9 Tips for the Perfect Test Drive

Your checklist for a well-informed car buying experience
Until you get behind the wheel, you don’t really know a car at all. Sure, that gleaming piece of machinery in your favorite shade of red might be all you aesthetically desire, but don’t be wowed by its looks until you do your homework and take it out for a spin.
The test drive is one of the most important factors when deciding to purchase a vehicle. It gives consumers a chance to go beyond the shine and new car smell and see if the vehicle is a good fit. Unfortunately, a thorough test drive often doesn’t take place. Most dealers have a 3- to 5-mile route that they’ll take you on, where the roads will be smooth, and the speed limits will be fairly low, but AAA Car Buying experts estimate that a good test drive should take at least 30 to 45 minutes.
Here are our top test drive tips to help you decide whether the car you’re researching is right for you.
1. Drive the car you want: Don’t drive another model, even if the salesperson assures you it’s basically the same. It’s not.
2. Ask for a demo of all of the vehicle’s features: This might seem time-consuming and somewhat unnecessary, but it will give you an immediate look at how easy or difficult it is to configure the car.
3. Pop the hood: Check the oil, the location of the battery, where to fill the windshield washer fluid, and other features.
4. Check the trunk: Many vehicles no longer come with a spare tire, so if having a spare is important to you, make sure there is one. While you look at the trunk, estimate whether the cargo space will be enough for your needs.
5. Take it on your typical drive: During your test drive, take the car on one of your daily routes. In addition, drive the vehicle on a highway to see if it has enough power to pass; take it on rough roads to check noise levels, rattles, and overall handling; and see how it performs on uneven pavement.
6. Have a seat: Sit in every seating position, front and back, and check for shoulder room and leg room. See what kind of steering the vehicle has, such as telescopic or tilt steering. Check for visibility and if the seats are comfortable.  
7. Inspect the gadgets: Figure out how to work the audio system, climate controls, GPS, and other features. If the vehicle comes with a voice-activated system, test it out. Voice-activated systems vary greatly among cars and can be very simple or very difficult to use.
8. Park it: Take the vehicle over to a shopping center and see how easy it is to park and back up. If it has a back-up camera, try it out.  
9. Explore your options: If you are considering a pre-owned vehicle, find out if you can take it for a test dive. Car buyers, such as the AAA Car Buying service, can sift through inventories of used vehicles and often can arrange for test drives, too.