Checklist: What to Look for During Your Test Drive

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Most drivers know that before they buy a new car, it’s necessary to visit a dealership for a test drive. Smart car shoppers know that there’s more to a car (or not) than meets the eye. While the car may look enticing from the outside, getting inside the car and out on the road is where most of the decision-making process comes into play. For that reason, we compiled a list of tips–items to note and check for when test driving your next vehicle. Also, at the end of this post, we’ve listed some additional resources you’ll want to hold on to for future use, so be sure to check those out, too.

Before the test drive:

1. Dealership first impressions. Before you hit the road, consider the dealership. Are the cars on the lot well-maintained? Is the appearance of both the showroom floor and employees satisfactory? First and foremost, you probably don’t want to do business with a dealership that feels unprofessional.

2. Quality of the staff. Whether you are walking around the lot or showroom floor with the salesperson or out on the test drive, note the friendliness of the staff. Are they helpful without being pushy? Are they knowledgeable about the vehicles you are researching?  Since the dealership you end up purchasing your car from will also likely be the dealership where you service your car, you want to make sure you’re happy with the quality and level of customer service of the dealership staff.

During the test drive:

3. Comfort level. Once you are inside the vehicle and out on your test drive, make sure you are comfortable with the layout from the driver’s seat. Access the steering wheel positioning, scoop of the seat, paddle placements, head rests, and armrests (where applicable). Play with adjusting these items to your level of comfort. If even after a few adjustments you still aren’t comfortable, understand that you likely will be just as uncomfortable, if not more so, during longer future drives.

4. Responsiveness. We all have different driving styles—some of us have lead feet, some of us brake hard, some of us need excellent acceleration for highway commutes, etc. Test the car’s responsiveness to your driving habits while on your test drive to ensure that the car accommodates your needs.

5. Blind spots. Note the blind spots of the vehicle. While it’s true that many cars come equipped with standard cameras, there’s still only so much these cameras can detect. And if you have to strain to check your blind spots, chances are this strain will become a nuisance in the future, or worse—lead to an accident.

6. Technology. Speaking of car cameras, a wealth of technology, apps, and wireless connectivity options are available in today’s car computers. However, some models’ technology features are more user-friendly than others. Make sure you receive a demo of the technology features and learn whether or not your personal devices will easily connect with the vehicle you are test driving. If the technology seems overly complicated or doesn’t fit the requirements of your personal devices, then why invest in a car whose features you cannot use?

7. Parallel park it. While many car salespeople already have a pre-determined route they like to take potential customers, it’s not unheard of to ask to customize your test drive so that you can maximize your assessment of the vehicle. If you’re a city driver, you know the challenges of parallel parking.  Testing the car in a parking situation will help you get an idea of the car’s turn radius, ability to maneuver into tight spots, the width and length of the vehicle, ability to see over the dashboard, as well as provide an opportunity to use the rearview camera.

8. Plenty of space. Don’t assess the car only from the vantage point of the driver. Be sure to check out the passenger seat and rear seats for comfort. Make sure there is adequate headroom and legroom for any friends, family members, pets, or cargo you may regularly have in the car with you. And speaking of cargo, definitely check out the trunk space. Sometimes, in order to provide more cabin space, additional cargo space is compromised. Make sure the car you are test driving strikes the balance you need for your lifestyle.

9. Make it a family affair. To add on to the point above, you should feel encouraged to take the test drive with others who will also be using/riding in the vehicle.  Their feedback will help you determine if the vehicle you are test driving is comfortable and satisfactory from a passenger’s standpoint.

After the test drive:

10. Package options. If everything has gone smoothly, and you have a strong interest in the car you have just test driven, be sure to ask if there are additional package upgrades that might enhance the vehicle for your lifestyle. For example, if you like to take long trips, ask about an entertainment package. Or, if you will be using the car for work and business travel, ask about additional apps for traffic, weather, restaurant reviews, and more.

11. Check under the hood. As far as car maintenance goes, there are some services you will need to rely on your local mechanic or car dealership [link to these posts] to perform, while there are some services you may like to do yourself [link to this post]. For example, it’s easy enough to replace your battery, headlights, brake lights, and tail lights, but some vehicles’ designs make it hard to access these areas. If you’re a DIY-car-repair type, check that it’s easy enough to access these parts of the vehicle.

Each driver has his/her own set of “checks” that they like to make during a test drive, especially if you’re an experienced car shopper. However, this checklist will definitely be a great starting point on assessing the ideal car for you. This checklist is specifically intended for, though not limited to, test driving new cars. If you’re test driving a used car, the details of note will be a little different. Fortunately, this checklist for test driving a used car will be a handy reference.

Another reference you might want to utilize is this printable checklist from MSN Autos. Print it out, bring it with you, and use it to take notes about the vehicle you are testing. If you will be test driving multiple vehicles, possibly at multiple dealerships, this will be all the more handy in helping you keep your test driving experiences organized.

*header image courtesy of Thinkstock/Getty Images