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What To Look for On a Test Drive

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Looking for a new car can be such an exciting time, and it can be very easy to get caught up in that excitement and make a rash decision – especially if you are a first-time buyer. But before you get swept away by a particular car, and before you even consider pulling out that wallet, ask for a test drive first. And when you are ready to take that test drive, take this list of questions and things to consider along with you as a guideline for helping you find your perfect car.

Test Drive a Car

Before the Test Drive

Before you get into the car, take a look around the outside first. Make note of how well the car is made. Some things to look for include gaps even between the hood and the fenders, and the smoothness of the paint. Pop the hood and check to see how the engine looks. Is it clean? Is the wiring neatly bundled?

What is the vehicle’s gas mileage? Also, ask about the safety features offered with the car. Most cars come with at least some safety features standard, while additional features often depend on the trim level.

The Sit Test

After examining the outside, open the door and get in. While sitting behind the wheel consider the following:

  • Is the car easy to get into and out of?
  • Does the driver’s seat support your thighs and the small of your back in order to avoid discomfort, especially on long trips?
  • Can you easily and comfortably reach all the controls?

Now get back out and get in the back seat.

  • Is there enough room for your legs? Are the seats uncomfortably hard? Too soft? Passengers should be comfortable too!
  • Is there room for a child car seat if you need one?
  • Is there room for bags, luggage or anything else you may one day need to fit inside?

The Wheel and Dashboard Check

Time to get back into the driver’s seat! Once you are behind the wheel, take a moment to check out a few more things.

  • Can you see over the steering wheel? Is it adjustable?
  • Is the top rim of the steering wheel lower than your shoulders? If it isn’t, it may interfere with your line of sight.
  • Do your feet easily reach the pedals? If not, can you adjust the seat enough to where you can reach them?
  • How about the gauges on the dash. Are they easy to read?
  • Do you need to change your position in order to see any gauges?
  • Does glare make them hard to see?
  • Locate where all of the lights and windshield wiper buttons/knobs are.
  • Can you reach all controls without having to move far out of position?
  • Squirt the windshield-wiper fluid, run the wipers and look for any areas that the wipers don’t reach.
  • Make sure all lights turn on and all knobs/buttons work like they are supposed to.

Hit the Road

Now it’s time to take the car for a spin. There’s no need to spend hours in the car to decide whether it’s right for you or not – it will be evident early on if it’s not as it should be, or if it feels wrong. Ten minutes should be plenty of time – as long as it allows you to experience a variety of driving conditions and to get a feel for how the car handles.

In addition, beware of a car that’s already been turned on and is waiting for you. A warmed-up engine can hide some issues, so it’s best to test drive a car using a cold start.

While driving, consider the following:

  • Brakes – how quickly will the car come to a complete stop? Does it have anti-lock brakes? If so, once you are on a straight piece of road with no one behind you, warn your passenger/s you’re going to brake hard. Then while holding the steering wheel lightly, press firmly on the brake pedal. The car should come to a controlled halt – and you should feel the ABS ‘pulsing’ under your foot. Make sure the car is not pulling too hard to one side or the other as this can indicate a possible issue.
  • Ride comfort – while driving, how comfortable is the ride? Do you feel every bump in the road? Or are you unaware of the decrepit road conditions?
  • Steering and Handling – good steering should feel easy and controllable especially through turns and around curves. How does the car respond to quick maneuvers? Does it track well when driving straight ahead or does it requires small, continual corrections?
  • Acceleration – get a feel for how the car accelerates. Never settle for a quick ride around the block. You want to make sure you try the car on regular roads and the highway. Make sure you try both a quick acceleration run from a stop and a rolling merge into fast freeway traffic, too. Try climbing a steep hill. Does the transmission downshift smoothly and the engine respond quickly and without any hiccups?
  • Quietness – at some point during the test drive, turn off the radio and close all of the windows so you can hear what is going on, especially at highway speeds. Listen to how subdued or loud the engine is during acceleration and highway cruising. Keep in mind that four-cylinder engines usually tend to be the noisiest.
  • Visibility- while this can vary from car to car, you need to make sure you can see well out of all windows. Look for any blind spots. Check rear visibility when backing up, and note the size of the rear blind zone. While backup cameras can help, they are just part of the rear-visibility equation.

Final Thoughts on Taking a Test Drive

Now that you know what to look for when test driving a car, you should be able to note and address any potential issues that need to be addressed before you buy. Be sure to repeat the process with any car you decide to test drive. Whether you are looking to buy a new car or a used car, by taking a test drive you can rest assured that you will have taken the necessary steps to ensure the car you buy is the right one for you.

Image courtesy LR MENA via Flickr

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