Basic Test Driving Tips

When shopping for a new car, it can be very easy to fall in love with the glossy exterior and striking interior of a vehicle. However, buying a car is a usually a major financial decision, so you'll want to look beyond simply the vehicle's looks.

The best place to start car shopping is on the computer. Important information about vehicle safety features, performance data, purchase price, and resale data can be researched online. You can start your car-buying experience here on by browsing our vehicle research pages, searching for a new or used car, and locating a car dealer in your area.

Below is a list of test driving tips that every new car buyer should heed when shopping for a vehicle. 

  • Be Choosy. Test drive the exact vehicle you are interested in buying with all of the available options you want.  
  • Look Before You Drive. Walk around the car. Is it the right size for your family? Check the quality of the assembly for bubbles and pitting on the paint and chrome. Open and close the doors and tailgate or trunk; are they solid and well made? Will the trunk design allow for easy loading of groceries or luggage?
  • Be a Backseat Test Driver. Ask the salesperson to take you for a preliminary test drive, so you can focus on the ride without the distraction of driving. As a passenger, you are more likely to notice noise and overall comfort. Plus, you can evaluate the comfort and room for future passengers.
  • Find Your Fit. Get in the car and check for leg room and visibility.  How easy is it to adjust the seat? Are the controls easy to read, reach, and use? Also be sure to test out all of the accessories and options, such as the air conditioning, stereo, and any other technology.
  • On the Road. Choose your own route for the test drive, and if possible, try to pick a route that mirrors your daily driving routine. You'll also want to test the car's handling on different road surfaces, including city streets, freeways, hills, and winding roads.
  • Power. Test the engine's responsiveness in real-world conditions. Try merging onto the highway, passing, and stop-and-go city driving. Is there a smooth and constant delivery of power to the engine?
  • Transmission. While driving, look for smoothness and ease of operation.  Listen for any hesitation or straining. 
  • Handling. Check for steering responsiveness with long turns and sharp turns. Safely practice sudden swerves and gradual lane changes.
  • Put on the Brakes. Brake both softly and decisively to gain a good idea of the car's stopping distance and how the brakes react in different situations.
  • Noise Level. Listen for excessive engine, road, and wind noise at various speeds. Also check for squeaks and rattles coming from the interior and bodywork.
  • Parking. Parallel park to find any blind spots or possible difficulty in identifying the corners of the car. 
  • Inspection. If you are shopping for a preowned vehicle, ask for a vehicle inspection report to discover any "hidden" problems. You'll also want  to have the car checked out by a trusted, quality mechanic before you purchase.

These test driving tips are just a few basic recommendations. When shopping for a new car, make sure to follow your instincts, and if the vehicle doesn't feel right at any point, it is not the right vehicle for you. Buying a car typically doesn't happen with the first vehicle; shop around until you find the perfect fit.


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