Test driving a car is always a good idea, even if you don’t plan to buy the car where you test drive it. Instead of letting a pushy salesman pressure you to buy the car you test drive, it’s okay to let him/her know right up front that you are going through your normal routine to check out all of the car’s systems yourself before you will even consider buying. However, this means you will first have to have a routine. We recommend that when test driving, you have a plan for checking all of the following:
- Engine and transmission
- Doors, windows, locks
- All other electrical systems
Before you even take the car for a spin, we recommend looking very carefully at several aspects of the car. While looks aren’t everything and you can’t judge a book by its cover, there is a lot you can tell about the value of a potential vehicle from looking carefully at:
- The interior and exterior – Do you like the look, color, and style? Do you want leather interior?
- The seats – Sit in all the seats and try on the seatbelts. Are they comfortable? You’ll be in them a lot!
- The signals – Flip on the turn signals and see what you get.
- Door handles
- Storage compartments and accessories – Are there enough cup holders? Is there enough storage space for your toddler’s toys?
- Lights and Mirrors
- Comfort and Convenience – Do you feel safe, secure, and comfy in the car? Would you still feel that way after an 8-hour car ride?
- Entertainment and GPS systems – Don’t be shy. Turn these on and check them out. Test every feature of the car and ask questions if you have them without letting yourself be pressured to buy today.
Check Out the Engine
Be sure to get a read on:
- Fluids – Check the level and cleanliness of fluids. Fluids should be clear and not muddy or dark. Fluids include the motor oil, transmission fluid, power steering, brake, clutch, and coolant fluids.
- The exhaust system
- Evidence of previous damage – Be careful to check for water damage from flooding, especially if you’re testing a used car. Also, ask for a vehicle history report, ask outright if the vehicle has been in any accidents, and don’t take the salesman’s word for it: check for evidence of crashes yourself and ask about them.
- The engine – Since the engine powers your machine, it’s critical to check the cleanliness and efficiency of the engine.
Remember: the test drive is for you to determine whether or not you want to purchase the vehicle, and in no way obligates you to buy. Ask questions of the seller. Consider letting other people who will be driving the car come with you and test drive the car as well. When you are driving, test ALL of the car’s functionalities. Try sharp turns, braking, backing up, and all of the car’s electronic devices. You should even try idling. Drive on highways and on city streets, if you can. Check the vehicle’s acceleration, and try braking quickly after you’ve gotten up some speed to see how to car will handle the need to avoid obstacles in the road. (Obviously, this is best tried in a parking lot or other abandoned place, not on the road!)
Run the A/C. Turn on the GPS and DVD player. Turn the radio up as loud and as low as it will go. Turn the car off and back on. If it’s a standard, you may even check out what it feels like to stall. Drive on unpaved and paved roads, and try it with all your family members in the back. Let them chime in on how they like the look and feel of the car.
In short: make the test drive worth your time. Show the salesman you’re interested by being thorough, but don’t be pressured to buy now. Test drive as many cars as you can… even of the same make and model, to find the best fit for you!