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How to Test Drive a New Car

It's easy to buy a new car these days without stepping foot in a dealership. In fact, my car buying guide recommends negotiating via phone/email only.

The problem is that you still have to test drive cars before buying one - and this means actually having to visit a few dealerships. The good news is most salespeople will not pressure you to buy if you're up front and let them know you're there just to test drive and compare models.

It's important to test drive as many competing models as you can - you'll definitely be surprised by the results. Many people have a change of heart once they actually test drive a car. Vehicles they thought they would never buy suddenly become attractive once they get behind the wheel.

Don't short-change yourself by refusing to test drive certain vehicles. The car will be with you for several years, so it's worthwhile to experience a wide variety and make sure you're happy with the one you choose.

Before Going to a Dealership

The first thing you need to do is research the model and know which options and trim levels you're most interested in. Different options and powertrains can really alter the feel of a vehicle, so you don't want to just test drive any variation of the model. Make sure the dealer has the particular model you're interested in before heading over.

It's a good idea to test drive several candidates back-to-back on the same day so you can easily compare them. Try to test drive at least 3 different models on the same day and bring a friend so they can point out things you may miss.

Initial Inspection

When you first step inside the vehicle, take your time adjusting and looking around for features that you may find irritating over the long-term, such as cup holders in awkward places or certain knobs that are hard to reach.

Get out and enter the back seats, make sure they're comfortable and provide adequate room for your passengers. If you have a baby or are expecting one, see if it's difficult to install a child seat. Pay attention to the vehicle's quality. Certain items such as the sun visors, glove box, and seat upholstery are good indications of the overall quality of the vehicle. Also pay attention to whether the doors open and close soundly.

Make sure the steering wheel adjusts properly for your particular size and make sure you can see out of the vehicle easily without any major blind spots. Check to make sure the front seats are comfortable and supportive. Remember, you'll be spending a lot of time in this car so if you're not comfortable during the test drive, you'll probably regret buying the car.

Test out the vehicle's electronics including the navigation, ipod jack, and bluetooth if applicable. Also test out the climate-control system to make sure it works adequately.

The Test Drive

Most salespeople will ride along for the test drive and will provide a suggested route. It's best if you can get a solo test drive so you can fully experience the car without worrying about a salesman monitoring you.

On your test drive, you will want to see if the car has enough power to easily merge with highway traffic and also see if the brakes are solid. Take the car around a few corners to see how it handles and try to drive it over some rough terrain to evaluate the ride comfort.

It's also important to test out the parking. Is it easy to parallel-park and see out the back? Are the doors easy to open part-way in case you're in a tight spot? How tight is the turning radius? Also pay attention to the noises that protrude into the cabin. Is the car loud when driving on the highway? Is there a lot of wind-noise?

Test Drive Check List

Here are a couple of useful test drive checklists that will help you evaluate the vehicles:

Going through this process for each vehicle will save you a lot of heartache in the future and you'll rest easier knowing you made an informed decision before buying the car.

My Recommendation for Car Shoppers

TrueCar No-Haggle and Edmunds Price Promise are the quickest way to see the lowest car prices in your area. These sites show you no-haggle prices from dealers closest to you - and the deals are usually really good. This should be the first step you take when negotiating your car price. Follow this up with my checklist to make sure you squeeze out every last bit of savings.
- Gregg Fidan

Gregg Fidan

About: Gregg Fidan

Gregg Fidan + is the founder of RealCarTips. After being ripped off on his first car purchase, he devoted several years to figuring out the best ways to avoid scams and negotiate the best car deals. He has written hundreds of articles on the subject of car buying and taught thousands of car shoppers how to get the best deals.

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