By on November 9, 2010

I’ve test driven new cars during three periods in my life. The first of those periods, the year before I bought the Saturn in ’93, I went out every couple of weeks with a friend to do test drives. The second period was in ’96, when the same friend had me test drive the cars he was interested in while he sat shotgun, telling me that if I didn’t scare him, that would mean the car had passed the handling test. He rejected a Volvo 850 and several others, and bought an Audi A4. Then, in ’00, I helped a friend buy his Boxster, breaking my personal Vmax record on Rt. 128, Boston’s beltway in the process. My testing procedure didn’t call for 115 mph; but the car felt so firmly planted–like the Pentagon!–that I had no idea how fast I was going until I checked the speedo.

I went test driving again in the fall of ’04, under the the mistaken impression that I wanted a MINI. I didn’t. Way too much NVH—reminded me of my Saturn, and the “go-kart handling” just was underwhelming. I was impressed by the 3-series, and subsequently, even more so by the ‘03 Boxster. But I rejected the salesman’s offer in the low 30s. He called me back, inviting me in to deal, and I probably would have gone, except that the next day the election went to Bush, and I became too depressed to part with substantial money.

A week later, one of Steve Lang’s counterparts here in the Boston area—recommended by a friend—called me up, asking me if I wanted a 1999 Accord with a stick and 67k for $5,500. (He was very proud of himself for having found a car with a stick for me.) I got a cashiers check, not knowing whether I’d actually take the thing. But it passed the checklist I had, and when I drove it around the little corner of the parking lot, it was obvious that the engine was far more responsive than the MINI, and far more than either of the Saturn’s engines had ever been. Funny, Robyn, my friend who drove me to pick up the car, wondered why I had demurred at all. Her intuition had quite accurately pegged Greg Stuart as an absolutely honest, good guy. And besides, my research had shown that the car was worth north of 8 Gs. And now, at 181k, the car is still wonderfully responsive.

My modus operandi for test driving new cars is to push them. I make hard right turns off of main drags without slowing down. Repeatedly. I make hard U turns. I get going on the highway at 60-65 and jerk the car into the next lane, and then back. Brakes? EEEErrrrp! Etc. B&B: how do you conduct your car-buying test drives, and have you any good stories to tell?

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

60 Comments on “B&B: When You Buy a Car How Do You Conduct Your Test Drives?...”

  • avatar

    New cars: Spirited drive including all kinds of roads to make sure I like it, and then a careful check to ensure the vehicle has all the options I want and that there’s no damage.
    Used cars: Same as new cars plus a trip to my trusted mechanic.  He most recently saved me from a 2 year old, 20k mi car with “10 years worth of rust underneath!”
    There’s more to it, like checking the fit of the car seat and that my wife doesn’t hate it, but that’s most of it.

  • avatar

    as stable as the Pentagon  – What a great line.
    I can’t bring myself to push a car during a test drive.  It starts with whether my 6’7″ body will fit comfortably, then I look for a smooth driver with intuitive controls.  A clean engine (non-steam-cleaned) tells me whether it received any care, and the underneath scuffs are a sign of whether it was driven hard.  Absolutely no pimped cars for me – my assumption is they’ve all been beaten.
    The most important part is being able to say “no” and walk away after the test drive.

    • 0 avatar

      Yup, modded cars are immediately off the potential buy list.  First, I have no idea how those mods are going to bite me down the road because of shortcuts taken by the aftermarket vendor or the installer.  Second, modded vehicles are never babied. 

  • avatar
    slow kills

    The big two are to take a corner fast and see if the car holds together and feels rewarding, then find some war-torn patch of road and plow though it to see if the ride becomes unpleasant.
    This addresses both the sporty recreational and the daily drudgery role that the car must satisfy.

  • avatar

    Test drive?! Pfff Where’s your sense of adventure?

    I bought my last car, a cpo Jaguar XJR over the internet sight unseen. It was a charming car, but looking back, I was incredibly stupid… don’t think I will do that again. The first time I drove the car was after the tow truck driver dropped it off in my driveway. It had the potential to be a real horror story what with air suspension, a touch screen only interface for crucial car systems, air to water inter-coolers, expensive braking hardware… so much that could have gone wrong.

  • avatar

    Being an avid motorcyclist, and eBay’er, I’m used to buying vehicles sight unseen.  All but once (ok, twice, but the second time would not have revealed itself during a mere test drive), I was lucky and ended up with a great ride.

    When I’m actually testing for real, I drive the way I normally drive, minus a percent or two.  There’s something in me that makes me respect other people’s property.  I’m the guy that borrows your car and returns it cleaner than it was, with more gas than when I left.

    Once it’s mine, I gradually warm up to the “Great reveal” at which point I put the spurs to it, and for all intents and purposes, ye old honeymoon is over.  My thought is this:  I thoroughly research the cars long before I go to drive them.  If I’m test driving, there’s a good chance I’ll buy it.  Only my latest purchase, my 4Runner, took many test drives of various representatives of the species, and that’s because the dealers were total schmucks, unwilling to bargain.

    So I know what I’m getting into and don’t need to “put the wood to it” to prove the metal.  When I test drive, I’m there to listen to the mechanicals, feel the hardware, etc.  Post purchase, I drive calmly and slowly for a couple of weeks, soaking it all in.  Then, when I’m good and ready, I cut loose.  And compared to the way I conducted myself prior, anything would feel remarkably fast and capable.  So through my own behavior, I reaffirm my brilliant purchase. 

    It’s a total self-inflicted Jedi Mind Trick.     

  • avatar

    I actually didn’t test drive my current daily driver Saab 9-3SC at all. I’d already driven plenty of them at conventions. One new Saab with 11 miles on it is the same as all the others. Bought it over the phone, got a ride to Boston to pick it up. I wasn’t in the market for a new car at all, but when a buddy clued me in to the deals Saab was giving on left-over ’08s, I hit the internet to find a wagon with a stick and bought it. Very happy 28K later, it’s a lovely car.

    I have also bought a number of used cars sight-unseen on eBay. Yup, I’m brave. Highlights were an ’00 9-5 wagon in Oklahoma City. Flew out and drove it home to Maine. Ditto an ’88 MB 300TE in Ft. Lauderdale. And an ’86 Alfa Spider bought on Long Island in January last year. Good pictures and a good talk with the seller are key for me. Most recently bought a ’79 MB 300TD to add to the collection, but that was only 80 miles away, so not much adventure, other than it had not really been driven in six years. Good times!

  • avatar

    I put all potential cars through a variety of situations – highway, back roads, rough roads, backing up, urban, plus I always make sure to test it at night at some point, to ensure the lights give good illumination. Plus, before I even start the engine, I ensure it has A/C, CD player, cupholders in good position, cruise control, and, if possible, heated mirrors.

  • avatar

    Test drive, then test drive again.
    Usually when I am ready to buy a car, there are several worth buying.
     It can take me several weeks of testing before, in the end,  my heart wins the day.
     When the last big purchase of the MKS was completed, it left the Genesis, A6, Lexus350 and G35 on the floor.
    But it was really, really hard work.
    Had to test drive each car many times.

  • avatar

    The only place I ever enjoy a test drive is at “smith cairns ford” in Yonkers, they have Ford, Mazda, Lincoln and Subaru, you name the car, they bring in to the front and hand you the keys, you take it all by yourself for like 30 min or so, this is so great, no pressure, no papers to fill up.
    I have taken a test drive at a Honda dealer, the sales man, not only set with me in the car, he would not let me go on the HWY, only small streets, how can you evaluate anything in stop and go between stop sighs?
    To my humble opinion, no test drive can tell you much about a car, it would be much more practical if you could take it for a week or so, Hertz design a program called rent2buy, you take a car for 50$ a day for 3 days, or 3 hours for free, I think it’s not a bad idea, after 3 days you can tell if you like it or not.

    • 0 avatar

      haha yes I second that with smith cairns.  Back in 2004 when I was just about to graduate college they let me take out a brand new Mazda 3 5-speed hatch by myself. In shock, I went slow for a bit but then proceeded to hoon that thing up and down the sprain, cross county, and tuckaho road as hard as I could.  What a blast.  Later that day the salesman at Brewster Honda late me take out a Civic Si hatch by myself as well, and I hooned the sh$t out of that one too.  Good times.

  • avatar

    High-speed handling road tests are good, but how a car deals with crappy torn-up roads are just as important. Any car I buy for a daily driver will spend 10% in spirited driving and 90% on pot-holed city commutes. I drive a lot of the same make and model (new and used) before finding the best one at the best price.

  • avatar

    When I was shopping for my Contour SVT, I went to a Ford dealer in New Orleans and went for a ride.  I had been impressed with the A4, although I thought it seemed sluggish and wanted to do a back-to-back.  After getting some good oversteer making a U turn upon suggestion from the salesman that “it was time to head back”, my 300+ lb passenger looked at me at the next stoplight and said, “Son, I used to be NOPD [New Orleans Police Department], and I would arrest people like you!”

    Safe to say, he did not get the sale.

    • 0 avatar

      Note to self: avoid driving in New Orleans.  I love how cops can arbitrarily and capriciously apply careless/reckless driving without consideration of the capabilities of the car or the driver.

    • 0 avatar

      Saste, I think it’s safe to say that he didn’t WANT the sale.

      When we get a customer who likes to “test the limits” of the car on a testdrive, or even just revs the engine to redline repeatedly, that customer is getting the boot. HARD. They are idiots and are not worthy of the deal. Get out.

      It is very disrespectful to take someone else’s property and beat the shit out of it and then say “okay thanks, I’ll think about it…”

      Yeah… we just LOVE customers like you.

  • avatar

    During the test drives in ’92-93, I had salesmen twice tell me to cool it. (Out of probably 30-40 test drives.) And after I bought the Saturn, which I did after coming 2-3 times for additional test drives, one of the salesmen told me that they thought I’d been sent from the company to test the dealer.

  • avatar

    I’m one of those odd people for whom how the car drives is the most important factor.  A/C, radio, power accoutrements, etc. are all secondary.  My philosophy has been to push it nearly to its limits (at least one instance of: high-speed cornering, near full-throttle acceleration, aggressive stop), or yours as a driver, whichever are lower.  If your limits are lower and it handles them, you’ll be fine.  If the car’s limits are below yours, are they high enough that it will be enjoyable for the duration you’ll have the car?  Plus at least a little of a very rough road and high speed highway to make sure it’s not going to be unacceptably harsh/noisy/etc.  No BMW or VW dealership I’ve visited has had a problem with this (though some salespeople get slightly more nervous than others), though Ford and Honda dealerships have been of a different mindset.

  • avatar

    A younger, less ethical version of myself used to test drive used cars for entertainment.  It was Idaho Falls, and sometimes my G.F. was at work.  Used car dealers were happy to see us, and we tested the heck out of whatever looked fun.  My buddy ended up buying one, so maybe they had a good plan.  All my used are purchases and 2 of my 3 new purchases followed multiple tests of competing ideas.  (I shop whatever interests me, not somebody else’s categories.)
    The newer, more ethical me tries to treat what will almost certainly be someone else’s car with respect.  But dealers have goaded me to some stupid street speeds and maneuvers.  I want to test road feel, braking stability and stopping power, smooth and broken surface cornering (bye bye Mustang), and engine feel.  Acceleration is nice, but a nice even wind is more satisfying somehow.  My most recent purchase was rushed when word came out that 06 wagons would not have a manual option, so I had my CU’s broker get me one and bought it without having test driven one like it.

  • avatar

    Last three vehicles I’ve bought haven’t been running. One came home via a tow row, another a tow bar and the last a tow truck.

  • avatar

    Just spend as much time as needed driving the car the way you normally drive, in as many different driving situations possible, to either get fully comfortable with the car or determine that it isn’t right.
    I took my buddy’s 60-year-old mother out test-driving when I was helping her choose a new car to replace her ’93 V6 5-speed Camry (going to her son), so one of the thirteen cars we drove was a new ’06 Camry.  About five minutes into the drive she complained that the car had too much body roll and felt unstable to her, even though she’s probably never hit 0.4g in a corner in her life.  I was proud of her for noticing!

  • avatar

    My philosophy is never to buy on the day I test-drive. I’ll happily push the pedal to the mats on day one in a variety of vehicles. Whichever model turns out best, I’ll come back and buy the next day. But not necessarily the same car. It’s important to me to know what a car can do, but I’d rather follow my own break-in procedure on a fresh one. This is all a bit selfish, so I try to test vehicles with a few miles on the clock, or a previous model year if the changes weren’t significant.

  • avatar

    I try do to as much research as possible, and I also do a ‘shake down’ type of test drive. Hard acceleration, braking and turning, going up steep hills at low revs, anything.  Mostly because the cars I buy tend to be 15-25 years old, and cheap, so I try to get the one with less expensive problems. And I also have a tendency to favour good driver cars and good engines over accessories, which my better half don’t like much…

  • avatar
    slow kills

    I forgot to add that the first step of the test drive is to turn the radio off.  I’m listening for any nasty noises that the drivetrain or suspension are making, and I don’t need to be distracted and emotionally swayed by whatever song happens to be playing.
    The salesman notion that I’ll choose a vehicle based on the stereo system is ridiculous.

  • avatar

    I live in NJ, so when I test drive, I brake as hard as physically possible, take a decreasing radius off-ramp as fast as possible, and accelerate as fast as possible up the shortest uphill on-ramp that I can find. Then I sit in dead-stop traffic for 15 minutes and bang my head on the wheel. If the brakes are good, the engine strong,and the top of the steering wheel soft, then I’m sold.

  • avatar

    I used to test drive the same car multiple times at different dealerships before deciding. Now that I am in the business, and feel mildly compelled to drive what I sell (not to mention getting employee pricing), I just go “I like that color, write it up!”

  • avatar

    What I don’t understand in the video is why supercar dealerships are located in the city, and why the dealer wants to let a potential customer drive a hugely expensive car on busy city streets. I am assuming the salesman who let the customer back up that Veyron got fired.

    • 0 avatar

      good points – but why do you have to let someone test drive a Veyron in the first place? It’s a 200mph+ car that costs more than a mil. Do you want it or not?

      What is the guy going to say? “I really like the styling, but the steering is a little vague. I think I’ll go check out the Corvette.”

  • avatar

    When buying a four door sedan, I first see if I can fit in the back (I am tall). Then, switching to the front, can I cross my legs when riding shotgun.
    Any other car it has to be “fun to drive.”

  • avatar
    M 1

    Lust. Research. Calculate. On Saturdays, alternate dealership visits with trips to deserted, well-known office parks with twisties connected by long straights and sweepers. Leave. Come back in a week to negotiate price. Unveil trade-in, if any, and haggle accordingly. Park in garage and realize with mild regret that I don’t drive nearly as often as I have in the past 20 years.

  • avatar

    But I rejected the salesman’s offer in the low 30s. He called me back, inviting me in to deal, and I probably would have gone, except that the next day the election went to Bush, and I became too depressed to part with substantial money.

    After what happened last week, it’s surprising that you could lift a finger to type.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      After what has happened in the past two years, he probably didn’t have a choice.

    • 0 avatar

      My politics are more complicated than you think. I really did not like Bush. But in my Congressional race, I voted for the republican against Ed Markey, but voted for the dem in my governor’s race, and I was happy with some of the repubs who won, not so much with others, and very glad Barbara Boxer beat Carleton Sneed (original name of that character, who I knew vaguely and briefly in high school). Since this is a car site, and this has very little to do with cars, I’ll leave off now.

    • 0 avatar

      It really doesn’t matter to me what your politics are (but you did bring it up in your article, btw.)

      If you like a car, and can afford it, buy it.  You shouldn’t allow your emotional state to be that dependent upon a stranger, and especially not the government.  Your article indicates (to me, anyway) you’ve allowed too much influence.

      Enjoy your Accord, btw.  Do you still drive it like you did when test drove it?  Could you?

    • 0 avatar

      >>It really doesn’t matter to me what your politics are (but you did bring it up in your article, btw.)
      I did so because that is what happened.
      >>If you like a car, and can afford it, buy it.  You shouldn’t allow your emotional state to be that dependent upon a stranger, and especially not the government.  Your article indicates (to me, anyway) you’ve allowed too much influence.
      I worried, among other things, about what four more years of Bush would mean for the economy. Buying the Boxster would have been a bit of a stretch, one that would have made sense in better times, but not then.
      >>Enjoy your Accord, btw.  Do you still drive it like you did when test drove it?  Could you?
      Thanks. I do, oh, I do. The Accord is the one car I didn’t get to test drive, except for the little bit around the parking lot. But I’ve gone ice racing in it and I do frequently drive it hard. One time I was pulled over by the cops for having failed to slow down in the rotary. (There was virtually no traffic.) I don’t know whether they could have ticketed me or not, but they didn’t. They DID like a bumper sticker I had though, “immigration is doubling the population in your child’s lifetime,” and that may have influenced them to be merciful.
      I got pulled over by a DC cop many years earlier when the Saturn was new. I turned off of Mass AVe. onto a side street without slowing down. The cop acted very angry, but he knew he couldn’t ticket me and he just let me go.

  • avatar

    I don’t have any particular test drive procedure, but my friend has an interesting one. None whatever. Every time his car dies, he goes on ebay, and bids on a used-as-hell dodge neon for around $1,500 and then drives it till it dies, rinse, repeat.

  • avatar

    Looking for over a year for my daughter’s car, we narrowed it down to the Honda Civic and maybe the Mazda 3. After the “test” drive at the Honda dealership (where we had bought a van and Accord a few years earlier) we were not impressed. The salesman  took us around the block, no interstate even though it was a half mile away. We looked at the Madza, great test drive, loved the car – better color, power, gizmo’s,etc and we bought it. Did the test drive factor in – yeah, if we hadn’t been dissed by the Honda salesman, we might not have gone to Mazda. I thank my lucky karma for that!

  • avatar

    For a new sports car, dealers are reluctant to let anyone drive what few examples they have on the lot.  When I was shopping for an Evo VIII when they were first introduced in the US, the rule was pretty much “no test drives unless you buy it first”, which of course is ridiculous.  Why would you buy something so expensive before you even drove it?  But look at it from their point of view: would you want to buy a new sports car that was pounded on by someone else during a test drive, before the engine was broken in?  Of course not.
    I waited a few months after the initial buzz had died down and found dealers more willing to let me drive one.  I was most concerned about the Evo’s everyday characteristics, as magazine reviews had already informed me of its track capabilities.  Would it rattle my teeth on urban side streets?  Did the Recaro seats feel comfortable?  Could I live with this car as a daily driver? After driving around on city streets and a highway (obeying the speed limits, without scaring my salesman — what’s the point?), I determined that I could and the Evo became mine.
    I wish auto manufacturers would provide test drive examples of all their cars to each dealer, but I’m sure that’s an expensive proposition.  In fact, I would change the entire distribution model for automobiles, with representative examples of each car in different trims being the only thing available for inspection, with all cars then being ordered from the factory and showing up a few weeks later for the customer.  But that certainly will never happen.

    • 0 avatar

      The “break-in” period is a myth.
      I’ve been told by more than a few auto engineers (in engineering school) and line workers that engines and transmissions are run quite a bit after assembly to get all the bits (valves, rings, gaskets…etc) to seat correctly.

      The only exception to this are cars with newly rebuilt engines or transmissions. Standard break-in procedures are useful there.
      So go ahead, drive it like you stole it during the test drive – it’s not going to hurt the vehicle.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Depends on the car, and the purpose. If it’s a used car, at some point, I will make sure everything works . . . even things I don’t care much about it. If it’s a new car, then I just drive the car normally, preferably on city streets and on freeways, but at customary driving speeds, not triple-digit hair-raisers.  Just about everything you need to know about a how a car feels — turning, braking, acceleration, suspension compliance, transmission operation (either autobox or manual) — will reveal itself, if you’re paying attention (and not listening to the radio or the salesman in shotgun).  If there’s anything — and I mean anything — that feels the least bit funky, the car fails.
    If you do your homework in advance, you can find out about the car’s limits — braking distance, brake fade, acceleration, fuel consumption, etc. — without putting your sample to the test.
    In the pre-stability control days (i.e. the 80s and early 90s), I would also check for trail braking oversteer, by turning hard in one direction and then stomping the brakes to see if the back end wanted to come around.  Now, I don’t bother.  I figure the electronics will save my ass if I do something stupid like that.
    For the “performance cars” I’ve owned (mustang GT 5.0; SHO, Z3 3.0), I’ve explored the cars’ limits only after I’ve owned the car for a while and feel like I know its virtues and vices.  For example, the 87 Mustang GT would simply slow down if you stomped on the brakes at speeds over 80 mph.  Forget about actually stopping.  But the GT did have a safety factor, of sorts: at triple digit speeds the whole cabin resonated with the exhaust and the rough riding combination of the Goodyear Gatorbacks and stiff supsension did a nice job of transmitting vibrations from even the pavement texture to the car.  So, the “perceived speed” of the car was quite high . . . which tended to discourage sane people from winding the 85 mph speedo so that the needle pointed straight down (as in “you’re going straight to hell, buddy!).  In that car, I claim the record for the downtown DC to Dulles Airport trip — 20 minutes to make a 27-mile trip door-to-door.  Think about it. . . .   Could never do that today — too much traffic on the Dulles access road to hit 100+ mph.
    The SHO that replaced the Mustang had a much lower perceived speed, and because of its more predictable handling characteristics, could actually be driven must faster than the Mustang on real roads, like going through the mountains of West Virginia.  However, like the Mustang’s, the SHO’s brakes were inadequate.  After one trip to my place in the mountains, the SHOs stock rotors were quite warped.  Aftermarket rotors of higher quality metal stood up to the heat, but braking was only adequate.  I never spent the money for the larger rotors, which would have required replacing the front spindles and some other modifications.  But after the two Fords, the brakes in the Z3 were a revelation.
    Unless you’re a Jack Baruth — or maybe even if you are — the idea of jumping into an unfamiliar car and pushing it to its limits on public streets strikes me as pretty stupid . . . and unnecessary.

    • 0 avatar

      DC Bruce:

      I totally agree with you.

      When shopping for my 2004 Impala, I test-drove a base model – was impressed. Went to the Bay Area on a business trip and Hertz rented me an Impala LS pretty loaded. Very impressed. Came home and found one exactly as if I ordered it – correct color, base w/sport appearance upgrade – perfect! Used my supplier discount, plus huge rebate Chevy offered, bought the car – no haggling. Did not test-drive it at all. The saleman begged me to at least start it up – so I did. Got out, locked the car, signed the papers and the next day I drove it home. Happy these past 6½ years!

    • 0 avatar

      I had to laugh about your description of the Mustang GT’s brakes, I had a similar experience. A couple of years ago, I found a replica of the one I owned new back in the ’80’s. This one was a 22 year old car, however, not a restored or preserved example. Forgetting that for a moment, I cranked the car up to about 80 MPH, and suddenly had to slow down to keep from running a red light. Bad idea, I know, but a wave of nostalgia over took me. It was at that point I remembered vividly my 5.0’s less than stellar braking performances, and I realized that you really can’t go home again. Pity.

    • 0 avatar

      In my case, at least, sure I’m pushing the cars a bit, but I’m not approaching the limits–not with my full complement of caution [email protected] { font-family: “Times New Roman”; }@font-face { font-family: “Arial”; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: Arial; }table.MsoNormalTable { font-size: 10pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }
      I can remember during that first round of test drives, discovering that the Camry plowed when you tried to turn hard, whereas the Integra did what you asked it, crisply (and the A4 even more so).

  • avatar

    I’m not going to wring out a car on a test drive. And I’m not going to recreationally test drive, or test drive every car in the class just because. It’s not in me to waste anyone’s time, even that of a car salesman. I’ll only test drive when I’m ready to buy, and by that time I’ve obsessively researched and usually have it down to one or two cars anyways. Truth be told, I don’t get much out of a test drive besides whether I like the driving position, feel of the controls, and sound of the motor.

  • avatar

    Many years ago, in a dealers lot, I put a 3 speed Mustang into what I thought was first gear, and backed into the new Mustang parked behind us, vigorously. Since then I let my daughter do the test drive. She is a Skip Barber graduate, and has had individual instruction from Casey Mears in a Mercedes program.
    She uses the 0 to 100 to 0 program. We’ve had some great cars.

  • avatar

    I’m a pretty conservative driver, but I drive somewhat more aggressively than normal on a test drive, as this makes it easier to tell how responsive a car is.

  • avatar

    The last couple of cars that I’ve bought new, I’ve rented first. When I’m that interested in the model, a test drive no matter how long, doesn’t really reflect how I’m going to drive it everyday. I’ve been happy with our last two purchases, because I’ve taken several days to test out a similar model.
    On a used car, I inspect it carefully and then if I’m really serious have my mechanic inspect it too. If it passes his sniff test, then I’ll consider buying it. The last time I didn’t do this, I ended up with a three year project. I don’t drive them like banshees until I own them, I try to respect other people’s property. I’ve already researched these cars by the time I’m this serious about it, and so long as it drives well, I’m in.

  • avatar

    This is my typical test drive.  Most of it involves steps that are relevent to automatic transmissions:

    – Start the car and let it idle.  Make sure the engine sounds right.

    – Hold the brake and run the transmission though all the gears, making sure it shifts in and out of them properly.

    – Set the emergency brake, put the car in drive, give it a little gas and see if it holds the car back like it should.  Release the emergency brake and move forward to make sure it didn’t stick.

    – Take the car for a drive.  Try to find a good mix of twisty road, stop-and-go, and highway.  Drive enthusiastically on the curves to check the handling and suspension.  Drive both moderately and aggressively in the stop-and-go to check acceleration and shifting.  On the highway drive at various normal speeds to check for noise, vibrations, and how straight the car tracks.

    – If it’s safe to do so get the car up to speed and then do a panic stop.  Make sure the car stops in a reasonable distance and doesn’t veer one way or the other.

    – If the oppurtunity doesn’t occurr during the test drive make sure to test downshifting and upshifting by simualting how you would slow down and then speed up if someone in front of you wanted to turn off the road.

    – After the test drive shut the car down, open the hood, and check for anything leaking.

  • avatar

    After making a mistake buying an Iszuz Rodeo I now push the limits of a car to see how it does in one critical area: accident avoidance. Turns out (not shockingly) that the Rodeo corners like the Titanic, but my test only revealed that wife had trouble getting in due to its high stance (4×4 tires). After owning the ill handling SUV for 8 months I realized just how piss poor its handling, acceleration, braking and interior was compared to my Prelude (duh!). I just couldn’t deal live with all the compromises and thus I sold it. So I will not make that mistake again.
    I tested an Eclipse GS-T but it just didn’t feel right, especially with the salesguy camping (or cramping!) in the back seat. The black interior made the car feel tiny. The next day I returned to the lot and told them I needed an “extended test drive” to make 100% sure it was the car for me. They gave me a car with a tan leather interior & sunroof for the day. I drove it hard but also drove it on roads I knew well including a particular section of downtown were traffic is a nightmare (to check out the clutch feel) and full of potholes to check out how the suspension handled in a typical commute type experience. After almost 5 hours of non stop driving I was happy and comfortable, so I bought the car.
    My first test drive of an Infiniti G35 I attempted to get it sideways (at the encouragement of the salesguy), but sure enough the traction control kicked in and saved me from doing any damage to the car (or my ego). Thus I concluded it was safe enough for the wife. This particular dealership has a nice back road behind it, in fact I purposely have taken other cars down this road to really feel them out. I went to test drive a Volvo C30 and saleguy wouldn’t let me on this particular road, so I returned to the dealership and told him if I can’t “test” the car what’s the point. The funny part – the guy could NOT drive stick so I had to get the car out of the display area and back it down a narrow winding path so I quickly learned the car’s blind spots and ease of parking in tight spaces. I doubt many people check a car’s reversing ease but they should.

  • avatar

    I tend to drive quickly but not aggressively, and I try to stick to back roads (or hwy access roads) as much as possible. For me it’s primarily a transmission and suspension setup test, and I think those questions are easily answered at 60mph on a slightly windy road. I agree with those that don’t feel comfortable hooning someone else’s cars, it just isn’t necessary unless you are totally unfamiliar with that entire class of vehicle. The one real thing that requires pushing is an under-steer test.
    I also will drive almost anything credible in a vehicle class once I start looking, even if I, or the person I’m helping, already has a bead on one car in particular. I’m always up front about what I want with salesmen, and as a result I can’t even remember the last time I was refused a test drive. The one thing that can sour things is a salesmen trying to force the visit into a sales track, pushing hard for paperwork, trying to match you to a specific inventoried car, calling 20 times after the drive, etc… I’m going to walk out anyway, which I’ve already made clear before the drive, and all this accomplishes is annoying either myself or the person shopping the vehicle. Just last week a neighbor of mine walked away from a G37xcoupe and into an A5 for just that reason, even if she rationalized it differently.

  • avatar

    Most surprisingly useful test drive experience:
    I was annoyed by an Atlanta-area Mazda dealership that made me ride shotgun out of the dealer lot on a test-drive of an RX-8 before swapping seats with the sales guy a block down the road.  But as I sat there in the passenger seat, I noticed for the first time that the transmission tunnel was so wide that it intruded on the foot-space, and realized that my wife, who’s legs are just as long as mine, would never be comfortable over there on a long drive.  A similar problem with the front wheel arch made riding shotgun insufferable for me in her ’97 Imprezza.  So, the RX-8 was out of the running.
    Most personally-satisfying test drive experiences:  Test driving Miatas with my wife.  “Oh, sorry, sales-guy, there’s just no room for you to ride along and babble incessantly at me.”  :-)

    • 0 avatar

      It’s the law in Georgia. A salesperson HAS to drive the car off the lot. I did it many times myself.

    • 0 avatar

      Odd… It was the only time anyone EVER did this in the three years I lived in GA, and I test drove many, many vehicles in that state, as I bought my MPV there (seeing a Mazda theme yet?) and helped a friend shop for a used Protege5.
      Is it new cars only?

    • 0 avatar

      @foolish: The last time I did that for a living, the first President Bush was in office. I can’t remember if it was only new cars or not. I think it was all cars, but I’m not 100% sure anymore.

  • avatar

    My last two cars have both been on extended test drives.  My G8 I discovered by having a G8 rental car.  It was a V6 model in screaming orange with a black leather interior.  Had it for a week, put on over 600 miles in a wide range of conditions from 120 MPH on a two-lane highway in rural Texas to bumper-to-bumper traffic in 95 degree heat.  I was impressed, especially for $27.5K.  A year later as GM circled the drain I picked up a G8 GT without even driving it.  If the V6 was good, surely 110 more HP and all the other goodies had to make this great, and with an extra cog in the CTS-V derived tranny, the same FE2 suspension and a hair larger front brakes, all of that had to be better to.  No regrets; but was a bit surprised as I drove home to learn that the center stack gauges, crappy or not, ended up on the cutting room floor sometime between 2008 and 2009.
    My latest winter beater we bought last month; the auto broker lot I found it on let us drive it for about three days on their offer.  I jerked it across lanes, swerved, sharp u-turns, stood on the brakes, stood on the gas pedal, and drove it back and forth to work, among other locations.  I turned on every electrical item in it and let it sit at idle.  We put over 400 miles on it in our extended test drive, and concluded that given the $2K break over what others were selling for, in far worse condition, we couldn’t go wrong.
    In the future, I think the extended test drive will be the way I will continue to go.

  • avatar

    My speakers are out…what the hell happened with that Veyron.  I don’t see any damage.

  • avatar

    Well, I was once conducted unceremoniously off the lot after I conducted a test-drive of the then-new Mk V Jetta. Apparently I was “driving way too fast around that corner.”

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • dal20402: The comments here read like a bunch of retired mid-level managers hitting the Jack very hard indeed. But...
  • downunder: Wow, please don’t hold back. Stop mincing your words and say it out loud. What is really on your...
  • slavuta: You know! – this is not an issue. Who wasn’t a member of that? I can proudly say that I held...
  • MitchConner: Could care less what the Chinese do with their dirty money. Screw them. My take is on Ford. Mulally was...
  • Ol Shel: Pay close attention to the mentally ill billionaire. Do as he pleases.

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber