On the topic of test driving a car

I’m in the midst of car buying (not that it matters to the thread, but I’m between a Toyota Rav4 and the Nissan Rogue), and I recently did a test drive with the saleswoman.

I don’t get much out of the test drive. The car always feels new and unfamiliar at the beginning (although it inevitably fits like a glove soon after I buy it), but it’s new and shiny, so it’s a fun ride. But I don’t slam on the breaks, or take sharp turns, or otherwise run it through its paces. Mainly this is because I don’t want to scare the hell out of the sales person.

I always figure the point of the test drive was to get you to fall in love with the car. I usually narrow down my decision through internet research and general observation before test driving to confirm my choice.

I’m curious if anybody has any advice, techniques, or stories about test drives. Do you blare the radio? Floor it on a straightaway (I do usually take note of how it takes off from a full stop)?

It would be great to hear from people who sell cars. Is there anything I should do when test driving a new car from a dealership?

One thing I always do when test-driving is to check the visibility out the windows. I do this in particular with the back windows. This might not be so important now if the car as a back-up camera but it certainly does.

Another thing is to turn on the air conditioner and drive up a hill. When a sales agent turned off the air conditioner just as I headed for a hill, I said, “It looks like I’m not getting this car.” I was correct it was underpowered.

Huh. I can’t think of the last time I test drove a new car and the salesman or woman came along.

I only buy stick shifts, so a test drive is vital.
It’s the only way to know whether the car feels good to me.

Old guy is right about taking a car to a steep hill and turning the AC on. This is really the only performance type test I do on a new car. The other thing you should do is take it on a highway and see how it feels at highway speeds. Some cars still feel loose and wander at normal highway speeds.

But I think the main reason to test drive a car is to see if you are comfortable in the drivers seat. I have been able to tell with several cars that there was no way I could be happy in that model. At one time I was fairly sure I was going to buy a Nissan XTerra. I had previously owned the early version of the Pathfinder and had been happy with Nissan.
But when I got in the XTerra for a test drive, the seating position was completely uncomfortable and I could not adjust it to make it reasonable.

I am not exceptionally tall at 6 foot and despite my user name, I am very skinny, so not an outlier body type wise.

In test driving go through the controls for the lights, wipers, turn signals, head lights, cruise control… everything, to see if it seems natural. On occasional when I rent a car I end up struggling with how to make things work even after several days. When I drop the car off I’m always glad I didn’t buy *THAT *one.

Some years back, I was looking for a econobox commuter with standard transmission. We stopped at a local Ford dealer and ended up with a fairly stereotypical, obnoxious salesman - the kind who would talk to me about mirrors and cup holders when I ask about safety and reliability. Regardless, I wanted to test drive a specific vehicle, and the salesman hopped in the back seat while my husband and I were in the front.

I learned to drive a stick when I was in Driver’s Ed in 1971, and this test drive took place circa 2006 or so. The sales guy kept telling me when and how I should shift, and he about crapped himself when, on a flat straighaway, I shifted from 3rd to 5th as I usually do. On the way back to the dealership, I did it again and he made a distressed comment about it again. I wasn’t grinding gears, the car wasn’t straining or bucking, and according to Click and Clack, it was fine to do this if you were just cruising along a flat road.

I didn’t buy from that dealership, partly because I just didn’t like the car but mostly because of the salesman. And the Scion that I did buy managed to endure me skipping 4th gear for over 100K miles, until I sold it to my sister. She’s still driving it and it’s never had a transmission issue, so I feel safe in saying I didn’t hurt the precious Ford.

I go to the used lot, find the same model several years older and test drive that one. I’m more curious how all the interior doo-dads hold up after several years, and whether there are lots of rattles/etc. The new one will be perfect I’m sure, I’m more interested in the longevity issues.

I take the new one and drive it to my house. I want to see how (and whether) it fits in the garage. It gives me a good intro to the visibility issues while maneuvering, and it gets me off the salesman’s “perfect” route (trust me, they’ve scoped this out beforehand to ensure the best ride, etc.).

Even numbered gears are superfluous! I had a car that lost 2nd and 4th and I kept driving it for years. Didn’t bother fixing it till 3rd went out on a trip in the mountains. Still made it home just fine with 1st and 5th. :cool:

Still own that car.

Regarding skipping gears, I do that all the time. More often than not (especially in my six speed) there’s just no reason to run it through all of them. In fact, you’re probably wearing out the clutch more to sit in a gear for, literally, no reason other than to pass through it. I remember years ago my dad telling someone you could do that and she seemed to think it was odd and his comment was ‘you skip gears on the way down, why not on the way up’. (I think his example was driving on the freeway in 5th, but then coming down the exit and putting it in 2nd as you roll to a stop but still need to creep forward). If I’m doing something (like eating or smoking), I’ll usually start in second gear from a stop. I know that one is a little harder on everything, but it means I can get going farther before I need my hands, particularly if I’m turning left.

Before everyone gets on my case, you should see me eat a burger AND smoke AND drive stick AND turn left…at least least when bluetooth came out I could stop answering the phone with my foot and go back to using the clutch when I shift again.

Now, as for the actual question. Assuming we’re talking about new cars. Sure, they all usually work just fine and if we’re talking about popular makes and models, they’re all pretty much the same. But I don’t think it hurts to take one out on the road. At the dealership I go to, they have this nice path that takes you down a very busy road, then a side street, a few miles of freeway, exit on to a not busy road, back onto their busy road and back in to the lot. It’s about 10 minutes and gives you a good mix of everything. Nothing too extreme, but it gives you a good chance to gun the engine (and row through the gears if that’s the case) on the freeway onramp) and you have a bunch of turns you can make that’ll give you a chance to see how you like the handling. You’re, of course, free to drive it wherever you want, they just usually point people in this direction because it really is a good path to test everything out.

I actually turned down one car because of the test drive. It was a stick shift car and the clutch pedal felt terrible. It had no resistance to it. It operated fine, but it felt like a brake pedal feel when there’s no fluid in the line. Maybe it needed to be adjusted, maybe it was broken, maybe that’s how it was, but it felt wrong (and I let the sales person know) and I went with a different car.

I was going to say the same thing. They’d say take it home and show it to the wife, and bring it back tolmorrow.

For a cheap date, I used to take girls out to test drive Porsches. I knew a guy who commuted to work several days a week in test-drive cars, he’d take it home for the night and call back the next day and tell them he had an emergency special assignment at work and couldn’t get it back until a day or two later. Did that until he exhausted all the dealers in town, and finally had to buy a junker.

My advice: do a test drive just to see if you can enjoy the car. If it’s fun driving it.

I was all set to buy a car – first model year of the Prius. Took it for a test drive and it took forever to get up to freeway speeds. Ten minutes in it was all I needed to be bored.

Was honest with the salesman, told him my next choice would be an Echo, but that that had been a little slow, too. He asked if I’d tried one with a stick. They didn’t have one in stock, but he called around and found one at a used lot that the dealership had, and got permission to have me drive that.

Peppy! Finally!

In fact, my kids used to say “This car might be too fun for you, dad…” (That might have something to do with the fact that I used to 180º drift into the parking spot in front of our house…)

Be sure to test drive the one you’ll be buying. Check everything, from the horn to the lights, AC, heater, EVERYTHING, particularly electric. Be alert for strange sounds and unusual operation, clunky shifts. Before the sale is complete, you have all the leverage to get minor defects taken care of. Once it’s yours, it’s “How does a week from Thursday sound?”.

My parents bought a Cutlass Cierra many moons ago. The (automatic) gear shift column was stiff as hell, moving from P to D. They mentioned that on the test drive. “Oh, that’ll loosen up in time.”
Ah, no.

When I test drive a car, I check to make sure the airbags work as designed.

From my POV, at any rate, there isn’t anything special I would do on a test drive. At the point that I test drive a car I’ve generally done all my research and determined that objectively it ticks all the checkboxes and theoretically is the right car for me, and the test drive is to see if subjectively it’s a good fit, in terms of comfort and general feel and handling.

Some cars and SUVs that I thought I really liked have just not felt right to me at all once in the driver’s seat, and some others have been unexpectedly delightful. One such surprise was the current model of the Volkswagen New Beetle that I had as a rental a few months ago. I always thought they were cute little cars but they’re surprisingly fun to drive, conveying a sense of build quality and good handling and engineering. A convertible version would be a fun little car. If I was in the market for that kind of car, a test drive would have sold me within the first mile!

Your experience is the opposite of mine. The salesperson is always in the car, usually pointing out the features while leading me on a short little jaunt around the block. I have had some who later suggest I take it home (based, I presume, on the idea that I’ll have a harder time giving it up once it’s at my house), but that’s not universal. Getting a ride along has been.

That’s insane. I prefer to drive a stick and I will always skip 4th if I am going fast enough to make it unnecessary. It does absolutely nothing bad to the car.

That’s my modus operandi, too. The comment upthread about putting the A/C on when going up a hill to test the car’s power surprises me (not that it’s a bad idea), if only because I read as many reviews as I can of my intended car before I go to the lot, and I would expect that this sort of problem would have been spelled out already, so I wouldn’t need to drive the car to find it out.

Basically, the test drive is my last step before negotiating the car’s price. I make it a point to not buy the car the day I drive it (I make some stupidly low offer and then follow up by phone). It’s basically just for fun, though, since I like driving a new car.

I’m tempted to floor it from a dead stop, take it to like 75 mph, and then slam on the brakes, to really “test” it, but I figure that the person riding with me would freak out if I did it.

The AC can sap a significant amount of power from an already under powered car. I don’t have cites but it feels like 20% of my 4 cylinder p/u.

A quick look around gives estimates of 4 to 20 h/p used by the AC. My P/U is rated at 159 h/p so maybe less than 10%. Not a problem on a V8 or similarly powerful car.

I used to have a Land Rover with an electrically heated windshield. The headlights would dim when I turned it on.


The last time I went to buy a car, one of the absolute requirements was that it come home into my (small) garage first to make sure it fit. They were reluctant to do that as I lived about ½ hour away, which meant one hour off site. They agreed to let me take it, but I think that’s because the sales guy & I were former cow-orkers at a different place (before he got into sales). Even with that, it took about 20 mins to fill out the paperwork to let me take it by myself.

Re: skipping gears, the salesman actually introduced me to it when I was test-driving my GTI. Hasn’t hurt the car in 43K miles.