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What to do when test driving a new car.

Mathieu Rainville July 20, 2016
A car salesman taking notes and talking to young couple who is buying a car in a showroom.
A car is the second largest purchase most people will ever make. It is a pretty big deal. Thankfully, the Internet has made it possible to do extensive research before even needing to set foot into a car dealership, which means that consumers are able to make better informed decisions before signing away their hard-earned cash.

So let’s say you’ve done your homework and have narrowed down your list to a handful of potential candidates that seem to fit your needs and budget. What comes next? Usually, it’s a test drive at the dealership. But what are you trying to determine with this test, and what’s the best way to go about it? Here is a handy checklist so that your time behind the wheel is well spent.

General tips.

Test the cars back-to-back.

To do a proper comparison, you should test all your potential candidates on the same day. This way, your driving impressions will be fresh as you step into each new vehicle.

Test the exact car you want.

Or as close to it as possible. If your budget only allows for the basic 4-cylinder engine, there is no point in testing the 6-cylinder version.

Night driving.

If you’re serious about buying a car, test-driving it at night is also a good idea. A lot of new cars come with adaptive headlights that follow the curvature of the road ahead, and the only way to test your potential new car’s lighting system is after the sun sets.

Before the test drive.

Comfort and ergonomics.

Can you get in and out easily? How’s the driving position? Can you adjust the steering wheel to a comfortable height? How about the seat? Don’t forget to try the back seat as well to compare the legroom of each car.


Check the cargo area: is there enough space for your regular hauling needs? Can you fold the rear seats easily to maximize the amount of storage space?


Look at your blind spots and directly at the rear of each car to get a sense of how much visibility they allow.

During the test drive.


Again, look at your blinds spots while you’re driving – is traffic easy to make out or do you need to contort yourself to get a good view? If the car is equipped with a backup camera, is it clear and easy to use?


Does the engine provide adequate acceleration, especially when you need to merge with highway traffic? While acceleration is closely related to engine power, a car with modest power output but a well-designed transmission can still provide decent thrust all the way up to highway speeds.


Is the braking responsive without being too jerky? A good braking system should be smooth and intuitive. Try applying varying amounts of force to the pedal to assess both mild and more aggressive braking.

Steering and handling.

How is the suspension over the type of terrain you are most likely to drive on? Is it firm enough in high-speed corners and comfortable enough over rough surfaces? Is the steering responsive or does it feel vague?

Finally, once the test drive is over and you’re back at the dealership, you might be pressured into making a quick decision. Unless the deal really is too good to pass up, go home and take the time you need to fully weigh the pros and cons of each vehicle.

Assuming that you’ve done a bit of research before showing up at the dealerships, the test drive should give you the answers to all the remaining questions you had so that you end up buying the best car for your needs.

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