How to Test Drive a Vehicle

Test driving a vehicle that you’re thinking of buying may seem straightforward but often times consumers rush the process and end up regretting their choices a few months down the road. Here are some tips on what to look for when you’re on the test drive.


Before Setting Off

Before you turn the key and drive off the lot, there are a few things you can check such as the driver’s seat. That’s where you’ll be spending a lot of time so check to make sure you can find a comfortable position. Play around with the seat controls, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, and (if available) the pedal adjustments. Also make sure the armrests provide good cushioning and are at the right height for you. Next have a seat in the back seats and see if your passengers will have a comfortable journey or if they’ll be complaining of the limited head and knee space.

If you’re a coffee person, it might be a good idea to bring your favourite mug or cup to see if it’ll fit in the cupholder without spilling your drink. Same idea if you have small children, try installing the car seat and see if it’ll fit in the back and how easy it is to take in and out of the vehicle. Next, check the infotainment system (if available) and see if it’s easy to use, easy to pair with your smartphone, and if all the settings and buttons are easy to read. You don’t want to be squinting when you’re changing the radio settings while doing 90+km/h on a highway.

Last thing to check is the trunk. If you usually carry a lot of things, try putting something big into the trunk and see if it’ll fit and how high the trunk floor is for ease of taking things in and out of the trunk. Also be sure to check the rear seats if they fold down and split and whether or not the space between the trunk and the seats is big enough to allow bigger items to pass through easily.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze

Around the Parking Lot

Usually the vehicle that you’re thinking of buying is located on the dealership’s lot which will most likely resemble a mall parking lot. This is a good opportunity to test outward visibility and ease of maneuvering at slow speeds. Is it easy to see out the back and the sides when pulling out of a parking spot? Does the steering feel light when turning at slow speeds? Can you tell where the extensions of the vehicle are? Usually dealership lots are tighter than parking lots at a mall or store so if you feel comfortable driving around the dealership lot then you shouldn’t have any problems “in the real world”. Newer vehicles are also equipped with backup cameras and self parking features, such as on the 2017 Chevrolet Volt. This would be a good time to test those features.


On the Road

When you’re going on the roads, drive the vehicle as you normally would your own. That is, if you like to drive economically, drive it economically. Or if you normally drive in a sporty manner, drive it that way instead. You won’t necessarily like a vehicle if it doesn’t drive the way you want it to drive. Next listen for squeaks and rattles. If you think that they’re annoying now, imagine how annoying they’ll be weeks from now every time you drive your new vehicle. Also have a conversation with the sales person. Do you have to yell at them or can they hear you just fine? A car that lets a lot of road and wind noise into the cabin can be more tiring and stressful over longer periods of time, especially if you have a long commute to work.

If you get the chance (and are in a safe area), put your foot down on the accelerator. Test how well the engine behaves under hard acceleration and whether or not the power is sufficient for your liking. This is also a good time to test how the engine and transmission work with one another. Are the shifts harsh or smooth? Does the vehicle do something out of the ordinary? And don’t forget to test the brakes. You don’t want a car that has a “mushy” brake pedal. You want it to be firm and to give you the confidence that it’ll stop in an emergency.

With these tips, you can go from dealership to dealership (or private sales) testing different vehicles to see which performs better than the other and which comes closest to your specific needs. While it seems like a lot to look for when test driving a new or used vehicle, you want to do a thorough job of testing it otherwise you may regret your decision of purchasing a specific vehicle and either you’ll be unhappy until you can afford another vehicle or it’ll cost you to replace it with another.