When buying a car, most people know they need to do more than kick the tires and check the paint job. But, without a mechanic’s assistance, how do you know what to look for and what to skip if you want a reliable set of wheels? It turns out, knowing how to test drive a car can at a dealership can make all the difference.
Do Your Research — Our first rule for test driving a car? Know what you want. If you are looking for a van or an SUV to haul your family to soccer games, don’t get distracted by the sleek, new convertible on the lot. Instead, focus on the type of vehicle you need. Look online for models that have the features you are looking for. Many people find it helpful to make a list of necessary items, and the things it would be nice to have (if they fit into your budget).
While researching, pay attention to the fuel efficiency ratings. If you are choosing between a couple of models, it may be wise to compare fuel economy and factor gas expenses into the cost of owning the vehicle.
Schedule Several Appointments — When you are car shopping, don’t get pressured into the immediate sale. Schedule several appointments on the same day so that you have a reason to leave the dealership and think about your purchase options.
Take Precautions with Your ID — Before handing over the keys, most dealerships will want to photocopy your license. Bring your own copy, and ask for it back when you leave the dealership to cut down on the number of people that have access to your identifying information.
Behind the Wheel
Size Matters — Think about the size of your ride: Don’t think just about the space you will take up on the road, but think about interior room as well. Will this vehicle primarily take you to and from work, or will you be transporting family members to activities and weekends away? Could you look for something more fuel-efficient, or do you need something built for comfort? When you arrive at the test drive, pay attention to how well you fit into the vehicle — is it easy to get in and out? Will you struggle in a few years if your ride is low to the ground? What about your kids?
Technology Friendly? — When you sit behind the wheel, check the level of technology. Is there a smart screen that is easy to operate? Will it require you to take your eyes off the wheel to use? Can you easily pair the car’s technology with your smartphone? The technology in your car should make it easy to avoid distractions behind the wheel, not add to them.
Check for Comfort — When test driving, make a point to drive down imperfect pavement. When you drive over potholes and cracks in the pavement, do you bounce and jitter, or does the car absorb the jarring and jolting? You want to ensure that the suspension doesn’t allow the car to feel too cloud-like (swaying up and down after a bump), but you also don’t want your ride to be too firm and cause you to feel every single bump on the road.
Acceleration — How long does it take your car to get up to comfortable traveling speed? When you are on an interstate on-ramp, you want to know that you have enough horsepower to get up to speed and blend in with traffic without making your engine work too hard. Try driving an interstate on-ramp or climbing a steep hill during the test drive to see how it responds. While doing this, the car will likely shift through a couple of gears: Pay attention to how smoothly the transmission shifts from one gear to another.
Brake with Confidence — When test driving, pay attention to how the brakes feel; do they respond to pressure without being too touchy? Be sure to try out forceful braking, especially in conditions similar to what you would find on your typical commute. Is your foot to the floor before you feel the car slow? Braking should be smooth and progressive and should not cause jarring or jolting.
Pay Attention to Handling — When you steer the wheel, you want the car to respond to quick turns of the wheel. You don’t want your car to be too jumpy, but you also don’t want to have to work too hard to make the car respond.
Listen to Road Noise — During your test drive, turn down the radio and close the windows. Really listen to the car. Are you hearing a lot of wind and road noise, or is the car pretty quiet? Are there any knocks or unusual sounds coming from under the hood (or elsewhere) that you need to ask the salesman about?
Check Visibility — Look around while you are in the car. More than just the view from the windshield, check the rear view, the side views, and blind spots. Does the car have an easy-to-use backup camera or side mirror support? Does the car come equipped with blind spot detectors on the side mirrors?
If everything checks out, you may be on your way to owning a new vehicle. But, before you sign on the dotted line, take a day to think over your purchase. Test drive multiple vehicles so that you can comparison shop between models, and really think about which features are most important for you. When you’re ready to buy, be sure to contact your Farm Bureau agent to understand how a new car will affect your auto insurance rates. They can help ensure your car is covered when you drive it off the lot.