By on May 15, 2018

Image: Hemmings

Having been on a few trips to the dealer lately, this question comes naturally. Well, not because any great thrills arose from my visit to the local Hyundai retailer, but older memories are often shaken loose through mundane experiences.

The dealer experience isn’t normally one that inspires an upturning of the corners of your mouth. Frankly, if I never had to walk into one again, I’d be a happy man. But joy — and terror — can be found in many places. Good or bad, what dealer test drive memory stands out in your mind?

For my dad, it was the economical car that nearly killed him. Having just landed a job, dad headed on down to the local Volkswagen dealer to see if this diminutive little car he’d seen in ads was actually worth driving. Maybe long-haired flower power resided in its tiny engine compartment (it was 1968).

The test drive went well, I recall him saying, until he approached a stop sign located immediately after a sharp little turn. A hook, really. Coming up to the stop sign under moderate braking (or so he claimed), the VW lifted its inner rear wheel to such heights, emergency countersteering was required to prevent a rollover. The Beetle was returned to the dealer unscathed, and the unnerving episode compelled my dad to head to the Ford lot in search of a Falcon.

For me, the most joyful test drive memory originated at a dumpy used car lot in my final year of high school.

Up here in Canuckistan, there once existed a strange entity: Grade 13. No longer in existence, this grade saw students attend maybe half a day’s worth of (essentially useless) classes, interspersed with stretches of boredom. What to do? If you were like me and my friends, you went car shopping. Usually, $1,000 served as the price ceiling.

This particular BHPH lot accepted society’s dregs. Rusty, beaten-up compacts, mostly, plus a strong contingent of flaking midsizes with opaque headlight lenses (this was the turn of the century, mind you — the only clear headlights were of the sealed beam variety). It wasn’t these rolling pillars of mediocrity that tempted my little group, however — it was the bargain basement land barges left over from brighter days, sitting ignored and unwanted in the far corners of the lot. I’ll forever regret missing out on that light blue Lincoln Mk. VI ($1,000 obo).

One day, a pristine ’89 Grand Marquis appeared, looking dignified and aspirational with its turbine-style wheels, whitewall tires, and vinyl top. Inside, soft blue benches beckoned. Bingo! To be honest, none of us actually entertained the possibility of buying it, but who’s going to turn down a chance to live out their greatest car chase fantasy? And so, grandma’s old car got the workout of its life. The old Merc’s 302 V8, floaty suspension, and over-assisted steering worked just as expected. Wider grins were never seen.

So what’s your best test drive memory? New or used, frustrating or uplifting — surely you have a story. Let us know in the comments.

[Image: Hemmings]

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61 Comments on “QOTD: What Was Your Most Memorable Test Drive?...”

  • avatar

    I once took a slightly used Corolla for a test drive, I was looking for something for my daughter. I expertly wheeled the lille Corolla out of the dealer parking lot and raced down to the first intersection, about 2 km away. At about this time the engine started to buck like a wild bronco. I told my wife this was either the worst running Toyota I have ever experienced or we were out of gas. It turns out it was the later. As good fortune would have it, we had a little momentum and a slight downhill to the next stoplight. The light mercifully turned green, we made the corner and coasted to the Esso station with absolutely no potential energy left. Just made it to the pump, put 10 bucks worth in, drove back to the dealer and bought the car.

  • avatar

    When I graduated college in the Spring of 1989, I went to work the following week. From that point forward, all I could think about was getting a new car. I really wanted a Honda CRX. But by the time Fall rolled around, talk about the Miata was gaining steam and I contemplated one of those. At that point, I thought I would wait until Spring and see what I could find.

    The Friday before Thanksgiving, my brother-in-law called me and said the Ford dealership had a new 1989 Ford Mustang LX 5-speed that a customer ordered but the deal fell through. I went with him Saturday morning and took the car for a test drive. I had been a gear head my whole life and remembered how enamored the press had been with the 5.0 LX platforms (all magazine stuff then, no internet). I was instantly hooked. White exterior with a red interior.The car sounded great. I remember the salesman goading me into burnouts on the back road test drive. Seeing the smoke and black marks in the rear view mirror was enough for me to buy it. I bought it and drove it home the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

    I kept it for 2 1/2 years and had zero trouble with it in 60,000 miles, except for the incredible tire wear of the rear tires (it was on it’s third set of rears when I traded it in). Now, a clean, low mileage example of the the car I bought back then is almost the same price I paid for it new. One of the many cars over the years I should have kept.

    Last month, I did finally end up buying the 1990 Miata I wanted 28 years earlier. Another great car, but that is a story for another day.

  • avatar

    Around 1994 —test drove the last generation Mercury Capri with an automatic (Ford’s non-answer to the Miata). It actually sold as a 2+2, so me and the salesman sat up front, and my slightly large buddy used what was left of is flexibility to squeeze onto the shelf in the back. The car would barely move, and for my friend, getting out of the car was worse than getting in. The sales guy asked “so, what do you think?” My buddy and I just looked at each other, and left (to our credit, neither of us laughed in front of the sales guy).
    Next, I tried the Mazda dealership—a very pretty MX-6. Nothing remarkable about the test drive, but the salesman was beyond aggressive—acting as if he would get violent if I didn’t buy right then and there.
    (Other considerations at the time was a new 240SX, and a Miata with poorly repaired body-damage that was not disclosed. Ended up getting a used ‘91 MR-2 with a 5-speed. Still miss that car).

  • avatar

    16 year old me wanted my own car so I wouldn’t have to borrow my mom’s Nissan truck. I had dreams of something fast and muscle car-ish.

    I was working at an office, doing insurance programming on a Wang computer – lol – and mentioned this to one of my co-workers.

    He had a yellow 1970-something Pontiac Sunbird that he wanted to sell. So I agreed to take it out on a test drive. He threw me the keys. I went out to the car and started it, gave the engine a few gentle revs to hear how it was running, and then proceeded to drive a few blocks. The car just felt bad – and not just in a malaise way – but very underpowered and running rough.

    I drove back and told him I wasn’t interested. He went out later to grab some lunch and found a pool of oil under his car. He said: “The piston went through the block!” I was a dumb kid but didn’t abuse or rev the engine up to the stratosphere, but I sure did catch a lot of flack from him for destroying his engine.

    Another one: my GF-soon-to-be-wife just graduated from college and we test drove a little 2.3L Mustang that must have cost all of $4000 back then. She had no experience with RWD and this was just after a big blizzard had hit Kalamazoo. She went made a left turn at a busy intersection, proceeded to give the car too much gas (the mighty 88 hp!), and spun the car all the way around 360 degrees. After that experience she was shook up and let me take the wheel. She didn’t buy the car.

  • avatar

    I definitely test drove a few dozen cars when I was younger and had nothing to do. The one that stuck to me still today is a 1996 Integra GS-R in dark green with tan interior. This was a pre-owned unit from an Acura dealership. For whatever reason, they let this 18 year old kid have at it alone. I probably drove around for a whole hour before I gave it back. What a car. Wish I had money to buy it then.

  • avatar

    This is from the selling side, not the buying side…

    Back in the early 90’s I was the new guy in the shop at a Toyota dealership. When you’re the new kid in town, all the pranks get played on you. It was probably my second week there, I’d never had a job selling stuff more expensive than VCRs. This older man and (assumed) his daughter came on to the lot and the other guys were not around. I approached them and found they were interested in a sedan with air conditioning and in-dash cassette. I found a nice Nissan Stanza (that we had very little money in) and off we went.

    The dealership was on the south side of the Atlanta Metroplex (Newnan, GA) and we were on the service road for I-85. At the time, it was pretty deserted out there, just us and another car dealership on the edge of town. These two customers were not very talkative, but I figured it was some sort of a “see if the sales lizard makes a mistake and we can get $$ off the price” kind of a game. Once we got on the Interstate, almost as if on cue, they looked at each other, nodded and placed a tape in the cassette player.

    They started playing (and singing along to) gospel music. Very loudly. I soon realized the only way I was getting back to the store was to play along. Fortunately for me, I’d had a pretty extensive religious education as a child and could quote Scripture back and forth with these people, although I wondered what would have happened to me if they’d found out I was raised Roman Catholic?

    Finally, after about an hour, I was apparently deemed worthy of redemption (meaning returned to the dealership). I was never so glad to get out of a car in my life and that includes some of mine and my teenage buddies many near death experiences back in the day. Over the next couple of weeks I cornered different senior salesmen and queried them about these two. They all denied knowing anything about them and I could never prove otherwise.

    The two “gospelers” never came back to discuss the car we test drove or any other car, they just disappeared off the face of the earth as far as I was concerned. For this reason, I still believe it was a prank.

  • avatar

    It was 1973. My college buddy and I were riding around in his beautiful red 69 Plymouth Roadrunner. Gas prices had spiked and he was worried about how he was going to be able to keep feeding his car premium fuel at 60 cents per gallon.

    We stopped at a used car lot and he began to look over a small car called a Simca. The salesman offered the keys and said take it around the block for a test drive. Away we went, and about halfway around the block the car ran out of gas. We walked back to the car lot, handed the salesman the keys and told him where he could find his car.

  • avatar

    I’m thinking circa 1971 ?? I had some crap job making $80 bucks a week …( A year later I was making twice that at GM.) So anyway I spy at a BHPH a beautiful 69 Parisienne 2+2 Convertible, Red, with a white top, and white interior. I park my 62 Strato Chief and get out for a closer look.

    The salesman eyes up the long haired 17 year old, and his ancient rusting Pontiac. No way was this dude going to let me behind the wheel of this 69. I negotiated, and appealed to the boss. Apparently he was the boss !

    I guess I wore him down. “We’ll go for a short trip around the block, but I’m coming with you”. Wow!! top down on a sunny day wheeling this gorgeous vehicle around.. I was smitten. I’m thinking “chick magnet” my buddies will be so jealous.

    After a very short drive we return to the lot. I wanted that car. The dude pounds some keys on his adding machine, tears a piece of paper off the roll…He circles the approx monthly payment . I barely looked at the figure. “Where do I sign ? ” The dude says “you know at your age your gonna need a co sign.” “No problem” says I. “I’ll be back tonight with my Dad.”

    Problem !!!…. Dad takes a quick look at the Rag top. The old man sparks up an Export A takes a drag, looks at me. “Are you f..n crazy ? ” You can’t afford a car like that” He goes on. “I can’t afford a ****** car like that !! ” I plead ..”But Dad your not buying it, ya just need to sign this paper”

    I never bought that car..Dad was soooo right . The car was totally out of my league . For a fleeting moment driving that car I had the world by the a$$.

  • avatar

    This was only about 6 months ago…

    Spied a 2016 Miata Club on the local McLaren dealer lot. The salesman – a very cool guy – says OK, let’s drive it. During the course of the drive, I came upon a lovely right hand decreasing radius turn onto the highway, with no one around. I downshifted as I came into the turn, lifted the throttle, and promptly sent the rear of the car around 90 degrees and perpendicular to the road. After sawing madly at the wheel in a fit of counter steer measures to avoid nailing the concrete barrier wall, I looked over at my salesman. Cool as a cucumber…then I remembered he worked at a McLaren dealer. He kind of asked me what I did wrong…and like a kid who ate the last cupcake, I kind of deflated and said ‘mid corner throttle lift, that was stupid’.

    Negotiated a below-market cash price and took it home. Later learned that the tires were grossly over-inflated. A test drive to remember….

    • 0 avatar

      I have only had rental cars with tires that were about to pop they had so much air in them. Remember thinking “Jesus this Durango rides like crap.”

      Well, there was 48PSI in the tires, so it would.

  • avatar

    Driving an MGB GT when I was 16 led me to a life of sports cars. It was ratty and had a transplanted Datsun motor, but compared to my 67 Impala it felt like a go-cart.

    My dad returned to the dealers lot with me the next day and after looking at it for 15 seconds literally laughed in my face at the idea of buying the car.

  • avatar

    After driving my Bright Teal Dodge Neon into the ground. I decided I wanted to buy a new car for the first time. I noticed that the local dealer had a year end leftover 2002 Neon ACR (competition package) that they couldn’t sell so I went in to talk to them about it. Now the ACR’s were all 5spd manuals and I had a little experience driving stick but never as a daily driver.

    So we go out on a test drive with the salesman and it’s going well. At on the return trip at a stoplight when it turned green, I stalled the car. I restarted the engine and stalled the car a second time. At this point the lady behind me honked her horn and now quite frustrated in myself, I relied on the only manual trans driving experience I had received at that point. Driving on an AutoCross.

    I rev’d that engine up and dumped the clutch peeling away from the stoplight. Banged 2nd gear barking the tires then dive bombed into the corner onto the road that brings you back to the dealers lot. The poor salesman at this point was white as a ghost and holding onto the car for dear life. I did purchase the car from him that day and he probably has a similar story about some kid who came into buy a shitty neon race car and scared him to death on the test drive.

  • avatar
    Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

    It’s the Spring of ’95 and I’m searching in quiet desperation for a replacement for my rapidly-deteriorating Geo Storm. Skipping out on my afternoon classes at UNM, I head down to the Auge Boys Dodge store where I quickly land on the recently-released Neon Sport Coupe with the 150-hp DOHC engine.

    Surprisingly, the salesman tossed me the keys with his only instruction to be back within an hour. That was a rather foolish move with a 19-year-old customer… and I took advantage of it to the best of my ability, hooning that little car around Rio Communities for 59 1/2 minutes with utter abandon.

    Fortunately, the salesman didn’t seem to notice (or just didn’t care about) the smells of hot brakes and clutch upon my return. I ultimately wound up buying a used ’92 Accord LX coupe instead, which in every way was a far superior choice.

  • avatar

    We received a flyer from the local Mopar dealer to come in and test drive a car and we would get a gift. This was back when they were giving out cheap digital cameras and such. I told them I was just there for the gift so it didn’t matter what car I drove. Surely there is something you would like they said. Well, we couldn’t afford a 300C at the time but they had a red SRT4 (Neon based, the good one) sitting in the showroom. I said the SRT4 looked interesting so they bring it out and while it is warming up he is telling us all about the dealership. We go for our ride and he says to drive it like you stole it. Well, there was a clover leaf 2 miles down the road so I did. Honestly it was a very fun car but the seats pinched my shoulders pretty badly. Anyway, we are headed back and he has this grin like he just sold me the car and asks me what I think. I said it was quite a bit heavier and down a couple hundred horsepower compared to what I was used to. That’s when I got the other “look”. I had a Cobra replica and a long hood 911 sitting at the house. Still have the Cobra.

  • avatar

    In 1965, there were a few Shelby Mustangs that had very few creature comforts and were basically homologation specials so they could be raced. I convinced a local Ford dealer to take one out for a test drive with my girlfriend along – and we put it THOROUGHLY through its paces. The terrified salesman huddled on the basic bench in the back and I am sure was very happy he survived the drive. I was in no position to buy the car at the time, but it was a FUN test drive. :-)

  • avatar

    My, buddy who looked the part, and I, who does not, test drove a boxster and drop-top 911 in our twenties. The best part was the older, respectable, dealer imploring us to keep it under control until we put some distance between us and the lot. He knew we were going to hoon but just wanted to make sure that the dealership didn’t get a call about it. There was also the Dodge dealer sitting in the back seat who said, “come on man, step on it!” when I already had the Top Banana Charger at 110.

  • avatar

    GM held a Ride & Drive event at my prior employer, and they were not pleased when I drifted their Camaro through the sweeping 90 degree return road. Stern shaking of several heads.

  • avatar

    I’ve never bought anything from a dealer, but about two years ago, my wife was looking to trade in her ’09 Jetta for something with 4WD/AWD, so we looked at SUVs and crossovers from Toyota, Subaru, Jeep, Lexus, Audi and BMW.

    Near the top of her list was the 4Runner. We took one for a spin through town and then on an unpaved county road not too far from town to try out on some grades as we did with the other candidates.

    It was pretty nice and all, but there was a button that caught my eye: Party Mode. Out of all the different cars and their different technological doodads and tricks they had, I thought that it was the most interesting button I have seen on a car.

    At first, I seriously thought that some overhead strobe lighting was going to come on or something. For a second after I pushed it, I was looking around the ceiling for pulsing strobe lights. Turns out it relatively uneventful, it just increased the bass a bit.

    Another button I’ll never forget would be a button labelled Chaos on a microwave.

    • 0 avatar

      I always thought that button was very corny, and lame. Wonder if they’re still doing that.

    • 0 avatar

      I have a modest aftermarket stereo with a similar button. Causes it to shuffle whatever music it has available (CD, iPod, USB) while sending the buttons and display through all the possible color combinations and flash combinations.

      I’d love to have a chaos button on a microwave.

  • avatar

    Last year I saw someone else’s Worst Test Drive Ever.

    There is a BMW dealer near my workplace. On the way home I saw a brand new BMW, stickers still in the window, badly T-Boned at an intersection. No one was hurt.

    I knew a guy at my gym who worked at a body shop and told him about it. He says they get a car like that in about once a month; a test drive that went terribly wrong.

    I guess it’s a good opportunity to demonstrate safety features!

    • 0 avatar

      Wonder if the driver was trying to absorb all the buttons and features while they should have been driving. The last car we bought has more features than several of the cars from my past combined. 350 page owners manual and all that.

      I was dangerous for a few miles while I figured out the basics on the way home.

  • avatar

    I’ll beat everyone’s today. It was April, 1979 (I was 19 years old), and a friend was interested in a ’73 Fiat 124 sedan with an automatic ($1400, IIRC), but didn’t yet have his driver’s license (and he was 23!), so I got to test drive it. We get to the house where the car is at (about 4:30pm maybe?), look it over, and then start it up.

    I notice that the brake warning light is on, but the owner’s wife (the husband wasn’t home from work yet) says something like, “It’s just a problem with the parking brake”, so we go for a drive. After a couple of stops, I can tell that the brakes don’t work so great.

    We’re driving through the neighborhood, and okay, I’m going kinda fast (40 maybe), and come upon a yield sign (who puts a yield sign at a cross intersection?) about the time a ’72 Impala two-door hardtop appears from the right, and I t-bone him – hard (I realized then that the Fiat probably had two-wheel brakes). So the Fiat, and the Chevy, are totaled.

    The crash brings out all the neighbors, and I have a bloody nose, from hitting the steering wheel rim. I had the presence of mind to put on a lap belt, otherwise things would have been a lot worse. My friend in the passenger seat didn’t, and put his elbow in the glove box door. Fortunately, he was just bruised. The guy in the Chevy (it turned out he was deaf, and couldn’t hear me hit the horn) was unhurt. One of the neighbors walked me to her house (I was pretty dazed), and into a bathroom where I could stop my nose from bleeding, and get cleaned up.

    After a while, the cops and paramedics show up (I refused an ambulance ride), and then the husband shows up. He was ticked, of course, and made the cops mad when he tried to start the Fiat, to see if would run (it wouldn’t).

    My friend and I were both sore and stiff for a few days, but okay. My insurance company? Not so much. They dropped me at the next renewal. I imagined that the owner of the Fiat got more for it from the insurance company than he would have selling it, ’cause it wasn’t a $1400 car.

  • avatar

    Interesting that this topic presents itself one day before the eight-year anniversary of the official death of my marriage, which I now refer to as “The Dark Times.” And they were dark times indeed. But they did produce one highly memorable afternoon at a BMW dealership back in 2009.

    My ex-wife had quite a talent for lying and financial fraud, which the State of Colorado has taken notice of. But she was convincing enough that a local BMW dealership actually let me loose for an afternoon in a whole series of cars – sans chaperone.

    The first was a white 335i sedan with a manual, then a 335i coupe, and a 535 sedan. Next up was a 7-series sedan.

    And then came the money shot – a metallic black M5.

    Let’s just say I’m glad as hell that the Colorado Highway Patrol was notably absent from C-470 between Lucent Blvd. and I-70 – I’m pretty sure that I’d still be in the can nine years later.

    To this day, the 335i is still the best all-around car I’ve ever driven.

  • avatar

    When I was a university student, one day I spotted a very rough-looking 1954 Porsche 356 1300 in the cafeteria parking lot. No bumpers, no chrome bits, no backseat, no headliner, no original paint left — primer gray, primer brown, and bondo grey in equal parts upon dented and visibly welded metal — but it looked solid, and it was for sale asking 11,000 Deutschmarks (which even in the early Nineties and in this condition was on the cheap side). While I was eyeballing the car, the owner walked up and spoke thus: “Want a test drive?”

    “Er, no, sorry, I was just looking, there’s no way I can afford this.”

    “That was not my question. Let me repeat: Want a test drive?”

    Why, yes. Yes I did. The test drive amounted to three hours of broadly grinning whilst cornering sideways in town and on tiny country roads (“don’t go on the Autobahn, that’s no fun”) — even 44 bhp can break traction with 15-year-old bias-ply tires. And I was thoroughly surprised: it felt so much more powerful than my not-much-heavier, not-much-less-powerful ’66 Bug (also a 1300) that I immediately understood the slogan “Porsche horsepower count double” when I first heard it years later (from a 944 driver, of all sorts).

    I later had much the same feeling in a 914/4 2.0 E, and later again in a Mazda Miata NA 1.6. Sportscar-ness, I learned, is not about power, or even power-to-weight ratio. It’s about feeling.

    I have never owned a sportscar.

  • avatar

    I guess 2

    1 – 2011 Corolla S Manual. Memorable because it was shortest test drive, which lasted 200 yards one way. Car was so bad, I decided not to waste anybody’s time

    2 – 1978 Ferrari

  • avatar

    Probably an early build 2nd gen Dodge Neon I test drove in 2002 on a Saab dealers used car lot in Southfield, MI.

    Cheap, cheerful, agricultural – but acres of interior room compared to the other cars in its class. I could see it’s basic appeal as “transportation”.

    Only reason I didn’t try to make a deal was the dealer would budge from his $9000 asking price AND he wasn’t willing to slap new tires on it. Mismatched front and rear and one set showing the wear-bars. COME ON! IT WAS DECEMBER MAN! Who buys a car in the winter with bald tires?

    I ended up buying a 1997 Escort Station Wagon (just 21,000 miles showing on the odo) from Avis Ford for $7,000 out the door.

  • avatar

    In early 1996, my wife and I test drove a 1996 Volvo 850 Turbo Sportswagon. This was in Pasadena, California, so I asked if I could take it up Angeles Crest Highway. This is a twisting, winding road up the mountains north of Pasadena, and is popular with people wanting to show off the performance of their cars and motorcycles.

    With the salesman in the passenger seat and my wife in the back, I proceeded to wring every bit of performance I could out of the Volvo, often bending the speed limit. This included some high-speed dashes in the occasional passing lane. During all this I wasn’t paying any attention to the salesman, but my wife later said that he looked quite pale and was hanging on tightly.

    When we stopped at a convenient turn-around spot, I expressed my satisfaction with the car. All the shaken salesman could say, through clenched teeth, was, “You. Are. A. Very. Good. Driver.”

    Yes, I ordered one with lots of options, took delivery at the factory in Sweden, drove it all over Sweden and Norway, shipped it home, and still drive it to this day.

  • avatar

    I’ll beat everyone’s today. It was April, 1979 (I was 19 years old), and a friend was interested in a ’73 Fiat 124 sedan with an automatic ($1400, IIRC), but didn’t yet have his driver’s license (and he was 23!), so I got to test drive it. We get to the house where the car is at (about 4:30pm maybe?), look it over, and then start it up.

    I notice that the brake warning light is on, but the owner’s wife (the husband wasn’t home from work yet) says something like, “It’s just a problem with the parking brake”, so we go for a drive. After a couple of stops, I can tell that the brakes don’t work so great.

    We’re driving through the neighborhood, and okay, I’m going kinda fast (40 maybe), and come upon a yield sign (who puts a yield sign at a cross intersection?) about the time a ’72 Impala two-door hardtop appears from the right, and I t-bone him – hard (I realized then that the Fiat probably had two-wheel brakes). So the Fiat, and the Chevy, are totaled.

    The crash brings out all the neighbors, and I have a bloody nose, from hitting the steering wheel rim. I had the presence of mind to put on a lap belt, otherwise things would have been a lot worse. My friend in the passenger seat didn’t, and put his elbow in the glove box door. Fortunately, he was just bruised. The guy in the Chevy (it turned out he was deaf, and couldn’t hear me hit the horn) was unhurt. One of the neighbors walked me to her house (I was pretty dazed), and into a bathroom where I could stop my nose from bleeding, and get cleaned up.

    After a while, the cops and paramedics show up (I refused an ambulance ride), and then the husband shows up. He was mad, of course, and made the cops mad when he tried to start the Fiat, to see if would run (it wouldn’t).

    My friend and I were both sore and stiff for a few days, but okay. My insurance company? Not so much. They dropped me at the next renewal. I imagined that the owner of the Fiat got more for it from the insurance company than he would have selling it, ’cause it wasn’t a $1400 car.

  • avatar

    1995, Chevrolet/Buick dealership, Bozeman, Montana. College grad me, looking to buy a new Impala SS. They don’t have one, of course. I’d just driven them in other towns, so knew what I wanted. And I wanted to order one.

    Salesman in a JC Penney’s suit and Thomas Magnum ‘stache tries his hardest to divert me to something else. “You don’t want this car, it’s powerful.”

    “My car is currently a big block powered 60’s car with 375 hp.”

    “The insurance will kill you.”

    “Let’s just talk about price.”

    He finds a ‘computer’ and starts punching it up on the ordering software. It adds up to exactly what it should – roughly 26 and change, sticker. “Ok, and we have to order it with these options,” he says, “to protect ourselves.”

    Pow, it starts going up.

    “What do you mean?”

    “Well, we have to order cars a certain way so that we can sell them if something happens.”


    Then with a magical push of one last button he says “here we are.” and the price jjumps by another $5000. Not kidding.

    “What was that?” Said I. “That’s our selling price,” he said.

    “I’m leaving.”

    He harangues me all the way to my car, and somehow talks me into a test drive in a new Regal 4 door, which I think was a GS? Anyway, fine, whatever. While on the d drive, he would point out various features and get right in my face and say loudly, “THAT’S DELUXE!” followed by “ARE YOU HEARING ME?” after I nod. And he kept goading me into slamming on the brakes all the time. “THOSE ARE ANTI LOCK BRAKES. THOSE ARE DELUXE. ARE YOU HEARING ME?” And then the stereo. Louder and louder he keeps turning it up, while his parrot routine gets accordingly louder.

    Oh, how he tried to get me to buy that thing, but it too had this incredible dealer markup (on a Buick… in 1995?).

    Surreal first experience looking at a new car. I never got the SS. Got an Eagle Vision TSI because the thing was on sale for $22k and the dealership was pleasant.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve had a few weird run-ins with salesmen too. How can these people be for real? Some of them seem like they stepped out of a comedy sketch and they can’t see it.

  • avatar

    It was 1965 and the ’58 Mercury was getting long in the tooth, so for some reason Dad ended up at a Ford dealership, looking to test a new Cortina.

    He always had a dislike for car salesman, and this one just pushed his buttons, continually yammering about the features of the car, blah blah blah..

    So pops headed back to the dealer’s but found an empty parking lot close by.

    Turned the wheel to full left lock and planted the gas pedal.

    After 15 or so revolutions, he’d made his point and headed back to the barn. Dead silence from the salesman, no sale that day.

    10 year old me thought that was pretty cool.

  • avatar

    1977, after 25 years my mother is about to be freed from driving station wagons.
    She wants a Buick Skyhawk, just like her best friend. She schedules an appointment with the salesman. My father is late, so while she waits for him she sits in the white Trans Am sitting on the showroom floor. By the time my father shows up she has changed her mind – she wants the T/A. She drives it and decides she liked driving it much better than her 1973 Grand Safari wagon and no longer yearns for the Buick. Being 30 minutes late cost dad several thousand dollars, but on special occasions I got to drive the 400 V-8/ Automatic. I gained a great appreciation for cloverleafs – it stayed so flat on the road as my body was being pressed into the door panel. Not a rocket – still choked by emmission controls, but great fun driving with the screaming chicken on the hood.

  • avatar

    I was a car nut all through High School – and by the time I got my license I had saved up almost $3000 for a car – this was 1982 – and that was a decent amount of money.
    I had spied an ad in the paper at a local Pontiac dealership for a used 1977 Grand Prix – low miles – low price – really low price – too good to be true actually.
    My Dad and I went to check it out – it was beautiful – white over red – nice interior. The only thing wrong with that I could see was the door pull on the driver’s door had partly come off.
    My Dad and I hop in with a salesman. Start the car – drive 100 feet and it stalls, start it again – it stalls. There is absolutely no gas in the car. We didn’t even leave the dealership parking lot.
    It’s at this point that the sales guy tells me the price in the paper is wrong – it’s actually about 2 grand more. But he will sell it to me right now at the ad price.
    Doesn’t offer to put more gas in for a real test drive.
    My Dad balks, and says we will think about it – and we leave.
    Sure enough, in the next paper, the car is still for sale – and 2 grand more.
    Who knows if it would have been a good car.
    We never went back.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    Two very different experneices:
    About 7 years ago I was shopping the low end of the used car market to help a friend of the family who had recently gotten her license, and I toured the BHPH lots around Clearwater Florida in search of something serviceable. I got really familiar with the smell of febreeze masking lord knows what and the art of looking to see if the check engine bulb was disconnected at startup, but my favorite test drive was probably a late 90’s Mazda 626. The car shuddered violently at idle and it actually got worse as the car warmed up. It ended up dying at a crowded 4 way stop but eventually restarted. Those neat oscillating vents worked though.

    In college, a friend from out of the country invited me to test drive vehicles he was considering. In winter, with black ice everywhere, he was determined to find the limits of an Audi A4 quattro, and find those limits he did as we spun making a left turn. He bought the car but I chose to never ride with him again.

  • avatar

    Way back in the days of hair metal, I test drove a 1973 Mustang Grande owned by a guy who looked a lot like “Lawrence” from Office Space. It was gold with a black vinyl top, a 302 with Cruise-O-Matic. Smelling of “Sea Breeze” and looking like a mulleted Peter Brady, the owner made the wise decision to not let me test drive it (my license was fresh, my only other car experience was a ’63 Chevy II). However, he did do us the “favor” of taking us for a spin, where he confusingly used the A/T like a manual. I think it was a 3spd. We’re at a stop sign, he’s shifted it into 1st/L. Coast is clear, he hammers the gas and shifts into 2nd. He leaves it in 2nd way too long, but I think he’s really trying to show us something now. He goes for 3rd/OD/Whatever…the Grande shutters, engine dies, I spill my Super Big Gulp. “Lawrence” really looks upset. Car won’t start, traffic beginning to infringe on his/our problem. Not cruising, just cursing. He orders us out and tells us to push to the side of the road, while he captains the classic. Now “Lawrence” is a big guy, while my buddy and I have Barney Fife bodies (that, in my case, has evolved into a Willem Defoe physique). We grunt, we push, but he manages to not goose the brakes in time to prevent the car from gaining too much momentum; car goes into the irrigation ditch. The three of us walk to a nearby middle school, where I call my dad for help. Angry Dad shows up, “Lawrence” seems scared straight, we get a lift home and I have no idea what happened to that craptacular car.

    The Penny Press and the Giant Nickle were the BEST places to find used cars, no?

  • avatar

    Went to test drive a Nissan 200 SE-R in the evening and ended up with an overly enthusiastic salesman. After listening to him talk forever about the car, it was finally time for the test drive. Due to insurance reasons or whatever, he had to drive it off the lot, which was painful because he really didn’t know how to drive a stickshift.

    After a half-hour of cruising and nonstop talking, he finally pulls over in a church parking lot under a streetlight. We now had to spend the next 15 minutes admiring the car under the lights while he continued to talk about the virtues of the car (it was now dark).

    Now it was my turn to drive. I got to drive about three blocks back to the dealer, and the test drive was over.

    I ended up buying a Honda Civic instead.

  • avatar

    When the Fiat 500 (new style) first came on the market in Canada, I was in the market for a small vehicle to commute to work in, so the wife and I took a drive over to the nearest dealer.

    Once we sat in the 500, we knew right away it wasn’t for us. Our two kids would not have enjoyed the back seat of that car. But, since we were in it already, we decided to go for a test drive.

    We drove there in a 250+ hp SUV and had an F-150 at home, to give this some context. I would be doing a lot of highway travel, so that’s the first place I took it. Unfortunately it was supper hour traffic. Needless to say, it was so slow compared to what I was used to driving, I felt like I was going to die. We took the next exit off of the highway and then the city streets back to the dealer. I left as quickly as I could and never looked back. :)

  • avatar

    years ago a friend of the family was shopping for a car and he asked me and my brother to come along since we were the “car guys”. We are more the “truck guys” but whatever.

    So he was testing out this Prelude, he was driving, the rather slim salesman got in the back seat, I sat next to him, and my brother sat shotgun.

    So we kept driving on the freeway for about 10 miles and our friend tested the living crap out of the VTEC(yo). Then out of no where he turned to my brother and said

    “So should we tell the poor fella that he’s been kidnapped?”

    Nervous chuckles came from the salesman. He kept it cool which made us think we weren’t THAT original in cracking jokes.

    Our friend bought the car so the story ended well, and he still has a low mileage 99 Prelude so I guess it worked out.

  • avatar

    I can’t remember a single “memorable” test drive. I’ve test-driven a number of vehicles and not one stands out as “memorable” when compared to the others. No near-crashes; no ‘insanely great’ performance characteristics; nothing. I personally look forward to test driving a Tesla because all the rest have been boring.

    And I don’t drive ‘boring’ cars on average.

  • avatar

    Late 70’s and working unlimited overtime. Wanted to buy a sports car as a 2nd car. My DD was a 74 Dodge Colt. slim picking in the local classified. Drove a Volvo P1800. Pretty car but my Colt felt sportier
    than the Volvo. Ended up with a worn out Alfa Guilia spyder.

  • avatar

    Late 70’s and working unlimited overtime. Wanted to buy a sports car as a 2nd car. My DD was a 74 Dodge Colt. slim picking in the local classified. Drove a Volvo P1800. Pretty car but my Colt felt sportier
    than the Volvo. Ended up with a worn out Alfa Guilia spyder.

  • avatar

    I’d have to say the worst test drive experience I’ve had was a few years ago, when I was on the search for my current car. I’d heard of this rather large BHPH-style used dealer in my area, whose radio ads constantly claimed that all anyone needed was $1000 down and they’d make a deal, regardless of income or credit. And their website showed some pretty decent-looking stock, so I paid them a visit.
    The car I went to see them about was a Malibu. It looked great on the web, and was attractively priced. But when I was shown the car in person, the paint was dull, there was fast food trash inside, someone’s footprints were on the inside of the windshield on the passenger side, and it rode like the wheels were oval shaped. Under the hood was a mess… it looked like the car had been parked in the lake.

    So after the test drive, I started asking questions and politely pointing out these issues. The sales guy put his hands in his pockets and said, “well this is a car we keep around for folks who come in here who ain’t got no money.”

    I had his advertised $1000 in my pocket. But he never saw it. He didn’t seem interested in showing me anything else. And that dealership won’t see me again.

  • avatar

    While I was test driving the actual GTI I owned previously (I had decided to buy a GTi and just wanted to make sure the actual instance of the car was okay), the sales guy came along and was rambling about how the engine had the same cylinder head as a Gallardo, etc. I thought he sounded a bit odd, and his cologne was real strong. At the desk as he was adding some numbers up, he couldn’t use his calculator.

    He was drunk.

  • avatar

    The most memorable test drive was back in college. I saw an ad for a Corvair Monza. I had always liked Corvairs, and still do, but I didn’t know that much about the models. As a VW owner I just knew that I liked air-cooled engines for their simplicity. I called and set up a test drive. When I got there the owner waxed enthusiastically about the fact that it was a Spyder, something that I knew nothing about. I gave it a basic test drive with him in the passenger seat, where he kept pressing me to drive it harder. Apparently he wanted me to experience the turbo. When I pulled back up in his driveway he insisted that I go on a test drive with him driving. We switched seats and proceeded to tear up the suburban streets. It was a remarkable car for what it was but I really just needed cheap wheels, so I went on my way.

  • avatar

    ’62 Chevy II in original condition (one respray in factory color, non stock hubcaps), three on the tree, manual steering and brakes. Man that thing was a handful even just at 35mph turning onto streets on the brief urban test drive. It was only $3500 too in rust free excellent shape. I just didn’t have anywhere to put such a thing (would have meant putting my 4Runner outside) so I walked away. Saw the same car for sale recently now for closer to $10k.

  • avatar

    No absurd stories to share, however, I will chime in two of my experiences as a buyer and a seller.

    The first car I bought on my own, a 2008 Civic Si was an interesting test drive for the sole fact I did not know how to drive stick yet. My father drove the car off the lot, threw me the keys, and said figure it out. Trial by fire, but it worked. Ended up buying the car, which was good, because I don’t think the dealer appreciated our three hours – learn to drive stick- test drive.

    Second story – For the first six months out of college, I sold cars. Never had any crazy test drives, just bad habits and nervous people. Except for this one guy..he came in on a used 14 Mustang GT we had. First turn onto the highway he floors it, tires spinning, tail stepping out and almost hit a pole…full cars and coffee mode lol. Thank god for T/C. The worst part was he kept beating on it and I feared everytime he hit the go pedal. He did say it felt like it was much more powerful than his 02 GT to which I replied “No shit”.

  • avatar

    Back in the mid 70s I was drawn to the Opel GT. Knew nothing about it, just thought it looked cool. A local dealer had one used on the lot so I stopped in and asked to test drive it. It was a go and off we went. The car didn’t drive too bad, but the engine seemed a bit “off” in an undefinable way. At a stop to head back to the dealership, there was a fair amount of traffic to deal with. I saw a gap that my Charger could make easily and figured the Opel could also. Unfortunately, when I stepped on the gas, the Opel stuttered and choked like it momentarily had too much gas in the carb. With 45 mph traffic bearing down on me I quickly eased on the accelerator, the engine regained composure and I made it out in front of the oncoming. The salesman quickly assured me they would get the engine looked at and running right. It just didn’t feel right to me so I thanked him for the opportunity and said good bye. If that engine had been running as well as it should have I probably would have bought the car. As is, I kept my 72 Charger until ’85 and 286k miles.

  • avatar

    Spring of ’67, my friend and I turn up in his ’63 Volvo 544 at the Ford dealer. We were both at the local university in a rural area, had been in rallies ‘n everything. Wanted to drive a Mustang, and he had the bread, man, his family was well off indeed.

    So off we set in the Mustang, me wedged in back. “So!” announces the salesman, “This here car has a 289 inch cubic motor”. “Square in all directions is it?” I asked. He repeated “289 inch cubic.” That man had no more idea about displacement or engines than the birds in the trees, a trait many car salesmen share in my experience.

    Most dangerous test drive, a 2015 Acura TLX 4 cylinder with 8 speed DCT. Felt like a tank powered by frantic gerbils. Only went a mile, what a useless car, turned round and went back. Trying to get back into dealer lot across two lanes of oncoming, trickling along at two or three miles an hour, a big gap opened and I hit the gas. Nothing happened, not a thing. I pumped the gas pedal like a madman, the salesman was yelling as traffic now bore down on his side. It finally grabbed a gear and we just made it across.

    I was angry as hell. Tore a strip off the dealer principal. The salesman agreed with me. Then drove a V6 FWD at the orincipal’s insistence. Discovered the infamous ZF 9 speed, and strange buffeting on the highway from the rear which somehow made the steering column and wheel shudder. No, not out of balance wheels, another ghost in the machine.

    Went online, and found that that others had found the 8 speed DCT lost its mind at low speed and was essentially in neutral. Seconds to find a gear? Utter piece of rubbish, both it and the V6. Most underdeveloped new cars I ever drove in 50 years. And dangerous to boot.

    • 0 avatar

      Underdeveloped, yes. For years Acura even forgot to add exhaust tips to this “premium” car. But seriously, those DCTs can be frightening. Too bad Honda doesn’t have any experience with manual transmissions.

  • avatar
    Leonard Ostrander

    My most memorable test drive was in 2014 when i test drove a 2013 Scion FR-S. I bought it.

  • avatar

    During high school in the 70’s, I hooned around the neighborhoods of suburban Philadelphia in the ’64 Riviera.

    Sometime after I got my current Audi, a Jaguar dealer from my old neighborhood sent me an offer to pay me $100 to test drive a new Jaguar. Because if I can afford a car worth X, I can afford one worth 2X, right?

    So I go up there, and point to an XK8, and say “That one.” So we go out on the roads that I drove as a kid, and really punched that V8 on the curvy, hilly roads. I told the salesman that anything that one could do in a ’64 Riviera one could certainly do in a modern Jag, which was certainly true.

    I had a blast, and got my $100 check and left. Funny, I haven’t gotten any more offers from them!

  • avatar

    When I was still young enough that the salesman would always come along on the drive, I had a rather unique experience. I was looking at a Chev Lumina Z34 “Euro” or whatever it was called. But it had a manual transmission and it was red, which to my inexperienced driver’s eyes was all that mattered.

    With the sales guy still at the wheel (he was required to “drive it off the lot”) I remembered that he never put a dealer plate on it. “No problems, with all these car dealerships around, it’s like the wild west”. He was bound and determined to show me this was a sports sedan and that everything behaved accordingly so. Just that he never told me what he was going to do before he did it. So sudden turns on to side streets, showing how well the ABS worked, hurtling around the circle at the end of a street were all going before I even drive the car myself. I think in the end I bought a civic from the dealer next door.

    My best “test drive” though was in my mid 20’s when my cousin threw me the keys to his Carrera-4 with the warning, “Don’t wind it out until you get on the highway”. Not a real test drive, but the most fun I ever had driving by myself.

  • avatar

    Too many to list but one test drive of a pristine 1979 dark blue Camaro Berlinetta with a hopped up small block 350 and apparently some better gearing out back gave us 21 year olds back in 1992 the thrill of major burn outs.

    It was a used car dealership of course as there were many of those back in the day and this car was being sold on the lot for a former teacher that we later found out was my high school health teacher. This car would make occasional appearances at the high school parking lot during rain free Summer days and always had a nice burble to the exhaust. That was during the mid 1980’s and we never knew just who owned that car at the time. Fast forward to 1992 and here it sat in clean restored condition with some engine, exhaust and rear end upgrades being sold for the reasonable sum of 3500 bucks. The salesman was shockingly nice and let us look the car over really well. It was his idea that we should test drive it and because he was alone that day we got to take it out alone while he watched the lot.

    The Berlinetta was crazy fast to put it mildly or at least seemed that way back when we owned wheezy V6 and small V8 engined cars that were lucky to make more than 150 HP. Part throttle inputs were met with tires squealing for grip and full throttle left clouds of tire smoke. This thing was total bliss and put smiles on our faces. Going through the glove box soon revealed who the teacher was. OMG so that was who owned this car during high school. Mystery solved

    We brought the car back to the lot after the burning rubber smell dissipated and told the guy we would be in touch as we had to consult our parents. It wasn’t to be. Mom soon put the brakes on that saying it was a police magnet and we would get in trouble with it. She probably was right

  • avatar

    I have 2 favorites….

    2012 Dodge Grand Caravan (used w/ 99k miles) – Sam Leman (Bloomington, IL) – We ended up buying this van. During the test drive, we hit 80 MPH and the rear spoiler flew off. One of their shop employees forgot to reattach it after they repaired something. The salesman’s expression was priceless. All I could think about was….bargaining chip. We got a great deal on it. That was the first dealership experience that we enjoyed from the salesman to finance to delivery. I’d go back there.

    2003 International RE300 School Bus – Midwest Transit (Kankakee, IL) – I will be purchasing a school bus within the next 2-3 years to convert to an RV (skoolie) and I wanted to look at a few and drive one just to see what it was like to pilot an 18,000+ lb vehicle. My wife and I went to Midwest Transit and drove onto their giant lot. I was looking at a bus and the guy came up and started talking to us. It was a pretty natural conversation with no sales pitch. I told him my timeframe and he said, “You know, this bus hasn’t moved in a little while. Would you like to drive it?” I don’t have a CDL, so he couldn’t let me take it on the road, but he let me drive it around their lot for 15 minutes, park, back-up, etc… Then he took it on the road with us for a 30 minute test drive and we had a great conversation. That bus averages ~8 mpg, so I know that wasn’t a cheap test drive for them. He let me park it back at the lot and we parted ways – never any pressure or awkwardness. I’d return there when I’m ready to purchase.

  • avatar

    Back when I was in what I call my “immortal phase” I wanted a motorcycle.

    I bought a late 70s Suzuki 550GS and road the tires off of it. Good little bike albeit pretty low powered. Did some cross state rides.

    Then I wanted a Motorcycle with a capital ‘M’ so I sold it to a buddy and went to the local Kawasaki dealer to see what they had for sale. There was a 1000cc Kawasaki Concours sport tourer. Nice bike. The no pressure salesman gave me a price and I went home to think about it.

    I went back with my money in my pocket ($4500) and asked to ride it before I bought it. Understand I showed up in shorts, a t-shirt, flip-flops and wanted to ride this motorcycle. They never even checked for a license. I grabbed my helmet out of my car and headed down the street.

    The dealer is backed up against a major interstate. My plan was simply to ride from one exit to the next. As I entered the onramp a 90s Z-28 hopped in behind me and got dangerously close and stayed there. Drunk, stupid or what I don’t know but I didn’t want to get killed.

    He chased me down the interstate at triple digits. I passed behind the motorcycle dealership running 130 mph. The Z-28 gave up at around 120 mph I think but I was too busy to look back.

    Going too fast at the next exit I had to wait until the following exit to turn around. I’ll also mention that there is a highway patrol station a few doors down from the motorcycle dealer.

    I returned and told them I’d take it. Nobody seemed to notice that Concurs wailing by the back door earlier.

    Good bike. I rode it in all weather and all seasons all over my part of the country for several years. Never any wrecks or tickets. Sold it to a guy in the eastern part of the state that said he’d take it if I’d ride it home for him about 2.5 hrs away. Temps hovered around freezing for the whole ride. Cost me about a grand to ride it all that time.

  • avatar

    friend of mine i was with wanted to trade in his 89 5.0 LX on a new 93 bronco, lady was very friendly and when we asked if we could take it off road to try out its 4×4 abilities said np ! we went down to the local mud hole and proceeded to get the bronco stuck (stock tires suck !) We had to crawl out of this mud hole to go get help, by the way she was in a skirt and high heels lol.we got her out of the truck and up onto the pavement where we called a friend that had a truck capable of pulling us out. A couple hours later we returned the bronco and the lady to the dealer and my friend decided not to buy the truck lol…must have taken the lot boys hours to clean all the mud off this thing and under it !

    another time i test drove a 2004 f150 lightning , the saleman kept boasting how awesome the truck was and how powerful it was, saying tromp on it, do some burn outs, well i obliged him. Was one hell of a test drive for a hour or so, unfortunately the truck was a little low of rubber on the rears when we returned :)

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