5 Things To Do When Test Driving A Car

In the market for new wheels? (Photo: Minerva Studio/Shutterstock)
In the market for new wheels? (Photo: Minerva Studio/Shutterstock)

Buying a car is a big investment and doing a smart test drive is an important step in making an informed decision. To help you get the most you can out of your test drive, go into it with clear focus of what you’re looking to determine. Here are 5 to-dos to help you best discover your new potential ride.

Before you even go for a test drive, it’d be wise to do plenty of research to narrow down your list so you can make informed decisions about which cars you wish to take for a drive. There is loads of information on car rating and road tests online. Once you’re ready to go to a dealership (be sure to test drive the car in the model and with the options you are considering—some options can change the feel significantly), here are a few things to pay close attention to:

Take a moment to see how well the car suits you once you get in and sit in the driver’s seat. You may automatically have the mindset of evaluating the car as you drive it, but get into the car to get a feel for it in park (in fact, get in and out a few times to see how comfortable that is to do for you). Look at what visibility it offers, whether the mirrors and controls are easily to control and easily visible? Are you seated comfortably and is the steering wheel well positioned for you?

Take a test-drive route that would be similar to your usual type of driving. While the salesperson at the dealership may suggest a route for the test drive, if it’s not like the conditions you would usually drive in, be prepared with a suggestion of a route you’d prefer to try and request doing that drive instead. For example, if you’ll be doing lots of driving on a highway, you should try it on a highway to see how the car functions at higher speeds. Also, you may want to do a second test drive at night-time so you can see how good the headlights are.

Keep a mental checklist of how the car is performing during your drive. First, leave the radio off for your drive so you’re focused and are able to hear the engine. As you drive, there are many things to look out for: when going uphill, how’s the car’s power? Do the tires or engine make a lot of noise? How well does the car accelerate when you are trying to pass someone? When you brake, is it smooth (if you can go to a safe spot, do a  hard stop to see how well the anti-lock breaking system works)? When driving over rough roads, are you comfortable or is the suspension too stiff or too soft? Try out the climate-control system, too. And parallel park it—you’ll get a great sense of the car’s angles and any of its blindspots.

Look in the trunk space and check the other seats in the car. Consider the things you typically load in and out of your car and the trunk and see whether the car will accommodate that. If your partner is usually in the car with you, then they should come for the test drive and experience it as well. If you have kids in carseats, you may want to bring the carseat with you to see that it can easily be installed in the car you are considering.

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