Buying a brand-new or new-to-you vehicle can be a stressful experience. It’s a major financial commitment, but it’s also your lifeline to the world, providing reliable transportation for work and play alike. Because it’s such a crucial decision, you’ll want to come prepared by knowing what to expect from a test drive and how to get the most out of it.
Start with a plan
You don’t want to show up at your local dealership with merely a rough idea of what you want. Before you even step foot in a showroom, you should prioritize asking yourself honest questions and doing your research.
Factors that might help you make the best decision for now and the future include how many passengers you typically expect to have at most, how much cargo room you’ll need, and what the vehicle’s main purposes will be. If you don’t do a lot of off-roading, for example, you probably won’t need a rugged SUV with 4x4 capabilities.
Once you have an idea of the kind of vehicle you want, look into the different options from automakers. Use resources like Kelly Blue Book, Autotrader, and customer/expert reviews to narrow down the field and make an informed choice.
Finally, you’ll need to have a fairly firm budget in mind. Figure out how much you can comfortably spend each month on a car payment, fuel, insurance, and other associated costs.
Make an appointment
With a budget and a vehicle in mind, you can start shopping around at local dealerships. That includes checking out inventory online, which can point you in the direction of a dealership that has the vehicle you want.
Because online inventory takes time to adjust, your best step is to call, email, or use an available online scheduling tool to arrange a test drive at your dealership of choice. This will allow you to ensure that the vehicle you have your eye on is in fact in stock and available at the price listed on a dealership’s website. While you’re doing this, you can also take advantage of tools that allow you to value your trade-in and get pre-approved for credit.
Visiting the dealership
When you arrive at the dealership for your scheduled test drive, be sure that you have your driver’s license and proof of current insurance. The dealership will need these items before you will be allowed to get behind the wheel.
Once you and the dealership’s sales associate head out to the lot, the first thing you should do is look the vehicle over. Be on the lookout for dents, cracks, signs of rust, and other imperfections. If you overlook small issues today, it could lead to larger problems down the line. Likewise, make sure that you test all the electrical elements, including exterior lighting, air conditioning and heating, and infotainment.
After you’ve buckled your seatbelt and started the engine, stay put for a second and listen to the engine running. Keep your ears open for unusual sounds like clicking or rattling, which can indicate an issue. You will also want to make sure that you’ve found ideal adjustments for the steering wheel and driver’s seat that would allow you to be comfortable and engaged on longer drives.
When the vehicle is in motion, pay attention to how it brakes and how it handles. Not only should you be paying attention for potential signs of issues, but you should be feeling out the vehicle to make sure that it rides to your liking. Drive the vehicle at lower and higher speeds, making it a point to perform typical driving maneuvers like turns, lane changes, and coming to complete stops.
If a test drive goes to your liking but you want to compare it to the alternative, keep in mind that you’re not locked in to purchase. Tell the dealership that you’d like to compare your experience to another vehicle. Letting a salesperson know that you have other prospects could give them the incentive to sweeten the deal a little bit so that you’ll consider pulling the trigger.
Test driving a new vehicle is a necessary step to getting behind the wheel of a ride that offers the durability and reliability you need. Don’t cut corners with your test drive experience and you’ll be in a better position to enjoy the full benefits of your purchase or lease for years to come.