REALLY Test Driving a new car vs. polite test driving

When you test drive a car, what special things do you check for that normally most people don’t?

Most people test-drive politely around the neighboring streets for 15 minutes. What else should they be doing on a test drive that most drivers don’t?

(For example: parallel parking, reving engine, checking 0-60 mph acceleration, slamming brakes, etc.)

Parallel parking is the function of the driver…not the vehicle. There is no reason to ever rev the engine to the max. A 0-60mph test is not necessary if you are an experienced driver. There is never a reason to slam on the brakes. In addition…zig zag manuvers are not necessary and neither are sharp turns at fast speeds.

An experienced driver can learn all they want to about any vehicle in the first 5 minutes of a test drive. I’m surprised that you forgot to ask about how much tire smoke you could generate or how many doughnuts the vehicle could lay down. Since you don’t own the vehicle yet…I don’t think that you can reasonably expect to abuse a vehicle in the name of a “test drive.” Some may disagree but that just how I see it.

What do you look for in your “first 5 minutes” that most drivers don’t?

I try to see if the car will accelerate reasonably uphill without the need to rev the whee out of the engine. I also try to see if the handling is reasonably sure-footed. For general transportation needs, you don’t need a Lamborghini Gallardo, but it should be competent and safe. Comfort is also a factor, as I drive a lot.

I can’t speak for other drivers but I look for ergonomics as I slide into the seat. Is the seat comfortable? Is the dash layout cluttered? Am I able to see forward and to the rear both left and right easily? Are blind spots a problem? Is the engine smooth and does the transmission shift properly? Does the engine have enough power? Do the brakes stop the vehicle in a proper manner? How is the road noise inside the interior? Do the tires make noise. Do I like the overall look and feel of the vehicle?

Within 5 minutes I usually have my answers. Sometimes…I have my answer even sooner if the vehicle does not appeal to me all all. Personal choice is a big factor in determining what vehicle to buy. I lean towards pickup trucks because I’m 6’ 4". Smart Cars, Mini Coopers and the like are not on my radar at all. If you are 5 feet tall then the world is your oyster when it comes to motor vehicles. I like power but it does not appeal to all individuals. A V6 is the smallest engine that I will even consider. If the vehicle color is not silver, black, dark blue or maroon then it will never appeal to me in the least regardless of the make or model. We are all different but the vehicle must start, move, manuever, stop and be both dependable and comfortable regardless of who’s driving it.

I can’t speak for “most drivers”, but I do the following:

Bring a CD to play, in order to test the quality of the audio system
Test the power seats and tilt/telescope steering wheel in order to determine if I can find a comfortable position
Drive over a bumpy railroad crossing
Assess the visibility to the rear, particularly at the rear sides
Assess the interior noise level at highway speeds
Do at least one fast acceleration from a traffic light
Drive it for at least 2 hours, in order to assess long-term seat comfort
See how it fits in my garage

Because I am well-known at the local dealership, they just throw me a set of car keys, and don’t send a salesperson along for the ride with me. I also inform them that I will be back “in a few hours”. Of course, much of this would not be possible under the typical test-drive circumstances.

I should point out that my list above relates to new cars. If I was buying a used car, the list would be far longer, and would include my perusal of the maintenance records.

For the extreme activities, buy a car magazine and read the tests. I agree that ergonmics, visibility, convenience and things like trunk space are items to verify during a personal test. Seat comfort is crucial.

Thanks. Good ideas so far. Especially about checking the fit in the garage. Makes sense with larger vehicles.

One of the best ways is to simply rent one for a weekend or a week on vacation. Then you see how you like the seats, vision, controls, getting in and out, storage, and on and on. Sometimes you can tell right away that you don’t like something, and others takes a little use. I knew right away I didn’t like the Vibe when I tried it out, but it took a few days to rule out the HHR. Just things like whether you can see the guages through the steering wheel, if the back seats fold down for hauling, a place to put your coffee, is the windshield cleanable from the inside, and so on.

As @missileman says, I do a lot of my “testing” before I even start the car.
Before heading to the dealership, I have read a bunch of reviews online, comparisons and also been to car-specific forums to look for issues I should be familiar with. I also watch youtube videos of the test drives.
Then head to the dealership, find the trim I am looking for and start sitting in the car. You won’t believe how many I have excluded just by sitting in it. I am 6’ tall, long legs and a relatively bad back & knee. If the ergonomics are not good for me, then who cares how the car drives.
The test drive itself could be pretty brief. We have a car dealership zone, the roads nearby are the same. Test the car on the corners, the specific potholes. One exit in & out of the fwy and I have a good idea.
If one could rent a car, then that would be great. But so far most of the cars I bought, were not in the rental fleet.

@Bing said it and I tell everyone looking at buying a new car is to rent one first. Then drive it like you’d drive your car, to work, pick up kids, etc. That will tell you quickly if the car is a good fit for you.

So you’re saying if I want a Camaro or Prius, I should rent one first. Then go to a sales lot to buy the actual car. I’ll consider that. Thanks.

Yes. @Bing is absolutely right. My wife wanted a PT Cruiser when they first came out so we rented one for the weekend. The first one they gave us was an automatic and had almost no power. Since we were going into the mountains of Oregon…we took it back and got the standard shift model. It had a little more power but we struggled through the mountains all weekend. My wife decided that she would buy one when Chrysler finally came to their senses and installed a V6. They never did so my wife never bought a PT Cruiser.

@HondaGuy Correct! I travel a lot and rent cars I might be interested in owning. Last domestic holiday we rented a Mazda3 since my wife’s car was due for replacement soon. She really liked the vehicle and we ended up buying the 5 door hatchback.

Cars that we own spend much of their time droning on a freeway so that where I do a test drive. Ride and noise level must be acceptable. I have found that there is no substitute for personally driving a car rather than reading about it. Taste in cars is like taste in food. Everyone has personal preferences.

One problem with renting: they have to give you the car you want to test drive. Car rental companies guarantee a class of car, not neccessarily the exact car you want. The chances are low that you can find the brand/model/trim level/engine/transmission you want. When I test drive a car, I drive it in traffic, on the highway, and up this one hill near me that shows if the drive train has the oomph I want. This can all be done in 15 to 20 minutes. If you don’t live in one of America’s biggest metropolitan areas, this might require a longer test drive.

Missileman, with great respect I would argue that if a driver lives in the city, parallel parking is an excellent test to do during a test drive. Wheelbase, turning radius, visability, and overhang front & rear can absolutely make a difference for many people in parallel parking, and if it’s important to the driver they should give it a try. Additionally, many people have bursitis, arthritis, and other conditions that can make difficulty of steering the vehicle at parallel-parking speeds very painful and difficult. They should definitely find out before spending that much money.

My personal advice is to test drive the vehicle over the same type roads and in the same manner that you would if you owned it…without, of course, driving illegally or abusing the vehicle. If you drive on washboard roads and highways, test it on washboard roads and highways. If you drive it on hills, test it on hills. If you golf, bring your bag and see if it fits in the trunk. If you always back into your driveway, try backing into your driveway. And if you, like me, have a small vintage 1940s garage, see if it’ll fit in the garage. And always spend enough time behind the wheel to make sur it’ll be comfortabel on the roads you’ll be driving it on.

Renting is an option for many vehicles…but some vehicles you just can’t rent. And not everyone lives near a big city that has rental cars. We have ONE near us…and they have a total of 30 cars you can rent. None of which I’d consider buying. And most are 3-4 years old.

One thing not mentioned so far is I make sure I can put 3 sets of golf-clubs in the trunk or back storage. I had one salesmen who was incredulous that I wouldn’t buy his vehicle because my golf clubs wouldn’t fit in the trunk.

Test drive the …dealership.
Just whom will you be doing business with for the next ten years ?
purchasing…financing…warranty…routine service…major service…

Back before buying our 92 Ford Explorer, we took test drives …brand blind…even though I work at the Ford dealer. GMC, Jeep, Ford, Nissan…all the simillarly sized SUVs at the time. “test driving the dealer” meant buying from someone locally which ruled out many other brands.
— it didn’t take all that long with each vehicle to see and feel the fit and function fo each.
We bought the Ford.

@mountainbike…your comment is noted with the same degree of respect. I might be a little biased in the parking aspect of vehicles because I have owned C-class motorhomes in the past. I had little trouble parking them in any area including parallel parking on the street.