What to Look for When Test Driving a Car

Next to a home, buying a vehicle is the second most expensive purchase the average American will make.  That’s why taking the vehicle for a test drive is an essential step in the automotive buying process.  This will give you an authentic idea of how the vehicle handles and if it will fit your needs.

What do you need to bring when test driving a car at a dealership?

Let’s just get the legal bit out of the way before we dive into what to look for when test driving a used car or new car.  First, and foremost, when you go to the dealership for a test drive, bring your driver’s license and proof of insurance.   If you are still driving on a permit, ask the dealership ahead of time if you will be allowed to drive with your permit.  If they say no, bring a friend or family member who has a license to drive for you.

What to ask when test driving a car?

Whether you are interested in the general handling of a specific model or test driving a used car, it is important to have some general questions ready before you even walk into the dealership.  Having them written down ahead of time will help you to remember questions to ask when test driving a car.  This list will be very specific to you, so consider what is most important to you in your next vehicle. Some of these points may include:

  • Your Budget – remember the price of the vehicle on the sticker does not include sales tax, registration and dealer fees. Know your bottom-line number and how you plan to pay for the vehicle (lease, finance, cash).
  • Model’s Reliability – consider how the model has rated with Consumer Reports or other review services. Ask about the yearly cost of ownership and maintenance costs.
  • Features – Make sure to list all the features that are important to YOU. They may include blind-spot detection, crash mitigation braking, parking assistance, Satellite Radio, heated seats, etc. and identify which ones you could live without if not available.
  • Fuel Efficiency – in addition to how many miles per gallon it gets, ask what type of fuel is required for full efficiency. This can add significantly to your cost of ownership.
  • Passenger Capacity – in addition to how many people can be in the vehicle, consider leg room and ease of entering/exiting the vehicle.
  • Cargo Capacity – consider how much flexible cargo space you will have.
  • Towing – if this is a MUST, make sure you know what the maximum capacity is of the model.

When you arrive at the dealership, make sure you ask your salesperson about these items BEFORE you even start your test drive.  Last thing you want to do is waste your time driving a vehicle that doesn’t have everything you need.

What should you look for during a test drive?

If you are test driving a new vehicle, there are several essential items to look for during your test drive.

  1. Comfort – In addition to the coziness of the seat, you should make sure the whole driving experience is comfortable. This may include adjusting the seat for your size, reaching the pedals and gear controls, visibility both behind and out the sideview mirrors, as well as accessibility to all controls, including the radio and climate control.  For your passengers, consider their needs as well.
  2. Responsiveness – Take this opportunity to test the acceleration and braking of the vehicle. Try to feel it at highway speeds and in stop-and-go traffic.  And don’t forget turning!  Make sure you’re getting the power and performance you’re looking for.
  3. Visibility – This covers a number of items, including mirrors, rear window, and headlights. Blind spots and low visibility can make driving riskier.  Make sure you feel confident you have a good view of the road on all four sides of your vehicle.
  4. Parking – Give yourself a chance to practice parking the vehicle. This should include backing in/out of a spot, as well as, parallel parking. Be aware of how the steering feels (is it too stiff?), the car responds (does the gas and brake feel different when parking?), and comfort (did it feel awkward trying to park?)

If you are test driving a used vehicle (so that’s a definite YES to the question “should you always test drive a used car”) you should also consider the following:

  1. Body – Walk around the vehicle and inspect the overall body of the vehicle. Wavy body panels, uneven paint, and ill-fitting seams are all indications of poorly repaired collision damage. Remember, not all collisions and repairs are captured by vehicle history reports.
  2. Interior – Look carefully at the wear and tear items inside the vehicle. Look for tears, stains, and overall damage to the seats and carpeting.  And don’t forget to take a good smell.  Tobacco, food and pet odors can be locked into the material.

Most dealerships do not have a limit on how many times you can test drive a car, but by being prepared you will be able to get the most out of one or maybe two visits to know if the vehicle is for you.  So, whether if you are interested in a Ford, Lincoln, Porsche, Audi, Volkswagen, Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, Infiniti, Infiniti Q50, Infiniti Q60, Infiniti QX50, Infiniti QX55, Infiniti QX60, Infiniti QX80, Infiniti models NJ, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, Subaru, Honda, Jaguar or Land Rover, we are here to help you with your test drive.  Our team has been serving the Hunterdon County, NJ, Buck County, Pa, Bridgewater, Edison, Princeton, Hamilton, Somerset County and Mercer County areas for the past 45 years.