Test Drive Before You Buy

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The Right Way to Test-Drive a New Car

You might spend 1,000 hours or more behind the wheel of your next new car. Choose the wrong car, and those hours could be uncomfortable and/or unsafe. Yet most shoppers make this important purchase after test-driving the car for just 10 minutes.

 How to get test-drives right…


Call the dealership to ask…

•When is the best time for me to take an extended test-drive? It is very important to spend enough time in the vehicle—at least 20 minutes and preferably longer—to fully address all your concerns and questions.

•Can I test-drive the exact car that I’m interested in, with the same engine, transmission and options? Dealerships typically designate just a few examples of each model for test-drives to avoid running up the odometers on other cars. But seemingly minor variations can make a big difference.

Example: If you intend to buy a car with a sunroof, test-drive one with a sunroof. Sunroofs often reduce headroom, and some sunroofs create more noise than others when open.


Before you start the engine…

•Adjust the position of the driver’s seat precisely. Make sure that there is a driving position that you find very comfortable.

•Check whether the knobs, dials and cup holders are within easy reach. This seems minor, but it’s dangerous and annoying to have to lean to reach such things while driving.

•Try out the backseat, particularly if you frequently have three or more adults or teens as passengers.

•Load any large items you often travel with into the trunk or hatch. For example, if someone in your household requires a wheelchair, walker or stroller, make sure this item fits without much struggle.


Most drivers do little on test-drives beyond confirming that the ride quality, acceleration and handling are at least minimally acceptable based on personal preferences. But you can—and should—do much more…

•Choose a route that tests the car under various conditions, including highway acceleration, bumpy roads, sudden stops, parallel parking, backing out of a space in a crowded parking lot and any other conditions that you normally drive in.

•Ask the salesman to stop talking so that you can focus on the drive. There will be time for talk later.

•Check the blind spots. Change lanes on the highway…make a right turn at an intersection where there are pedestrians. Does this feel comfortable…or are there worrisome blind spots?

•Test the seat heaters. There is great variation from vehicle to vehicle on how warm the seats get.

•Listen for annoying noises, including whistling wind. If you find a noise annoying on a short test-drive, it will drive you nuts when you own the car.

•Let everyone in the family who is going to drive the car take a turn behind the wheel on the test-drive. Too often one family member takes charge of the car-buying decision, leaving the others to drive a car that is not well-suited to them.

Source: Grant Winter founder and reporter for Real World Test Drive, a Web site based in northern New Jersey that provides video reviews of dozens of different vehicles. He has been a TV journalist in various cities since 1982 and has been reviewing cars for nearly 20 years. www.RealWorldTestDrive.com

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