Should You Test Drive a Car Before Buying?

Should you test drive a car before buying? That's the best approach before you invest your hard-earned cash in your next ride.


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Should you test drive a car before buying? Theoretically, it is possible to purchase a new vehicle without ever driving it. Indeed, purchasers of the new breed of electric vehicles, such as the Rivian R1T and the GMC Hummer EV, do not have that chance as the manufacturers deliver them as ordered. That said, test driving is a great idea for a variety of reasons.

Test-Driving 101

While early adopters of electric vehicles may not have the opportunity to test drive one before purchasing, that's a risk they are willing to assume. If they don't jump in, they'll lose the opportunity.

For the rest of us, there are several matters to look for when taking a test drive. That's also assuming that you completed your research and know the vehicle you choose to purchase.

Meet with your sales representative and utilize your time with the vehicle. Generally speaking, you'll have about 15 minutes with the vehicle, but if you need more time then be certain to let the representative know.

Perform a Walkaround

Schedule your test drive during daylight hours. Unobscured natural lighting will reveal its true color. And it will also expose blemishes, such as dings and scuff marks you might otherwise miss.

Consider several matters, including the vehicle's layout, height, trim pieces, mirrors, tire type, wheels, and the liftgate or trunk. There might be something unsatisfactory that you see. For instance, if you're purchasing a four-wheel-drive SUV and you're of modest stature, you need to know if side steps are included. Once the door is open, is there a grab bar to pull yourself in?

Inspect Inside

Slip behind the wheel of the vehicle and take note of the seat, including the materials used, adjustability, and sightlines. Your forward vision should be unimpeded. If there are blind spots, then mirrors and tech equipment including blind spot warnings should mitigate these concerns.

Sit in every seat to gauge how passengers might find them. Flip forward and fold down the seats to determine access and egress. Moreover, examine the storage compartment in its standard and expanded configurations.

Examine every nook, cranny, and storage compartment. Count the number of beverage holders, look for under-seat storage, and find out what type of spare tire is offered. Certain vehicles have a standard spare, others use temporary (donut) spares, while the rest do not offer a tire but include a tire inflation system. However, that inflator is useless if the crippled tire is destroyed.

Scrutinize the Tech

Modern vehicles are technological marvels. For instance, USB ports, infotainment and audio systems, and a host of safety features are included or available. One of the significant challenges is the color display fixed to the top of the center console. Notably, touch-screen access is almost universal. And the system layout and usage vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Familiarize yourself with the way it works, asking the sales representative to explain it to you.

Discover how every in-cabin button, switch, and knob works. Ask the salesperson about strange noises and beeps you do not understand. Find out what they represent and how they're controlled. If you feel comfortable with the tech offerings and the way they operate, you have made significant progress with your purchase decision.

Drive the Car

Once you have a solid grasp of the way the car looks, feels, and is equipped, you're ready for a test drive.

  1. Adjust your seat and mirrors, then fasten your seatbelt. Keep the audio system off and minimize chatter. Let your senses help you determine if this vehicle is the right one for you.
  2. Start the car, engage the transmission, and gradually move forward. While picking up speed, gauge how much power is available as you move forward. Drive the vehicle on a route that reaches highway speed. Learn how well it accelerates under full throttle in addition to how the transmission responds as it sends power to the wheels.
  3. Evaluate the steering. Is it light to the touch and direct? Consider the handling. How does the vehicle manage on twisty roads, and while entering and leaving corners? How much body roll is detected? Check the brakes. Are they firm or squishy? Do they stop promptly? Stomp on the brake pedal to assess the anti-lock brake system. Develop a solid feel for the vehicle. Listen for wind noise entering the cabin. Activate the exterior lights and hazards.
  4. If you are testing a four-wheel-drive vehicle, engage the system and put it through the paces. Note its ground clearance. Next, evaluate its approach, breakover, and departure angles. If the vehicle tows, does it have a hitch and connecting wires?
  5. For full electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, learn where the connection port is. Verify that a connection cord is present if one is included.
  6. If you're considering a convertible, drop the top to determine how that operates.

Finally, once you've finished with your test drive, pull the vehicle over, place it in park, and turn off the engine. Lift the hood to inspect within. Each of the fluid areas should be visibly marked. View engine placement, battery, belts, hoses, and wires. If you work on your vehicle, consider how this one compares.

Decide and Move Forward

Should you test drive a car before buying? It can certainly help you in the long run, as no expensive purchase decision should be made in haste. If you're satisfied with the vehicle, then move ahead in the buying process. If you are not satisfied, then keep those shortcomings in mind when you evaluate your next vehicle.

This site is for educational purposes only. The third parties listed are not affiliated with Capital One and are solely responsible for their opinions, products and services. Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The information presented in this article is believed to be accurate at the time of publication, but is subject to change. The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the product. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.
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Matt Keegan
Matt Keegan is a lifelong car enthusiast, having “driven” his first real car at the tender age of five while sitting on his father’s lap. As soon as he acquired his license, he began exploring the open road and tinkering under the hood to fix the inevitable leaky radiator, broken belt, or mess with a stuck fan clutch. It is those experiences that convinced him to stick with writing and make good friends with mechanics. Matt regularly reviews new vehicles, advises friends and families on their next car purchase, and keeps his pulse on the automotive industry. His bucket list drive is navigating Alaska’s Dalton Highway and finishing that trip with a dip in the Arctic Ocean. In July, of course.