Five Tips for Test-Driving a New-to-You Car

Starting a test drive

In the course of a year, it’s possible to review more than 75 new cars, trucks, and crossovers when you’re an automotive journalist. That’s not put forth as some kind of bragging. It’s just to demonstrate that driving more than 6 new vehicles a month gives one an insider’s view on test-driving new cars.

Let’s look beyond all the things you need to do before going to a dealership. That’s been handled well here in other articles at CarGurus. Instead, here are five insider tips to keep in mind for test-driving a new or new-to-you car.

Park the Car
You’ll have to do this probably twice a day, 365 days a year. How easy is it to pull into and back out of a space? People hate parking and parking lots. That’s one reason behind the development of self-parking cars (still an inexact science at best) and rear cross-traffic alerts, a great feature. Sure, parking a vehicle gets easier the more you do it, but if it’s difficult the first couple of times you try it, consider another vehicle.

Test-Drive Your Driveway
Does the vehicle fit in your garage? Don’t laugh. A friend’s sister bought a Ford Expedition but found it didn’t fit in her garage. She had to park it outside for the 6 years she owned it. Taking the car to your house will help you evaluate it on familiar roads and in familiar spaces.

Load the Groceries
Okay, you’re not going to bring a week’s worth of groceries with you. However, you could bring something like a bag of kitty litter. See how easy it is to load things in the trunk or rear storage space. What’s it like to close the hatch with your hands full? Your goal is to replicate something you do over and over again that you never get to do on a test drive.

Get In and Out 5 Times
This is an effective way to determine how comfortable a vehicle is for you. It should be just as easy the fifth time as it was the first time. If it’s not, you’re not going to like this car after a long day at work. It’s called your hip point, and it becomes especially important as you age. Older drivers will find car seats above or below their hips (when standing) uncomfortable as joints age. It’s one of the reasons people like crossovers — the seats are the right height.

Go in the Worst Weather Possible
Granted, this tip works only if you can be patient about buying a new car. It’s easy to drive a new car on a sunny day. Driving it when it’s pouring buckets will let you see how well the defroster and wipers work. How is the visibility? Does the car handle well? Does the car stop well? One big advantage to test-driving in bad weather is that the dealership will probably not be crowded.

Bonus tip: adjust the controls
Sure, after you buy the car, you will get some kind of tutorial, but that’s when the car is standing still. Take the car to a wide-open parking lot and see how easy it is to tune the radio or adjust the air conditioning while under way. Throw a couple of voice commands at the system if it includes that feature.

In effect, the 5 best tips for test-driving a car have to do with testing it like you’re going to live with it. Short dealership drives just aren’t enough for something you are going to live with for years to come.

What test-driving tips would you add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

-Keith Griffin

In case you haven’t seen it yet, we’ve got another post covering five things you should *not* do on a test-drive.

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