Test-Driving a New Car? Don’t Do These Five Things

test drive the vehicle you plan to buy

Test drives aren’t as fun as they used to be.

In the past, a buyer would find a car he or she liked, request to take it for a drive, and have the salesman throw the keys and say, “Enjoy!”

When I was shopping for a 2004 Jaguar X-Type in late 2003 (don’t laugh, it was a cool car back then), the salesman gave me the car for an afternoon with the only condition being that I have it back by closing. I did, and I ended up making a purchase a few months later.

I don’t think the odds of that happening today are very good. That’s a shame, because a long drive provides ample time to get a true feel for the car. Today’s 15-minute drives tend to not be as comprehensive as they should be.

Next time you take a test drive, make sure you maximize the value of your time in the car by following this advice.

1. Don’t listen to music.

…at least not during the drive. A friend who is a car salesman said he knows he has a better chance at selling a car when the first thing a customer does is turn on the music. If you do that, it means you’re more focused on the emotions of the car and not testing its real-world drivability. Plus, music can drown out other things that might show up only after you make the purchase.

2. Don’t follow a pre-set route.

Salespeople love to get in the car with you for the drive. Feel free to request a drive by yourself or with your honey if you’re shopping together. Ask the salesperson to stay behind. He or she may not agree, in which case you should take the car on a route that closely resembles your daily drive, while being sure to test it in other common traffic conditions. Make sure you get on the highway for a few miles, and make sure you experience some city driving. Dealers like to take customers on a set route, but that might not mirror your driving needs.

3. Don’t ignore the technology.

Before your drive, spend a few minutes getting to know the car’s infotainment control systems. If adjusting the air conditioning or selecting your iPhone for music requires enough button combinations to launch a missile, the frustration level in the future might be too high. Remember, though: Leave the music off while you drive.

4. Don’t ignore safety features.

If the car has blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, a back-up camera, or other safety systems, make sure you use them during the drive to get familiar with their operation. Also, don’t be afraid to give the car’s acceleration and brakes a few hard tests. If the salesperson is with you, warn him or her before stomping on the brakes, though.

5. Don’t forget about the trunk.

Open up all the storage areas and verify that there’s enough room for the stuff you plan to haul with you. If you’re shopping for a 3-row SUV, put up the third row of seats and see if there’s still enough room for a large grocery run. Odds are good that you’ll eventually have a carload of kids and a full cart from Costco that will all need to comfortably fit.

Do you think test drives should last longer?


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Used Jaguar X-Type

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