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Here's What You Should Know Before Test Driving A Car.

Published August 9, 2022

This article has been reviewed by licensed insurance industry expert Moshe Fishman.

We’ve all been there, walking through the car lot, staring in amazement at the beauty and technological advances of so many cars. Eventually, your eyes land on a particular vehicle that has your name written all over it. You want to take a test drive! Now, your car buying process has started, but your information research and buying decision are ahead.

After asking about things like price range, warranty, fuel economy, and features, you jump into your dream car and buckle up to take a test drive with the salesperson. And off you go! Oh yes, you might need to schedule an appointment for that test drive, first. Car dealerships differ in that regard.

Test driving a new car can be exciting, but it's also important to know how to evaluate the experience and what to look for as you take it for a spin. Here are a few tips to help you successfully try your vehicle on for size and ensure an effective buying decision process!

What’s the car’s history?

First things first! Is this a new or used car? If you are considering a used car purchase, ask the salesman for a report of the car’s history or you may want to check its history with a service like Carfax. You’ll want to expose any hidden issues that could cost you money and extensive repairs.

A car history report will reveal a previous accident, theft, flooding history, and more using the car’s VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). Typically, this type of vehicle report will include a review and evaluation with dates, details, and locations. 

For example, as the prior owner had some of the higher mileage services performed? On higher mileage cars, the timing belt and spark plugs will need changing, and these changes may be costly.

Get ready for the test drive.

Before you even get behind the wheel, take a few minutes to look over the car. Check out the exterior, interior, and all the features. This will help you understand what the car offers and what to look for while driving. You may even consider doing research for the model that you’ve got your eye on before you even step foot on the car lot.

Make a list of questions to ask the salesperson by thinking about what’s important to you. Are there A/C vents in the back seat area? What size is the gas tank? What about plugging in your electric vehicle? What type of charging is required?

Try to schedule the test drive for at least half an hour to allow you enough time to see if the car is a good fit. It’s important to make your test drive pay dividends in your purchasing decision.

Factors to consider as you evaluate the vehicle.

When test-driving a car, it's essential to consider various factors to make the best decision for your needs.

Know your comfort zone.

How comfortable is this vehicle? Be sure to sit in all the seats and try out all the features. See if the seatbelts fit snug, check the legroom, and check your view out of the windows. Can you comfortably reach the gas pedal and all the other controls? What about the feel of the steering wheel? Does it feel comfortable in your hands?

You should be able to operate all controls efficiently as you sit in an upright position with good visibility without straining your neck or back. Although somewhat obvious, all of these elements are essential to comfortability.

If you can, try to find a route with different types of surfaces. This will help you to judge how well the car handles on different types of pavement. Feeling every bump on the road should raise a red flag.

Evaluate acceleration and braking.

You'll also want to pay attention to how fast or slow the car accelerates, how well it handles corners, and how it brakes. Note how smooth the car feels when taking off, whether or not you feel any lag in speed, a loud screaming sound, and how fast it accelerates. Are there odd noises at certain engine speeds? You'll want to make sure the car responds quickly to your acceleration, and that it doesn't move erratically. 

Test out the brakes by applying a range of pressure motions-- try braking slowly and more suddenly. Do the brakes gradually stop the car, or do they jerk it to a halt? Do they make any strange sounds?

Also, consider the car's powertrain - does it have enough power for your needs? And is the powertrain something you're comfortable with? If you're not used to a certain type of powertrain, it can be jarring when driving this type of car for the first time. 

Even if you are comfortable with the type of power train, poor acceleration may indicate issues with fuel injectors, fuel pump, or other critical and costly engine parts.

Acceleration problems, low miles per gallon performance, and similar issues may lead you to an evaluation of alternatives.

So, take the time to evaluate different powertrains and see which one you feel most comfortable with. In addition, consider if the car is an electric car, hybrid, or gas-only powered and if it fits your budget and your lifestyle. 

Try a variety of roads.

When test-driving, it’s important to try all types of roads so you can get a feel for how the car performs on different surfaces. For example, try to drive on the highway, city streets, and even bumpy, rough roads to see how the suspension holds up. Take note of any unwanted road noise, or other noises, when going over bumps and if you can feel each bump in your seat.

You want to make sure you're getting the most for your money, and that means trying it out on different surfaces and conditions. What happens when you drive over bumps and potholes in the road? Are the gears easily transferred while driving on a slippery street? Can you safely control the car on different surfaces?

Focus on steering and handling.

Check out the car’s steering by taking varying types of turns at different speeds while paying attention to how well you can control it. Does the car respond to your turning smoothly, without any lagging? If not, there may be an issue with the power steering system. Or does it understeer or oversteer when taking corners? 

If these control aspects don’t feel smooth, this could be a problem. You don't want to feel like the wheel is fighting your turning efforts. The car should handle without any problems when turning corners and going over bumps. After all, your drive experience should leave you feeling secure and confident in this vehicle.

What about the view from the driver's seat? Make sure to check for blind spots, after properly adjusting your side and rearview mirrors. Even if this car has a backup camera, good rear and side visibility for the driver is critical.

What to do after the test drive.

Now that you have had a chance to test drive the car, it's important to think about what comes next. Most people will either buy the car or move on to the next one. If you do decide to buy the car, make sure you have all the necessary paperwork in order, such as your driver's license, proof of insurance, and registration (for trade-in).

If you're not sure if the car is right for you, or you just want to take a break from thinking about it, go home and think about your decision. Sometimes it's helpful to talk to friends and family about your options. Just sleeping on it will help as you wake up to a fresh line of thinking.

Don’t rush to make this large purchase. Make sure you take your time and look at the pros and cons. Buying a car is a big decision, and it's important to make sure it's worth the purchase.

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