If you're like most modern car buyers, you've probably done plenty of research before stepping onto the lot. You may have even begun the negotiation process by email. While these steps can help you narrow down your search and get a great deal, there's no substitute for sitting in a car and taking it for a drive yourself.
However, taking a test drive is about more than driving by the seat of your pants. If you want to ensure that you get a car that's perfectly suited to your needs and lifestyle, you should take a systematic approach once you arrive on the dealer lot. This guide will help you understand what to look for on your drive so you can make the best purchasing decision possible.
The Pre-Flight Checklist
Before moving, take some time to sit in the car and get comfortable. Avoid rushing onto the road, especially if you aren't yet familiar with the vehicle or its controls. Take as much time as you need to find a comfortable seating position, and ensure that you can reach all the necessary switchgear for daily driving. You'll also want to ensure you can easily access storage cubbies and other small features.
While you might feel like you're wasting time during this stage, it's arguably one of the most critical parts of a test drive. If you can't make yourself at home in the car, then it's unlikely to be a good fit for you. You'll also want to use this stage to ask your salesperson questions about the car's features and options.
Once you're on the road, you'll want to continue to focus on the little things you checked before you started your drive. Are controls still easily accessible while you're on the move? Can you adjust the infotainment system and work the navigation features without becoming distracted? Do you have good visibility from the most comfortable seating position?
Make sure to evaluate the car's driving characteristics and responses in varying conditions. Take the car down some side streets, on the highway, and even over a few less-than-perfect roads. Try to consider how the vehicle behaves for day-to-day driving instead of focusing on the "wow!" factor from driving a new or high-powered car.
Now comes the hard part: stepping back and thinking about your drive. If you're not in a rush, it's an excellent idea to give yourself a cooldown day to reflect on your experience and decide if you're happy with your test drive. However, even if you need to make a purchasing decision right away, you should still take a few minutes (or longer) to think about what you liked and disliked on your test drive.
While you're at the auto dealership, don't be afraid to ask more questions after you drive, as well. By carefully considering your test drive experience, prior research, and your salesperson's answers, you'll be able to make an informed decision and walk off the lot with a car that's perfectly suited to your unique needs.