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How to Test Drive a Car

test 3If you’ve been shopping around for a car, whether it’s a new car or a used car, the test drive is usually the last, and perhaps most important, part of the buying process. Here are five things that you should consider when test driving a car.


When you take a test drive, check everything out mechanically, that is, take a look at everything before you even move the car. Open the doors, the hood, the trunk, and the gas door. Is everything easy to use? Are adjustable seats easy to use and do they function as designed? If you aren’t sure, make sure to ask the salesman or seller. In the case of used cars, are there any missing parts, such as the jack or spare tire tools? If you aren’t mechanically-inclined, take along a friend who is. In the case of used cars, consider having a professional mechanic take a look at it. It might cost a little bit, but it can give you a good idea if the car will be a reliable purchase.


test 1Start the engine and engage the transmission. Do you hear or feel any unusual noises or vibrations? This might indicate powertrain issues. Drive around a little at low speed, and practice braking a few times. Excessive noises might indicate problems with transmission or suspension. At highway speed, wandering or pulling might indicate tire, suspension, or steering problems. While braking, vibration or noise might indicate problems with the braking system. During your test drive, try to cover as many driving situations as you typically encounter, such as stop-and-go traffic or highway cruising.


While driving the car, don’t forget to see how things feel to you. After all, you’re going to spend a lot of time in it. How do the seats feel? Can you adjust the driver seat to your own size? Do you have enough legroom? Can you reach all the controls comfortably and without leaning over? Can you reach the pedals? All these things are important, not only for comfort, but also safety. Poorly-fitting cars can lead to strains. If you have to reach to access a control, you might take your eyes off the road, which is distracting.


test 2Of course, don’t forget your family! Whoever else is in your family also needs to be in the car, right? Check that everyone fits comfortably in the car, whether it’s the front seats, back seats, or even the third-row. Make sure access to the third-row seats is easy for whoever has to get back there. If you need to mount a child seat, are the LATCH points easy to access? If you need to mount a dog kennel, does it fit?

Granted, you might not be able to do a thorough test drive in an hour or two. If you’re looking at a new car, considerably greater risk is involved, at least financially-speaking. If you leave a deposit, you might be able to take the car home for the weekend, to see if it fits in your garage and give you a better feel for how the car fits in your life.

Even if the price is right, the test drive can make the difference between a satisfying or miserable ownership experience. In the case of used cars, a test drive might reveal an expensive fault. In a new car, a test drive will reveal how compatible you and your new car will be.  This is also true if you are an experienced buyer or even starting a car collection.

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