Tips for Test Driving a New Car

On the road to finding the vehicle for you

Style? Color? Comfort? Safety features? With so many factors to consider when purchasing a new car, a successful test drive is essential to determining which vehicle is right for you.

Be prepared when test driving a new car so you get the most out of this key part of the car-buying process.

New Car Wish list

Prepare for your test drive by creating a wish list of qualities and features you need and want in your new vehicle. Consider the following factors as you make your wish list.

  • Lifestyle – Think about how you will use your vehicle. Will you drive long distances on a regular basis? How many people will you need to transport? Is gas mileage important? If you currently own a vehicle, think about what you like about it and what you'd change. Consider how you feel about vehicle maintenance. Some vehicles require more regular maintenance than others.
  • Size and style – Determine whether a car, minivan, SUV or pick-up truck will best fit your family, both now and in the foreseeable future. A growing family, expanding collection of toys that require a hitch or demands for more cargo space may help you identify the vehicle that's the right size and style for you.
  • Features – Make a list of the features you use most often. Whether it's cup holders, electric windows, heated seats or in-dash navigation, any feature you use multiple times a week can be considered a 'must-have.' Make a separate list of options that you might enjoy having and think about why you might want that feature.
  • Appearance – Vehicle appearance is one of the most obvious considerations. Perhaps you want a specific color. Or, perhaps you'll need to choose between leather and cloth interiors. Think about both the look and function of these features. For example, dark leather gets hot in the summer and cold in the winter, but cloth is often more difficult to keep clean.
  • Price – Your budget is, of course, a primary consideration when test driving a new car. Use a loan calculator to choose a loan payment you can afford. Your budget can help you decide if a new or used vehicle is the best choice for you.

Sort your wish list into 'must-haves' and 'nice-to-haves'. Doing this will help you better compare the vehicles you're considering.

In the Test Driver's Seat

With your list in hand, you are ready to hit the road for your test drive. Test drive the exact vehicle you are interested in purchasing. A vehicle loaded with features can feel dramatically different than a vehicle with basic features.

During the test drive think about the following:

  • Your wish list – Vehicles that meet all of the 'must-haves' on your wish list are worthy of further consideration.
  • The vehicle's feel – As you drive the vehicle, consider what it feels like to get into the vehicle and sit in the driver's seat. If it is difficult to get into or feels too large or small, make note. Pay special attention to blind spots and whether they interfere with your operation of the vehicle. Imagine family members or others who ride with you: Will they have sufficient legroom and headroom? Open the trunk and look at whether the size will suit your needs. If you often carry children in your vehicle, test what it will be like to maneuver a car seat or lift children in or out of the back seat.
  • Mechanics – Merge into traffic to determine whether the vehicle responds as you would expect. Test drive the vehicle on both the highway and quiet city blocks or country roads to determine whether the vehicle makes irritating noises. No matter what the time of year, test the air conditioning and heat.

After each test drive, jot down your observations. Or, snap photos of features you want to remember with your smartphone. Either method will help you remember what you liked and didn't like about the vehicle. This is particularly useful if you are planning to test drive vehicles on different days, which can make it difficult to remember the differences among vehicles.

Other Test Drive Tips

Even if a new vehicle isn't in your immediate future, you can begin building your wish list and test drive vehicles that interest you. That'll give you a head start when the time comes to replace your current vehicle.