You’ve done your research. You’ve talked to friends. You’ve run the gauntlet of potential vehicles and narrowed it down to a few worthy candidates. Now it’s time to take the next, most intimidating step: the test drive.
This is probably the most important thing you’ll do before buying a new or used vehicle. It can also be the most daunting.
But don’t worry, we’re here to help.
We’ve put together a list of things you should be checking when you take that prospective new vehicle out for a cruise. Once you know what you’re looking for, the rest is easy.
1. Is it Comfortable?
When it comes to a vehicle, comfort comes in two forms: the seats, and the drive.
Seats are an obvious contributor to comfort, but not enough people ask the right questions. There’s the obvious cloth/leather question everyone should be asking (depending on which you prefer), but there are other factors to consider. How wide are the seats? How deep do they go? Do they provide proper lumbar support? Is there enough leg room, arm room, head room?
Also, consider the fact that you might not be the only person who uses this vehicle. We recommend bringing your significant other or friend along to check out the passenger seat as well.
Next, ask yourself if the ride is soft. Ultimately, this comes down to the vehicle’s suspension. Do you feel insulated when you’re inside or are you being knocked around on every bump and turn? Sometimes a vehicle will feel fine over say, a speedbump, but then it will wobble back and forth a few seconds later. You’re looking for a vehicle that feels relatively unaffected and smooth over unsmooth terrain.
You probably plan on having this vehicle for a while. Make sure it’s comfortable.
2. How Does the Vehicle Sound?
There are a couple of things to consider here.
First of all, check your radio. Turn up the volume and see how the speakers sound. Is there crackling? Are all the speakers operational? Is it loud enough? Is the quality OK? Feel free to play with the levels, as well. If you like to boost the bass, then boost it on your test drive. Try to mimic your actual driving conditions whenever possible. Don’t worry about potentially annoying your salesperson. Believe me when I tell you that they’ll put up with just about anything in order to make sure you’re satisfied.
Once that’s finished, turn the volume completely off and take a listen. Is the engine making any particular noise? If so, what? Make a note of it, so you can be sure to ask about it later.
Some common things to look for in terms of sound are wind noises and where they might be coming from. Leaky sunroof trims, roof rails, and window cracks are all common culprits when it comes to whistling sounds at high speeds.
3. How Well Does it Brake?
The brakes are easily one of the most important things to pay attention to when you’re taking a vehicle on a test drive. Here, you’re going to want to press the brakes both slowly and with force. The car should stop in a straight line and it shouldn’t stop too quickly or be delayed. If you do have questions about the brakes, it’s best to bring in a professional and have them checked out.
4. How are the Steering and Handling?
Here are a couple of quick questions you’ll want to ask yourself when checking a vehicle’s steering:
-Does the vehicle drive smoothly on rough roads?
-Does the vehicle require constant corrections to bring it back to center?
-Does the vehicle respond immediately to quick steering maneuvers?
Some vehicles have variable power steering. Basically this means that it will respond one way at high speeds and another at slower speeds. Make sure you test out both. It should feel firmer as your speed increases.
5. How is the Acceleration?
Acceleration has a lot to do with the engine power, but the transmission also plays a critical role. You could have what you think is a powerful engine, but if it’s combined with a poor transmission, you may want to move on to a different vehicle.
You’ll want to make sure you try accelerating from a complete stop. You’ll also want to attempt to merge into fast, free moving traffic. Like a highway.
A prospective vehicle’s acceleration could very well be a make-or-break feature. If you’re unhappy with the results of either of these techniques, again, this might not be the vehicle for you.
6. How are Your Sight Lines?
When you’re talking visibility, remember to account for the shape of the vehicle, how your seat is positioned and how effective your mirrors are. And don’t forget to throw it in reverse to make sure there’s no major blind spots when you’re backing up.
It’s obviously better to check the vehicle out in daylight. But after you’ve narrowed your search down to a couple of choices, don’t be afraid to ask for another test drive when the sun’s gone down (or see if you can manage to get a 24 hour test drive). That way you’ll be able to test the strength of the headlights and whether there is any glare coming off the windshield.
Some Final Things to Remember…
Don’t rush it. Choosing the right vehicle takes time. So your test drive should as well. We recommend you take at least 30 minutes, but 45 minutes to an hour is ideal. Secondly, drive it over as many different types of road surfaces and terrain as you can.
It’s often helpful to plan your route ahead of time. Choose a path that will require you to drive at different speeds. And, if possible, take the vehicle out during different weather conditions. You should feel confident in your ride, rain or shine.
If you’re planning on purchasing a Manual, make sure you’re checking the…
- Gears – Are you able to engage all gears smoothly, without grinding?
- Clutch – Make sure it doesn’t need to be changed. An easy test for this? If it doesn’t start grabbing the gear until the pedal is almost at the top, it may be time for a new one.
In the end, you’re looking for something that suits your lifestyle. If you have children, make sure you’ve got enough space. You might need that extra bit of trunk room for things like hockey equipment or groceries. You might be a lone wolf who’s more concerned with the audio inside the vehicle. Bring a checklist of things you’re specifically curious about and make sure the vehicle in question meets your standards.
Our salespeople here at Go Auto are trained to help you make the best decision possible. They’re a great asset on any test drive. Still feeling like you need a little guidance? Bring a friend or professional along for the ride. And don’t ever feel pressured to make a hasty decision. Make sure all your concerns have been addressed before you take the plunge. In the end, you’ll be happy you did.