How to test drive a car

It might seem a little silly to ask “how to test drive a car?,” but there’s definitely a right way and a wrong way. Aside from actually signing the paperwork and driving off a dealership lot with a new car, the most exciting aspect of purchasing or leasing a vehicle is the test drive. This is when you get to play with the latest and greatest gadgets, smell that new car smell once again and, of course, get some quality seat time. But before you do all this, there are a few things you’ll want to do to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your test drive experience.

So here’s how to test drive a car. Before anything else, do your research. With as many cars that are on the market these days, knowing exactly what you want will make your buying experience quicker and easier. With luxury automakers offering sub-$30,000, entry-level automakers offering high-quality luxury cars and a growing number of crossovers to further muddle the whole picture, today’s car market might be the hardest ever for indecisive buyers.

Even after you choose a handful of promising candidates, it’s still advisable to call around or check dealer inventories online to see exactly what they have in stock. You will have better bargaining ability if you’re in the market for an in-stock vehicle, and it’s much easier making this decision ahead of time rather than having to choose colors and options once you’re already at the dealership.

Of course, then comes the fun part. Getting to test drive your potential next car. First of all, it’s always best to visit the dealership during daylight hours. If this is your first time seeing and sitting in the car, you definitely want to get an idea what it looks like in the right light. Also, the “best time of the month” to go to a dealership changes based on incentives and sales, but generally speaking, it’s best to go during the latter part of a month when the sales team is more likely to negotiate in order to meet monthly quotas.

Now it’s time to actually get behind the wheel and do some driving. Before you do, though, make sure to adjust the seats, mirrors and, if applicable, the pedals and steering wheel until you’re comfortable. Then take a few minutes to get acclimated with all the buttons and switches including on the steering wheel, air conditioning and, especially, the radio and infotainment systems, if necessary. If there are any questions about these features, now is the best time to talk to the salesperson about it. You definitely don’t want these to be distractions on your test drive.

Once you’re ready to roll, try to plan out about a 30-minute test drive that incorporates a mix of road conditions, if possible, so you can get a feel what the car rides like on the highway and in the city. Most dealerships will probably suggest a short driving route to get you back to the dealership faster, but this is the part where the car should really speak to you. From the way the car handles on the road to the visibility out all of the windows; a car that’s easy to drive is also easy to love. This goes for acceleration and braking as well.

Try to focus on the car during the test drive (especially to things like road noise) as you can ask questions once you get back to the dealership. Once back at the dealer, this is a good place to check out the rest of the car’s features such as the trunk, folding seats, entertainment systems and any other features. If you have a family or are planning a family, it wouldn’t hurt to bring a child car seat along to see how it fits. Even some family sedans have rear seat benches that make it difficult to properly place a child seat and others might not be as comfortable with a rear-facing child seat, so these could be deal breakers for family cars. Finally, if you’re seriously leaning toward a particular car, be sure to also ask questions and familiarize yourself with the spare tire and its components.

Most importantly, on these initial test drive trips where you’re just trying to narrow down your car search, don’t worry about your trade in just yet; hang on to your keys for now. Some more aggressive dealers might try to get your keys while you’re test driving so they can look at your car, but then they might “misplace” them or use some other tactic to keep you in the showroom and wear you down. Regardless of whether you find the nicest dealership or one of the rare cases that give dealerships a bad name, just remember that as a consumer, you always have the ability to say no and walk away.

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