What to Look for When Test Driving a New Car

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Deciding on a new car is a significant investment, one that demands thorough consideration and practical assessment before making a final decision. Knowing what to look for when test driving a new car can greatly influence your purchase, ensuring the vehicle meets both your driving needs and preferences. The test drive is your opportunity to evaluate everything from seating comfort and storage capacity to how the car handles on various terrains. It’s a crucial step in the car-buying process, allowing you to assess the vehicle’s performance, connectivity options, and overall drivability.

This comprehensive guide will navigate you through the essentials of preparing for your test drive, including verifying your driver’s license and familiarizing yourself with the dealership’s policies. It will highlight what to observe before starting the engine—such as ingress and egress, seat adjustment, and the clarity of visibility. Key focus areas during the test drive will encompass engine responsiveness, transmission smoothness, handling on curves and hills, braking efficiency, and steering precision. Additionally, you’ll learn how to evaluate suspension stability on different road types, from city streets to freeways, and understand the importance of warranty options. Post-drive considerations will address assessing features like storage versatility and advanced connectivity. With these insights, you’ll be better equipped to make an informed decision about your new car purchase.

Preparing for Your Test Drive

Bring Required Documents

Before setting out for a test drive, ensure that one has all necessary documents. This includes a valid driver’s license to legally operate the vehicle on public roads. Additionally, carrying proof of insurance may be required by the dealership before they allow one to drive.

Plan Your Routes

Planning the route for the test drive is crucial. One should select a route that mixes different types of roads, such as city streets, highways, and winding roads, to comprehensively assess the car’s performance under various driving conditions.

Understand Your Needs

It is important for one to understand their specific needs and how different car features meet those needs. Consider factors like the type of daily commute, the need for passenger space, and cargo capacity. This understanding will guide one in making an informed decision during the test drive.

What to Look for Before You Start Driving

Before one starts the engine, it’s crucial to ensure a clear path around the vehicle. One should walk around the car to check for obstructions or hidden objects that could be obscured by blind spots. This includes watching for children or pets nearby.

Once inside the vehicle, the next steps involve several adjustments to ensure comfort and safety:

  1. Clean the windows and windshield to remove any obstructions like dirt or debris.
  2. Adjust the seat to ensure visibility and comfort. This includes checking the lumbar support and ensuring the seat can be adjusted for one’s lower back, which is especially beneficial for long drives.
  3. Set mirrors for optimal visibility and adjust the steering wheel for easy access to controls.
  4. Ensure the headrest is positioned to protect against whiplash in case of an accident.
  5. Fasten the seatbelt and check that all passengers are securely buckled up.

Before starting the car, it’s important to turn on the engine and observe the dashboard. The lights that appear are part of a self-check process to confirm that the vehicle’s systems are functioning correctly. Common lights during this phase include the battery, oil pressure, and check engine lights. If any lights remain on after the engine starts, or if new warning lights appear while driving, these could indicate issues requiring further attention.

Additionally, familiarize oneself with the secondary controls of the vehicle, such as the hazard lights, demisters, and lighting controls. Understanding how to operate these can enhance safety and comfort during the drive.

Lastly, ensure a proper mental state for responsible and safe driving before putting the car into gear.

Key Focus Areas During the Test Drive

Ride Comfort and Handling

During the test drive, one should assess the vehicle’s response to various road surfaces, including how well the suspension absorbs bumps, such as railroad tracks, and the vehicle’s behavior in corners or curves. A well-balanced ride will manage to strike a compromise between handling and comfort, not leaning excessively during turns and providing a smooth experience over different terrains.

Brake Performance

Brake performance is crucial for safety. Test drivers should pay attention to how the brakes feel when applied; they should not be spongy or too firm. It’s important to note any unusual noises like grinding or squeaking, which could indicate worn brake pads or rotors. Additionally, one should check if the vehicle pulls to one side when braking, which could suggest issues with the alignment or brake caliper.

Transmission Smoothness

The smoothness of the transmission can significantly affect driving comfort. During acceleration, the transition between gears should be seamless without any jerking or slipping. For manual transmissions, ensure each gear shifts smoothly without resistance. Test driving on hills or during rapid acceleration on freeways can help assess if the transmission handles increased load effectively.

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Post-Drive Considerations

After completing the test drive, it’s essential to thoroughly review one’s notes to ensure all observations and concerns about the vehicle are well-documented. This step is crucial for later comparison and decision-making processes.

Review Your Notes

Reflect on the driving experience, noting any discrepancies or standout features. Did the vehicle meet the expected standards in terms of comfort, handling, and responsiveness? These notes will be invaluable when comparing multiple vehicles.

Compare with Other Vehicles

Utilize tools like Edmunds’ powerful car comparison tool, which allows for a side-by-side evaluation of multiple vehicles. This tool provides an easy-to-read comparison of features, warranties, engines, and more, helping one to see how different vehicles stack up against each other in terms of performance, price, and overall value.

Discuss Offers and Warranties

When discussing offers, be prepared to negotiate the price and not just the monthly payments. Remember, the salesperson is experienced in negotiations, so it’s crucial to stick to one’s predetermined budget and not be swayed by sales tactics. Additionally, inquire about warranties and what they cover, ensuring that one understands what is included and what costs extra.

By following these post-drive considerations, one can make a more informed decision, ensuring that the chosen vehicle truly fits their needs and budget.


Throughout this guide, we have journeyed together through the essential steps and considerations for effectively test driving a new car, aiming to align your purchase with your specific driving needs and preferences. From the initial preparation, checking important documents, and setting the right test drive route to scrutinizing vehicle performance on variety of terrains and ensuring all post-drive considerations are meticulously evaluated, this comprehensive approach serves to bolster your confidence in making an informed decision. The key focus areas outlined—engine responsiveness, braking efficiency, ride comfort, and transmission smoothness—highlight the critical components that can impact your driving experience and satisfaction with your new vehicle.

Ultimately, integrating these insights into your car-buying process not only aids in assessing the vehicle’s suitability to your lifestyle and driving demands but also in navigating the complexities of dealership negotiations and warranty options. As you move forward, remember that a thorough test drive goes beyond a mere preliminary check; it is a pivotal step in determining your long-term contentment with your investment. With this knowledge at your disposal, you are now better equipped to embark on the journey of selecting a new car that promises not just transportation but joy and reliability for years to come.

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1. Is it advisable to test drive a brand new car? Yes, taking an extended test drive is highly recommended. It allows you to familiarize yourself with the car, experience how it handles, and ensures that all the new features, such as adaptive cruise control or navigation systems, meet your expectations and needs.

2. What steps should I follow when test driving a new car? When test driving a new car, you should:

  • Evaluate the comfort and adjustability of the driver’s seat.
  • Check your visibility of the car’s interior and exterior, including the ease of reading gauges.
  • Drive the car at different speeds and in various driving conditions, not just in stop-and-go traffic.
  • Test the responsiveness and feel of the brakes.

3. What are four important checks to perform before driving your vehicle? Before driving, ensure to check the following:

  • Fluid levels including engine oil, brake, clutch, power steering, and transmission fluids if applicable.
  • The condition and level of the windscreen washer fluid.
  • The battery for any signs of corrosion.
  • All lights, such as headlights, brake lights, and indicators, to ensure they are functioning properly.

4. How should I evaluate a new car before purchase? To thoroughly evaluate a new car, consider the following steps:

  • Understand your shopping preferences and style.
  • Narrow down your list of potential vehicles.
  • Determine a budget that you can afford.
  • Conduct detailed research on each vehicle option.
  • Recognize when you are getting a fair price.
  • Decide between leasing and buying.
  • Arrange financing, and look into warranties and insurance options.
  • Consider the options for selling or trading in your current vehicle.