Who doesn’t love getting a new car? On the other hand, the research process can be a hassle—which is why good advice is so important. But ultimately, you’re the judge on which car will best suit you, and that’s why the test drive is one of the most important aspects of buying a car.
Unless you know exactly which year, model, color and option package you want on your next car, you’ll be test driving at least a few before you plunk down your hard-earned cash, and even then, you might want to compare a couple of examples of the same car. But what should you do to maximize those test drives? This simple list of five key things to do during your drive will help you to do just that.
Maybe you were that kid in class who was always prepared, had all your notebooks in order, and had always done your homework. Sat in the front row. Had all the answers. Or maybe you’re not. Either way, you’ll want to take notes of your test drives. Why? Because the impressions you collect in the moment can be fleeting, and your memory can selectively forget niggling little problems that will, over time, come to spoil your future ownership. But if you take thorough notes on your thoughts right after each test drive, you’ll have a good basis to compare your feelings and thoughts when it comes time to make a decision.
Don’t let a salesperson force you into a too-short run around the block, or forbid the freeway—this is a major purchase, and you have every right to test it out as you’d really use it. That means you should spend some time in traffic, tool through the ‘burbs, hit the freeway (be sure to gun it on the on-ramp to see how it handles quick acceleration), and generally just use it like you’d normally use your car.
If you have key equipment that must fit in the car, or that will be traveling along with you frequently, bring it to the test drive and see how it works. This goes double if you have a baby seat or child seat—you’ll want to find the tie-down anchors (LATCH anchors) and be sure the seat fits in your desired orientation and in a place that’s easily accessible and suits your needs. If you haul the kids to soccer practice, bring the cooler, the balls, the shin guards—everything. And the kids, too. If you’re buying a pickup truck and intend to tow or haul with it frequently, see if you can arrange with the dealer to test those capabilities, too.
The stereo, Bluetooth, navigation, and all the other little electronic bits that contribute to your daily satisfaction with a car can be hard to test in a short period of time. It will all be unfamiliar and a bit clunky at first, but be sure to pair your phone (but don’t transfer your contacts!) and test the other equipment before you head out. You’ll learn the system in just a few days or weeks, but if it won’t do something you absolutely need or want, better to find out before you buy.
Poke around every nook and cranny, inside and out. Open every door, cubby, and storage compartment, look under the floor mats and seats, and be sure it all operates properly and is nice and clean. At the very least, you may be able to get the salesperson to knock a few bucks off the price—or you may uncover some deal breakers.
This handful of tips will go a long way toward getting the most out of your time with each car you test drive. And once you narrow down the field, don’t forget to follow Instamotor’s other great advice, like getting a professional inspection to ensure everything under the surface is in good working order, too.
automotive freelance journalist