5 Straightforward Test Drive Tips

Man test driving car

Paying attention to detail during a test drive can save you a headache later, even if you’re only test driving new cars. Still, nearly 50% of Americans say they spent 30 minutes or less test driving a car before they buy. Whether you’re buying new or used, test driving a car is an important part of making an informed purchase decision. Make the right one by using these five test drive tips that outline what to look for on a test drive.

Before You Go:

  • Research vehicles that meet your criteria and budget.
  • Locate dealerships in your area and make an appointment.
  • Bring your driver’s license and proof of insurance.
  • Research financing options.
  • If you’re shopping used, print out our used car checklist to bring with you.

How to Test Drive a Car

1. The test drive begins as soon as you’re on the lot

  • Examine the vehicle’s body for dents, cracks and rust. Check the windshield for nicks and cracks.
  • Check the tires for remaining tread life and signs of uneven wear. The latter can indicate poor alignment.
  • Try out the turn signals and brake lights.

2. Start the car and let it idle for a few minutes

  • Make sure the engine runs strong and listen for any troubling noises, such as rattling, clicking or whining.
  • Turn on the radio, heater and air conditioner to be sure they work properly.
  • Check the dashboard for warning lights and verify that the gauges work. Once the car warms up, the temperature gauge should be at the midpoint. Closer to “hot” can be a sign of overheating.
  • Make sure the seats are comfortable and the ceilings are high enough.

3. Drive the car on a street with stop-and-go traffic

  • Notice how the brakes feel when you come to a complete stop. Do they feel jumpy, sticky or loose?
  • Listen for any grinding or squeaking noises, which can indicate worn brake pads and rotors.
  • How does the car handle potholes and rough roads? Drive slowly and listen for rattles or knocks, which can indicate steering issues.
  • What about 90-degree turns? The car should navigate them smoothly and effortlessly. Resistance or pulling can be a sign of power steering or suspension problems.

4. Drive on a highway where you can reach speeds of 55 m.p.h. or more

  • Does the car accelerate quickly and move smoothly from gear to gear? Engine hesitation is a bad sign.
  • Locate the car’s blind spots. This is one tip that is just as important when test driving new cars as it is when test driving used cars.
  • Carefully switch lanes several times to see how the steering reacts at high speeds.
  • Make sure the steering doesn’t pull to either side, which can indicate suspension or alignment problems.
  • Listen carefully when you’re driving on the highway. Hear any squeaks, whines or rattles behind the sound of the engine?
  • If possible, drive up and down a hill to verify that the car upshifts and downshifts appropriately.

5. Find a parking lot or street to practice parallel parking

  • Make sure the steering doesn’t feel stiff and you can finely maneuver the car while parallel parking.
  • Ensure that the car shifts smoothly from drive to reverse – if the car jolts or makes a grinding noise when shifting gears, it can be a sign of a bad transmission.
  • Pay attention to how responsive the car is – do the gas and brake pedals feel different in reverse gear?
  • Get comfortable with fitting the car into a standard parking space, particularly if the vehicle is a larger truck or SUV.

If the test drive goes well, request a vehicle history report and have the car inspected by a mechanic. Remember never to settle when it comes to test driving a car. Make time to test drive multiple vehicles during the shopping process—you want to be sure you end up with the best option for you.

 

 

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Use these five test drive tips that outline what to look for on a test drive.

  1. The test drive begins as soon as you’re on the lot

    Examine the vehicle’s body for dents, cracks and rust. Check the windshield for nicks and cracks. Check the tires for remaining tread life and signs of uneven wear. The latter can indicate poor alignment. Try out the turn signals and brake lights.

  2. Start the car and let it idle for a few minutes

    Make sure the engine runs strong and listen for any troubling noises, such as rattling, clicking or whining.
    Turn on the radio, heater and air conditioner to be sure they work properly. Check the dashboard for warning lights and verify that the gauges work. Once the car warms up, the temperature gauge should be at the midpoint. Closer to “hot” can be a sign of overheating. Make sure the seats are comfortable and the ceilings are high enough.

  3. Drive the car on a street with stop-and-go traffic

    Notice how the brakes feel when you come to a complete stop. Do they feel jumpy, sticky or loose? Listen for any grinding or squeaking noises, which can indicate worn brake pads and rotors. How does the car handle potholes and rough roads? Drive slowly and listen for rattles or knocks, which can indicate steering issues. What about 90-degree turns? The car should navigate them smoothly and effortlessly. Resistance or pulling can be a sign of power steering or suspension problems.

  4. Drive on a highway where you can reach speeds of 55 m.p.h. or more

    Does the car accelerate quickly and move smoothly from gear to gear? Engine hesitation is a bad sign. Locate the car’s blind spots. This is one tip that is just as important when test driving new cars as it is when test driving used cars. Carefully switch lanes several times to see how the steering reacts at high speeds.
    Make sure the steering doesn’t pull to either side, which can indicate suspension or alignment problems. Listen carefully when you’re driving on the highway. Hear any squeaks, whines or rattles behind the sound of the engine? If possible, drive up and down a hill to verify that the car upshifts and downshifts appropriately.

  5. Find a parking lot or street to practice parallel parking

    Make sure the steering doesn’t feel stiff and you can finely maneuver the car while parallel parking. Ensure that the car shifts smoothly from drive to reverse – if the car jolts or makes a grinding noise when shifting gears, it can be a sign of a bad transmission. Pay attention to how responsive the car is – do the gas and brake pedals feel different in reverse gear? Get comfortable with fitting the car into a standard parking space, particularly if the vehicle is a larger truck or SUV.