How To Test Drive A New Car
One of modern life’s greatest pleasures is getting a new car. Ask most people though and they will also say one of life’s biggest pains in the ask me where; is buying a new car. What’s the difference? Everything you have to go through to buy a new car, including and especially negotiating the price. While many volumes of advice have been written on this subject, and justifiably so; people focus so heavily on this they never think about how to test-drive a car. Most people just hop behind the wheel, inhale that oh so alluring new car smell, take a short drive, and that’s it.
It is extremely important to take your time and inspect the car thoroughly. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by a new car and overlook things—or rationalize them away—temporarily. The salesperson is there talking it up, you’re anxious to get your car and go home, driving a new car makes you nervous, there are hundreds of reasons for this.
However, if you aren’t thorough, you could wind up making payments on something you like less and less each time you drive it.
How To Test Drive A New Car: Do Your Research
Your test drive starts at home. Once you’ve figured out what your needs are and how much you can afford to comfortably spend, taking into account insurance, fuel, and maintenance—in addition to the monthly payment—you should develop a list of all the cars interesting to you in the price range you can afford.
Learn everything you can about them, what options are available, what colors they come in, determine which of the available engine/transmission/drive combinations you want, observe how much space they have, and figure out which trim level you want to get. Pay attention to the safety features, the more of them you can get for the money, the better.
car reviews can be somewhat abstract when they talk about things like cubic feet of trunk space or interior space. To visualize these numbers, look up the specs for the car you’re driving now and see how the new one compares. Bear in mind there can be mitigating circumstances. A trunk may well have 18 cubic feet of cargo capacity, but if the wheel wells intrude, it may be less usable.
In other words, get to know the cars before you go see them.
To know what to look for, you need to know what you’re looking at.
How To Test Drive A New Car: Visit The Dealerships
When it’s time to go see them in person, do so is in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. Take off work if you have to. This is when dealerships are slowest and salespeople have more time. Weekends are busy because people who aren’t as smart as you flood the lots and rush through the process. You want to be able to take your time, relax, and go over the car at your own pace.
Here, it is important to let the salesperson know you are in the research phase of your shopping process. However, if their car impresses you over the others on your list, you will contact them again. This keeps them interested enough to answer your questions and work with you, but you’ve also warned them a sale won’t be coming that day.
Ideally, you’ll take a friend or relative with you for second opinions, and to give the salesperson someone other than you to talk to while you make your observations. Keep in mind; different options affect the functioning of a car in different ways. Try to evaluate a car equipped as closely as possible to the one you’ll ultimately purchase so you can get an accurate assessment.
Choose dealerships as close as possible to where you live, so you can drive over familiar terrain. Determine your route in advance and make sure it includes rough roads, smooth roads, traffic signals, uphill and downhill roads (if these apply to your area) and highway driving. Try to keep it as brief as possible, while ensuring you get an opportunity to try the car in all of those circumstances.
How To Test Drive A New Car: Line Up For Inspection
Before you get inside, walk around the car, thinking in terms of where you live and where you’ll need to park it. If you’ve paid attention to the specs and compared them as we outlined earlier, you should have a pretty good idea of the size of the car, but seeing it in person is something else altogether.
Open the trunk, is the space readily accessible? How high do you have to lift things to put them in the trunk? Imagine standing in the rain, with your hands full and consider how difficult it will be to get the trunk to accommodate your cargo. If it’s a station wagon, or an SUV, is the rear hatch heavy? How high does it open, if you’re on the shorter side, can you reach it to close it comfortably? Is there a grab handle inside the trunk to help you close it, or will you have to put your hand on dirty wet metal?
Open and close the doors. Are they heavy? How wide do they open? How long are the doors? Imagine yourself in a parking lot with cars on both sides of you; will you be able to open the door wide enough to get in and out without hitting the car next to you?
Open the engine compartment. How easy is this to do? Is the latch where you can find it easily, or do you have to hunt around for it? If you’re a do-it-yourself type, consider the placement of the dipstick, oil filler, brake fluid, and coolant reservoirs. Are they easy to get to? Can they be filled without spilling liquids all over the place?
In other words, try to envision as many day-to-day scenarios as possible and consider how the car will work with you in different situations.
How To Test Drive A New Car: Before You Feel The Wheel
Now you’re ready to get inside. Adjust the seat and steering wheel to a comfortable driving position. Now, get out and get into the seat behind the driver’s seat.
How easily can you get into the car’s back seat? Is there enough legroom for you to “sit behind yourself”? If you’re looking at family cars and you have a tall child, this will be an issue at some point. It will also come into play if your business requires you to drive people around.
While you’re back there, how’s the headroom? If you’ve brought someone with you, ask them to sit on the other side. (Ask the salesperson if you’re alone.) How comfortable is it with two people seated back there? What you’re trying to gauge is how comfortable the car will be for your passengers. Is the back seat too hard, too short, or too low? How easy is it to get in and out?
If your parents are older and you’re caring for them, if the car is too low, they’ll have a tough time exiting. 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 latches difficult to reach? Once it’s in place, is securing your child difficult?
How To Test Drive A New Car: Becoming Well Adjusted
Back in the driver’s seat, fasten the seatbelt. Is it comfortable? Does it cut across your chest too high? Can you adjust it? Is the headrest pushing your head forward? Can it be adjusted? Look around. Can you see out of the car OK? Do your feet reach the pedals comfortably? If they do, is the steering wheel too close—or too far away? With the wheel adjusted optimally, can you read the instruments behind it clearly and at a glance?
Where is the button for the emergency flashers? How do you switch on the headlights? How do you activate the windshield wipers? Was adjusting the seat and steering wheel difficult, or did they move fluidly and freely, and were the controls for operating them easy to find?
Try connecting your phone. Does Bluetooth pair easily? Try placing a call, how is the sound quality? Can the person on the other end hear you clearly? If the car has an adaptor for your phone, plug it in; is the interface simple to operate? Look around at the sun visors, seat upholstery, door panels, and dash coverings—do they look like quality, or plastic and cheap?
Open the storage areas; can you reach the glovebox comfortably from the driver’s seat? Is the center console commodious enough for the things you know you’ll need to carry with you day to day? Where are the cupholders? Imagine them holding tall water bottles; will they get in the way of the shift lever or the handbrake? Envision the car loaded with all of your stuff; do you see potential problem areas?
How To Test Drive A New Car: Time To Fire It Up
Start the engine. Is it quiet and smooth, or is it loud and rough? Imagine listening to it every day; will it fade into the background or will it force you to try to ignore it—tiring you prematurely in the process?
If the car has a manual transmission, step on the clutch and move the shift lever through the gears. Are the gates readily discernable, or do they feel vague, like you’d have to hunt to make sure you’re in the right gear? Does the clutch pedal require you to put forth a lot of effort? Imagine being caught in a traffic jam and having to depress the pedal repeatedly, will it be tiring?
If it doesn’t measure up here on the lot, it certainly won’t measure up out on the road, nor when you get it home. Thank the salesperson for their time, and move on to the next car on your list.
But if it does measure up…
How To Test Drive A New Car: Hit The Road
Ask to drive it.
The salesperson will ask to make a copy of your driver’s license—this is a standard procedure so the dealership knows you’re current. While they’re making the copy, here’s your chance to ask your friend what they think about the car.
When they return, in most cases, the salesperson will insist upon driving the car off the lot, so shut the engine down and switch seats. This is your opportunity to see how comfortable the passenger seat is. Is it easily adjustable? How accessible are the controls in the center console from the passenger seat?
Once you’re back behind the wheel, after you get the seat and wheel repositioned for yourself, adjust the mirrors. Where is the control? Is it easy to operate? Look around, are there any significant blind spots, can you see out of the car with no impediments all around?
Once you’re loaded and locked, set off. If the car has a manual transmission, is the clutch take-up smooth and progressive? Is it easy to get the car rolling? If you have to slip the clutch a lot to get the car moving, you’ll be replacing clutches fairly frequently.
At this point, the salesperson will likely begin talking about different aspects of the car. Politely let them know you’ll ask if you have any questions, you’d really like to focus on the way the car sounds. Also, let the salesperson know you have a pre-determined route so they don’t freak out when you want to turn left, instead of right. Assure them your route is short and ask their indulgence.
How To Test Drive A New Car: On The Road
Squeaks, rattles, tire roar, and wind noise on the test-drive will be much louder a few months down the line. Take note of it—don’t rationalize it away. Granted, this can be price-point dependent, but you still want the quietest and most comfortable car you can for your money—right? Try talking to your friend in the back seat—can you converse comfortably? How long does it take the climate control system to blow hot and cold air?
Over rough surfaces, take note of how much the car absorbs, and how much it leaves for you to absorb. Also, do rough surfaces cause the car to want to change directions—or is it stable and resolved regardless of your speed and the road surface? Try braking firmly on a rough surface, does the car skip over bumps, or does it come to a stop with the tires planted firmly, regardless of the surface? Take a couple of quick turns to see how stable the car is when it’s asked to change directions.
Do a full throttle start, does it track straight, or pull to one side? If it pulls, this can be dangerous on a wet road. Odds are; you’ll be driving on a sunny day, so you won’t get a chance to see how the car behaves in the wet. However, if it feels light and wanders in the dry, you can bet this will be exacerbated in the wet. If the car is equipped with an automatic transmission, does it shift smoothly?
Make sure your route includes an opportunity to parallel-park. Is it easy to get the car in and out of the space? Also, park in a lot—ideally a covered one. Pull in between two cars and see how easy it is to get in and out. Switch on the headlights; observe the instrumentation’s illumination. Are the gauges and controls easy to read? Find an empty area in the parking lot and check out the car’s turning circle. Also simulate a U-turn, is it nice and tidy, or more like trying to turn a cruise ship? Going in and out of the parking lot, does the front of the car scrape the ground?
On the highway, check your visibility again. With your mirrors adjusted properly, are the car’s blind spots covered? How much noise is transmitted into the cabin at speed? Was it easy to get up to speed, or was it glacially slow? Getting off the highway, observe how the brakes feel slowing the car from speed. Do they feel strong and reassuring? Does the car track straight under braking?
On the way back to the dealership, place another phone call, how does it sound when the car is moving? Can the other person still hear you clearly? Do you still feel comfortable in the driver’s seat?
If the car passes all of these tests, put it on your “keep” list.
How To Test Drive A New Car: Back At The Lot
Returning to the lot, the salesperson will invite you inside.
You’ll definitely want to go inside the dealership—to meet the service manager and take a look at the service department.
In addition to getting a read off of this person, you’re looking to make sure the service area lounge will be a comfortable environment should you ever need to wait while an adjustment or a repair is effected. You’re also looking for a clean, professionally kept service area.
This is also a good time to find out what’s involved with maintaining the car. What are its service intervals? What do the services cost? Are there any special considerations or equipment you need to be concerned about?
Satisfied all is in order, it’s time to go. The salesperson will ask you if there is anything they can do to help you decide to take the car home today. Tell them after you’ve evaluated the other cars on your list—if their car stands out—you will give them every opportunity to win your business.
Thank them for their time, take their card, and go test the next one on your list.