Would You Buy a Car Without a Test Drive?

Test driving a car

Don't skip the test drive!

I don’t like to buy socks without first trying them on. I know that’s a bit extreme, but usually I can’t take new socks for a “test wear” anyway, because they are wrapped in plastic, which I find terribly inconvenient.

When it comes to buying a car, something that cannot be returned and must be lived with for a number of years, I can’t imagine not test-driving it first. Twice.

Yet in certain situations, people are buying vehicles, especially used ones, online without as much as opening the doors to peer inside. That’s just a bad idea, on so many levels!

Online research is, of course, a vital step in any car-shopping endeavor. Internet tools and search engines, such as DealFinder, can help define a fair price, provide dealer reviews and even open a buyer’s eyes to option packages. None of those tools, though, can or should replace a test drive. Even cars of the same make and model may drive differently once they enter the used market. Test drives can point out potential engine problems (hesitation, knocking, etc.), brake issues and other neglected maintenance. Test drives can even expose nuisance items that will only make you despise your car over time. Things like the the sound of the turn signal indicator or the placement of the radio controls or a flimsy cupholder could grate on your nerves and impact the level of satisfaction you have with your car.

A story by The Detroit News dives into some circumstances in which test-driving a car may not be important to people. Those include situations where someone assumes another person’s lease or that involve enthusiasts who are so obsessed with a certain model that the test drive isn’t necessary. Here’s a quote from an enthusiast featured in the article, which frankly astonishes me:

I never test-drive a car, but I do subscribe to five different car magazines… So by the time I’ve read all these different opinions and finally sit behind the wheel, I have every reason to believe it’s going to be exactly what I wanted.

That’s either a huge compliment to the writers of the magazines or a show of this guy’s inability to make his own decisions. I’m leaning toward the latter. I’ve read all there is to read about the new BMW M5, but in no way do I feel like I could take the driver’s seat and know exactly what to expect as I initiate its launch control.

When buying a new or used car, there’s just no substitute for a test drive. Ever. Right?


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Used BMW M5


  1. I laughed at that too, Randy. How self-fulfilling are these dealers? A Viper I can understand. Being denied a Challenger test drive would just make me laugh at the salesman.

  2. Chris’s experience is a perfect counterpart to mine. He fits perfectly into an F150 while I find them uncomfortable. And that’s the point. Kevin’s comments really cracked me up. I can see a dealer not letting any Tom, Dick and Harry take out a $250,000 Ferrari for a test drive, but a Challenger?

  3. Been following a Dodge Challenger forum for the past couple of years, and it sounds like it’s very common for Dodge dealerships to refuse to offer test drives. The excuse is that people won’t buy a car as a new car if it has too many test drive miles on it. The Challenger is selling pretty well, so the implication is that many people are buying Challengers without a test drive. Some on the forum agree with this policy. I’ve been a small, low HP car driver for over 25 years, in part because they are easy to park. So although I’m intrigued by the looks and nostalgia of the Challenger, I wouldn’t buy one without an extensive test drive that mimics my daily drive and parking situations.

  4. Nice story, Chris. Wow. Randy too… I can’t imagine buying a car without driving it first. Socks, I can buy without wearing (haha) but a car!? No way. I remember being infatuated with the looks of a Saab 93. Then I sat in a used one and drove it around the block. Never even looked at a Saab since.

  5. A couple of years ago, I had my mind made up that I was going to purchase a slightly used Chevrolet Avalanche. I loved the exterior and thought it fit my personality while being “truck enough” to pull my ski boat. I did my research and found a few in Memphis, which is about an hour drive. So I set out ot Memphis one day with every intention of coming home with my Avalanche.
    And then I test drove one. I never could get comfortable in the driver’s seat. I’m used to resting one elbow on the door rest and the other arm on a center console. It just didn’t work in the Avalanche. And the instrument cluster seemed “off center” from the steering whell, or vice versa.
    Long story short, I came home that day with a Ford F-150 crew cab. It was my second choice the entire time, but when I sat in the driver’s seat, it quickly become my first choice. And it was all because of the test drive. I would never sign for a car I haven’t tried out.

  6. Americans have long proven they are the stupidest consumers on earth, spending literally billions of dollars on some of the most foolish items and fads, so why not make a major purchase without even seeing if the seat fits your bottom?
    Buying without trying is a truly dumb thing to do because there are so many factors in car design that affect comfort and safety. Remember the runaway Audis caused by an odd pedal placement? Simple things like controls, visibility, and seat belts may work great for an average size person but be almost unsafe for a shorter or taller driver.
    I simply won’t buy a car without putting at least an hour under varying road conditions. Preferably a second drive later will confirm the first impressions. For instance, when I was looking for a four wheel drive vehicle, test drove a Ford F150 and then a Trailblazer. I hated the ford because the seats simply didn’t fit me. They felt like they were designed for someone who weight 400 lbs. and I could never get comfortable. I’d had a lot of experience driving Trailblazers on trips to our winter test facility so I knew that vehicle felt comfortable and was very stable in the worst conditions, so I bypassed the Ford and went with the Chevy.

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