a longer test drive. Many dealerships are open to the idea of letting a customer borrow the vehicle overnight or for a weekend if they have already taken a short test drive or are returning for a second visit.

It's easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of purchasing a new vehicle and end up overlooking certain features that are really important to you. Before visiting the dealership, decide what features are important for your lifestyle and don't be swayed, by the salesperson, a friend, or yourself, from getting what you really want.

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