How to Test Drive a Car

  • by: Patrick Peterson
  • July 06, 2020
  • Other
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A picture paints a thousand words, but a picture of a car taken and edited by a pro can cost you thousands of dollars.

This could be your story if you plan on buying a vehicle just by how it looks on paper or the website. Nothing beats going to a dealership and seeing the car in the metal, but you can't pick one out of the lot, and you can't drop in anytime, anywhere without a solid car buying plan. A skilled and experienced salesperson will eat you alive. You might come home with a more expensive car that wasn't even on your radar, loaded with accessories you don't even need. In this article, we'll outline the entire process to help you make the right purchasing decision.
what is test driving a car

What Do You Need to Test Drive a Car?

While you can visit a car dealership anytime you want, please hold off on doing so until you've done your homework. Conduct some preliminary research on the car you want and make two lists. Your first list should contain the type of vehicle you want (SUV, sedan, truck, etc.), color, required features, optional features, engine, safety, and budget. You should also consider adding depreciation values if you plan on selling the car after five years. The next list should have the top three car manufacturers and the top three model variants you want to drive.

Should I Schedule A Test Drive Or Just Show Up?

More often than not, the car you want to take for a spin won't be available at all, or you'll have to wait an excessive amount of time while the staff preps it for you. Most car dealerships are cramped, and their lots are full of vehicles parked as tightly as the limited space allows. The model you want to drive may be parked in the middle of the lot and dirty, so they would have to move every car blocking it and clean it before you can take it for a drive. The vehicle can also be stuck in a satellite office miles away or in the showroom, which can even be more complicated to move.

How to Test Drive Car Back-to-Back

Schedule the test drives back-to-back, so the driving impressions are still fresh in your mind, and you can draw car comparisons immediately. Having another appointment can also give you an excuse to leave the dealership, especially if a pesky salesperson wants to close the deal right then and there. It's a good idea to bring a family member or friend with you to point out things you may have missed and ask questions you didn't think to ask. Ask if you could take the car home with you overnight or for a few hours to see if it fits in your garage and how it looks. Most dealerships allow this if you ask nicely.

How Old Do You Have To Be to Test Drive a Car

Well, apparently this question is often asked. Yet, the answer is very simple. You are allowed to test drive a car whatever the driving age is in your state. To put it more simple, you should have a driver's license to test drive a car.   In addition, you should also be the age set out by the dealers itself. Some dealers require you to be at least 18 years old. So, don't forget to check it as well. 

how to test drive a car

What Is Required To Test Drive A Car?

  • First Impressions: Before taking the car out for a spin, consider walking around the vehicle to view all its angles, its stance, presence, and visual impact. How do you feel when looking at the car? Step inside, take in the interiors, and put your hands on the steering wheel. Does it feel right?
  • The Color: The color and tone you saw on the car's brochure or online won't be the same in person. A vehicle's paint job can also be different when viewing the car indoors under showroom lighting or outdoors under streetlights. Make sure to go to the dealership early in the day for the best color saturation and at night for a different look.  Have a second color on standby in case the one you wanted looks weird under other lighting conditions.
  • Enough Cargo Space?: If you carry around large or odd-sized cargo all the time, such as musical instruments or sporting gear, take it with you to see if it fits in the new car. For extra-long items such as mountain bikes or surfboards, look for fold-flat rear seats and a trunk pass-through.
  • Child Safety: Ensure the car has 3-point ELR/ALR seat belts and easy child seat installation. Bring your child seat to test out how to install it and how much space you'll have.

It would help your decision process if you check the following:

  • Issues on getting in and out of the vehicle without stooping too low or banging your head.
  • The gauges should be easy to read, even at night.
  • The controls for features such as air conditioning, windows, and audio located on the steering wheel, the center console, and other areas of the car should take minimal effort to identify and operate.
  • Comfortable passenger seating, ample legroom, headroom, and hip room. Take a seat everywhere and envision the car full of passengers.
  • Since you'll be driving, make sure the driving position fits your frame, and the seat is fully-adjustable while offering excellent lumbar support. Check for tilt/telescopic steering and if the pedal positions work for your height. Adjust the seat, seat belt, and mirrors.
  • Make sure the pillars on each side don't create blind spots and visibility issues.
  • Turn off the radio to hear the rev of the engine when you step on the accelerator and when you're driving.

What Happens During A Test Drive?

Your test drive should match what you need the car to do on the daily. If you go to and from work using the freeway, then testing the vehicle on the open road at high speed is what you need to do. If you're up in the mountains or always in stop-and-go traffic, check with the salesperson if you can alter the predetermined route and go where there's a steep incline or a narrow, congested street. If what you want isn't too extreme, they'll probably allow it. The salesperson will talk to you and periodically ask you if you like the car. Stay neutral and don't commit, no matter how much you want the vehicle.

The minute you're rolling, be sure to look out for the following:

  • Engine and Acceleration: How does the engine sound when you accelerate? Do you feel any vibration or hear labored noises? How fast does the car accelerate when you step on the pedal? Do you think there's enough power under the hood to pass other vehicles on the highway or climb uphill?
  • Cabin Noise: How quiet or noisy is it inside the cabin? Can you hear the engine, tires, and outside sounds?
  • Handling: How responsive is the vehicle during turns? Is there any tactile resistance from the steering wheel, or does it feel too light?
  • Brakes and Suspension: How abrupt are the brakes when you step on the pedal? Do they "grab" immediately, or is there a lag? Does the suspension feel stiff or too soft? Is the ride comfortable, or can you feel the smallest pothole on the road?
  • Features and Technology: Make sure to test out every feature equipped in the car, such as hands-free calling via Bluetooth, phone mirroring, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, and the navigation system. Use your phone and play music, or make a test call. Test the backup camera and sensors if they're working and provide you a clear video in use. Operate the touch screen monitor as you would on your daily drive to see if it's user friendly or not.

After Auto Test Drive

The salesperson will talk to you about the best features and again ask if you like the car. Use your best poker face and stay non-committal, no matter how much you love the car. Give the vehicle a once-over before leaving to make sure you don't miss anything and give it a few days before deciding what car you want to buy. A car is one of the biggest investments you'll make in your life. It makes absolute sense to go out there and test every car that's available to get a vehicle that you'll be happy with for a long time.

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