You might spend 1,000 hours or more behind the wheel of your next new car. Choose the wrong car, and those hours could be uncomfortable and/or unsafe. Yet most shoppers make this important purchase after test-driving the car for just 10 minutes.

How to get test-drives right…


Call the dealership to ask…

When is the best time for me to take an extended test-drive? It is very important to spend enough time in the vehicle—at least 20 minutes and preferably longer—to fully address all your concerns and questions.

Can I test-drive the exact car that I’m interested in, with the same engine, transmission and options? Dealerships typically designate just a few examples of each model for test-drives to avoid running up the odometers on other cars. But seemingly minor variations can make a big difference.

Example: If you intend to buy a car with a sunroof, test-drive one with a sunroof. Sunroofs often reduce headroom, and some sunroofs create more noise than others when open.


Before you start the engine…

  • Adjust the position of the driver’s seat precisely. Make sure that there is a driving position that you find very comfortable.
  • Check whether the knobs, dials and cup holders are within easy reach. This seems minor, but it’s dangerous and annoying to have to lean to reach such things while driving.
  • Try out the backseat, particularly if you frequently have three or more adults or teens as passengers.
  • Load any large items you often travel with into the trunk or hatch. For example, if someone in your household requires a wheelchair, walker or stroller, make sure this item fits without much struggle.


Most drivers do little on test-drives beyond confirming that the ride quality, acceleration and handling are at least minimally acceptable based on personal preferences. But you can—and should—do much more…

  • Choose a route that tests the car under various conditions, including highway acceleration, bumpy roads, sudden stops, parallel parking, backing out of a space in a crowded parking lot and any other conditions that you normally drive in.
  • Ask the salesman to stop talking so that you can focus on the drive. There will be time for talk later.
  • Check the blind spots. Change lanes on the highway…make a right turn at an intersection where there are pedestrians. Does this feel comfortable…or are there worrisome blind spots?
  • Test the seat heaters. There is great variation from vehicle to vehicle on how warm the seats get.
  • Listen for annoying noises, including whistling wind. If you find a noise annoying on a short test-drive, it will drive you nuts when you own the car.
  • Let everyone in the family who is going to drive the car take a turn behind the wheel on the test-drive. Too often one family member takes charge of the car-buying decision, leaving the others to drive a car that is not well-suited to them.

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