Going for a test drive

Once you've narrowed your choices to two or three vehicles, take each one for a test drive. Set aside one day so you can drive more than one vehicle. This makes it easier to compare.

  • Be upfront with the salesperson and tell them you're testing several vehicles and likely not making a purchase that day.
  • Take a friend with you. They may notice things you don't. It can be helpful to get a second opinion.

A test drive allows you to get a sense of the vehicle's characteristics, handling and options. It should last 30 to 45 minutes and duplicate the types of driving you normally do - including some highway driving. Be objective. Carefully determine whether or not the vehicle meets your needs.

Use the Consumer Reports checklist to keep track. And take along a notepad to jot down your impressions of the vehicle as soon as you're finished the test drive - while your impressions are still fresh.

Taking a test drive can also help you assess the dealership. Their response to your test drive may tell you about their professionalism and help you decide whether you want to deal with them over the life of the vehicle.

Be wary of dealers who do not have demos in a popular line-up of vehicles, or who will only offer you a ride rather than test drive.