A gentleman test driving a car

How to Test Drive a Car

Updated March 5, 2021 . AmFam Team

If you’re wondering what to look for when test driving a car, look no further. Click here for a checklist of things to consider when you’re test driving a new car, before you purchase.

When you shop for new shoes you typically try on a few before you buy. Why? Because it’s all about fit. And there aren’t many things in life as uncomfortable as a shoe that doesn’t fit.

Now, imagine buying a new car without trying it on for size. This is your hard-earned money we’re talking about here. A test drive is your chance to find out if the car you’ve got your eye on is the one you should take home. And while you’re out on your drive, keep your eyes and ears open for all the right buying signs.

It can sometimes be confusing to test drive a car because you don’t know what to look for when test driving. In this article we’ll share a few checklists — to help you know what to look for during your test drive.

Do I Need to Schedule a Test Drive?

While you may be able to test drive a car at a car dealership without a scheduled appointment, it’s best to call the dealership and confirm the car you want to test drive is in stock and ready at the lot. During these uncertain times, car dealerships may only be accepting scheduled appointments for test drives, so be sure to call ahead and schedule one.

What to Do on a Test Drive

Before heading out to the car dealership, do some initial research by reading reviews and ratings for cars you may be interested. Be sure to bring a list of questions you may have, and our car purchase checklist too. Once you arrive at the dealership, keep the following in mind during your new car test drive.

Consider Your Comfort and Control

Once you’ve given the car a good in-person inspection, climb behind the wheel, take a minute to look around and get a feel for things before you start your test drive. This is where attention to detail is key.

Get a feel for the car’s comfort

Comfort is key, so if sitting in the car doesn’t feel good, you may want to move on. Before passing on the car though, be sure to adjust the seat and ask these questions:

  • Is the driver’s seat comfortable?
  • Does your back feel supported?
  • Is the arm rest right where you need it to be?
  • Are the passenger seats comfortable?

Gauge the layout

The interior design of cars can vary greatly between make and model, so do your best to understand how the car you’re interested in is different from your current ride. Check out the primary controls, displays and gauges. Is everything in reach, easy to use and easy to read? Is it easy and intuitive to adjust things like the AC?

Make sure the car is compatible with your gadgets

We never leave home without our smartphone or Bluetooth devices. Most new vehicles understand this and are built for technology. However, it’s important to double check during your test drive to make sure your potential new car has all of the features you need. Some gadget-friendly features you may want your new ride to have can include:

  • Wireless Bluetooth connection for your smartphone
  • Hands-free phone calls
  • Dictation for text messages
  • Voice commands for GPS or playing music

Test Out the Car’s Acceleration and Brakes

Breaking and accelerating your car should feel safe and seamless, so keep these acceleration and brake system tips in mind when test driving a new car.

Step on the gas

Accelerating ability is a big deal. It’s not just about power — it’s about safety too. Ask yourself these questions when test driving a car:

  • Does the vehicle have enough get-up-and-go to merge safely into highway traffic?
  • Do you feel confident in your ability to pass?
  • Does driving up and down hills feel smooth?

Get a feel for the car’s steering

How responsive the wheel feels in your hands can say a lot about how a car handles the road. Stability is the name of the game. You should feel like you’re in control of the car, not the other way around. Ask yourself, do you feel in control of the car and the way it drives?

Test out the brakes

The next stop on your dream-car test is to hit the brakes. Brakes can be hard to assess during the test drive, but it’s still important to try them out ahead of purchase. To get a real feel, find a safe spot, like an empty parking lot, and brake hard from about 40 miles per hour. How smooth and straight was your stop? Did the brakes feel too touchy?

Observe Your Senses When Test Driving a Car

It’s not just about the ride. What you see and hear when you’re on the road matters too. Watch, listen and learn during your test drive by keeping these tips in mind.

Ensure the car’s visibility

Check your visibility from the driver’s seat. The more you can see, the more confident behind the wheel you’ll be. Consider the following questions when test driving a new vehicle.

  • Do you have a clear view of traffic all around you?
  • Are there any major blind spots?
  • Can you clearly see out the rear windows when backing up?
  • Do the headlights provide strong visibility when driving at night?

Listen to how the car sounds during a test drive

Wind, engine sounds, the hum of the tires — cars make noise. But you shouldn’t have to deal with it on the inside. Turn the stereo off and give things a listen. Is the car quiet enough for your preference? Are there any rattling noises or anything else that sounds off? Chances are the car’s engine will only get louder as it gets older, so if it’s too much during the test drive you may want to consider something else.

Insuring Your New Car

If your test drive went well and you’ve found your next ride, you’ll need to make sure your new car is insured. Remember, almost every state requires some kind of auto insurance — and it’s a great way to protect your investment in your new vehicle.

With auto insurance from American Family, you can control what you pay every step of the way. That means customizable coverage options like Emergency Roadside Assistance and a wide variety of discounts like our KnowYourDrive® program.

Looking for more tips before you go to the dealership? From helping you narrow down your car search to finding the best deals, here are some pro tips to finding your dream car. And remember, your dream car is out there. You might have to take a few for a spin before you find the right one, but it’s out there, waiting for you to drive it off the lot and into your life.

This article is for informational purposes only and includes information widely available through different sources.


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