Getting the Most From Your Test Drive

Fifty-six percent of buyers polled have taken their test drive vehicle onto the Interstate
Thirty-one percent have test driven a vehicle at night
Nineteen percent have taken vehicle home during a test drive
Additional tips for maximizing your test drive

You may take months researching and considering your next car purchase. Yet when it comes to the test drive, you are likely to get under half an hour to assess how it feels to be in the driver’s seat.

So, how do you make the most of the time you have to examine the car that you may be driving for the next five years? How can you get in a quality assessment in spite of the artificial world of the dealership test drive?

As with so many areas of the buying process, preparation pays off, according to automotive experts.

Before you head out to drive vehicles you are considering, take a good look at what you want to test and assess, says sales executive Dan West. That way, you can alter the standard testing routine to suit your needs.

“The dealership basically has a set route for a test drive that is designed to show their vehicles off to maximum effect, and to keep you in the rhythm of the purchase they are trying to achieve. A good sales person will not distract you too much during the test drive, but he is also there to promote his product. Only you know exactly how you are reacting to it, and how it compares to other vehicles you have tested,” he says.

Before you head out for a test run, West suggests taking an inventory of the type of driving you do on a regular basis. That way, you can match your test drive as closely to your daily needs and performance expectations as possible.

“If the highway or Interstate is a major part of where you drive, be sure to take it on the nearest one, so you can see how easily you can merge into traffic and change lanes. Check for blind spots and how well the vehicle accelerates and decelerates on the ramps. If that is part of your daily life, that will be a key question for you to answer,” he says.

In a recent survey by, only 56 percent of respondents said that they had gone on the Interstate during a test drive. The survey was taken among users of the web site, who all stated they were within 30 days of buying a new vehicle.

West also advises taking the car into a parking lot and practicing parking, reversing and other regular features of daily motoring. This will enable testers to check out key characteristics like turning radius and rear blind spots.

The amount of space within a car is also crucial to most buyers. If you carry large items in your vehicle on a regular basis, such as golf clubs, or a baby stroller, West advises taking them to the dealership to see how they fit in the trunk. If you have a baby seat, you may want to check how easily and well it fits in the rear and whether it impacts visibility and rear passenger space significantly.

“If you are going to use the vehicle as a family car, testing passenger space is very important. Be sure to look at the rear leg room with the driver’s position set as it will be for you or other drivers; and not as the salesman sets it,” advises West.

“Usually the salesman wants you to sit in every seat before the driver’s seat when he is doing his demo, so that there is a natural transition into the test drive. However, this can mean you sit in the back seat before you set it for yourself. And this could lead to getting the wrong impression about the amount of space in the rear,” says West.

West advises older drivers, and particularly tall and short motorists, to pay special attention to the driver’s position and the ease with which they can get in and out of the vehicle. “You will get in and out of your vehicle thousands of times while you own it. Yet, most people only do it once or twice during a test drive,” he says. “It is well worth taking the extra time to check it several times and adjust the seat and seat column to see if you can make it easier or more comfortable for your body type.”

Depending on the time you visit a dealership, a common driving condition that can be hard to reproduce on a test drive is night-time driving. Only 31 percent of our survey sample said that they had performed a test drive at night. If that makes up a good portion of your normal pattern, West suggests visiting a dealership after sunset or asking to keep a vehicle overnight to test visibility at night.

“More and more dealerships are offering programs where you can take a car overnight. Though you need to understand you are taking the car under your own insurance and at your own risk.

One advantage of these programs is that you can see how the vehicle handles some of your most common routes and fits in the parking space at your home. Only 19 percent of the buyers we polled said they had parked their cars at home while on a test drive.

Finding out once you get home that your new car doesn’t fit in your garage, or in broader terms, that the car is not a good fit with your regular driving needs is certainly a mistake to avoid. Getting in the best test drive can help buyers steer clear of any purchasing regrets.

Published on Friday, February 29, 2008 - Copyright 2014, INC. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed.


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