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Taking the Test Drive

Posted on 04 September 2008

You’ve done the research, calculated your budget and narrowed down your list of prospective cars down to a handful. Now it’s time to take the finalists for a spin. This will likely be your first fully escalated interaction with salesmen, and your first hands-on-experience with the cars you’ve been reading about during the course of your — hopefully — intensive research. Therefore, before going in, it’s very important to know what to expect from the dealer, what to look for in the car, and above all, how to get the best feel for the model you’re testing.

Before you drive off the lot

  • Ask to drive the exact model you’re interested in, with your desired color and interior. Test-driving the model you want with a different engine and interior will defeat the purpose of the drive. Ideally, you want to test the exact car you’re interested in.
  • Admire the outside of the car, look for dings, study the contours. Does it look well constructed? How about the paint job? Do you like how the car looks? Will you be thrilled to see it every morning? Can you see yourself in it? Open and close the doors. Kick the tires. Stand on the bumper.
  • Climb inside. Sit in the driver’s seat, passenger seat, in the back. Lay down. Play with the controls, the knobs. Is everything within reach? How’s the layout? Will you be able to fit everything you need in it? How about the trunk? Will it suit your diabolical needs? Try out the stereo in the lot. You’ll want silence while you drive, to get a better feel for the driving experience.

On the road

  • Cover as wide a range of terrains as possible. Ideally, you’ll want to drive the car in both residential and urban areas, and highways. The more terrains you try out, the more complete your understanding of how the car reacts in different situations.
  • Work the brakes, take sharp and sweeping turns, floor it. Try to simulate different driving situations. How does the car respond? Do the gears shift smoothly? Are you hearing excessive noise? How does the suspension feel?
  • Is the car comfortable? Or would it give you bed sores if you were to drive it over long periods of time? Are there blind spots? How effective are the rear view mirrors? Are they easy to adjust? How about heating and air conditioning? Are the turning signals intuitively placed? Is the shift knob comfortable? Don’t overlook anything that strikes you as annoying or uncomfortable. Even the most seemingly insignificant problem may drive you nuts later.

After you return to the dealership, the salesman will likely try to sell you the car, that very day. Be forewarned. Even if you’ve fallen in love with the car over the course of the drive, it’s never wise to make a $20,000 decision without sleeping on it.

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