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Test Drive Dos and Don'ts

Test Drive Dos and Don'ts

The test drive is arguably the most important aspect of buying a new car, and skipping it is one of the biggest mistakes car buyers make. Even if you know the exact model you want – options and all – it’s crucial to get behind the wheel before signing any papers. This is especially true when buying a used car.

But there’s more to the test drive than just finding out whether or not you fit comfortably in the driver’s seat. How you handle yourself at the dealership let the salesman know if you are desperate for that particular car or if you are a wise shopper taking the time to find the smartest deal.

Our best advice is to always test drive three different vehicles that fit your needs. Then ask the sales person for their card and let them know you will return if you decide that’s the car you want. If they pressure you or make you uncomfortable in an attempt to keep you from leaving, don’t go back there (or request a different sales person if that’s your only viable dealership).

test drive dos and don'ts

What Not To Do On A Test Drive

  1. Absolutely, positively do not ever let yourself be lured inside the dealership to talk to a finance manager, even if “just for a second.” That means the finance manager is going to send in confusing offers consisting of just monthly payments, which is hugely misleading. While it’s good to know your monthly out-of-pocket expenses, this method purposely leaves out variables like the agreed value of the car at the end of a lease or the total spent over a 60+ month loan.
  2. Do not forget to plan for how long financing talks take. Financing, or even outright purchasing a car, is a long and taxing process you should only enter into when your mind is firmly made on what vehicle you want and when you are well rested and have eaten recently. Many dealers will stall for hours on end and you will find yourself signing anything just so they will let you escape to eat or run to the restroom. It’s best to do this on a different day than your initial test drive.
  3. Don’t talk about trading in your car on the same day as your test drive, especially if you’re not 100% sure that’s what you want to do. Once your car and keys vanish into the service department, chances are you won’t see them for hours. Spend your physical and mental energies on the car you want to buy and how it feels behind the wheel and save the trade in discussions for when you’re ready to talk money.

What To Do On A Test Drive

  1. If you’re really serious about a car and you’ve already determined it suits you well, bring everyone who will be regularly using the vehicle to the dealer for a second test drive – even the family dog, if you can get away with it. You want to make sure car seats fit easily, the cargo hold can carry both diaper bag and stroller, and your significant other is comfortable in the passenger seat. (And if you’re buying a sports car, get their opinion on how you look behind the wheel. Some cars aren’t for everyone.)
  2. Take your own route! It always seems that the salesman wants to guide you along a certain route they pre-determined as optimal for these drives. Often times, these roads are chosen because they’re free from potholes and surface imperfections; many avoid freeway driving, which isn’t helpful for commuters. The very brief test drive times don’t give buyers enough time to tell if it rides poorly, suffers from annoying levels of road or engine noise, or if it’s capable of keeping up with the flow of traffic. Map out the test drive you want to take beforehand and insist on taking it. If the salesman resists, ask the manager in charge if you and your family can take the car for the test drive alone. Surprisingly, many dealerships allow that no questions asked.
  3. If more than one person in your family is going to be driving the new or used vehicle absolutely have them test drive it as well. Despite what you may think, even if a car has seats that power-adjust 100 ways, power mirrors, and every safety warning system known to man, there is no car that perfectly fits all people of all sizes. You may have an easy time seeing out of the car no matter which direction you point your head but if your significant might be different. Many issues can be fixed by adding options such as back-up cameras, blind spot warning detection, and other visibility aids, but you’ll want to know this ahead of time so you can select a model with those options.
  4. Most importantly, take as much time as you can to find a car you and your family will truly love. Love might be a strong word to apply to a car, but when you consider how long you may own this car and how much money you’re spending, you had better have at least a deep infatuation. 
James Hamel

James Hamel is a freelance road tester, auto journalist, and Motor Press Guild full member. Find past work at Autobytel.com and current work a iSeeCars.com. Contact James at [email protected].


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