A test drive is the most important moment for new-car purchasers. It is the proverbial first meeting in what could turn out to be a love-love or a love-hate relationship. Like any first date, it’s important to get to know your significant other. Not just the outside and how it looks, but what it’s really made of and what it brings to the table in this relationship. That can be difficult to do if you’re not paying attention to certain things because you have a salesperson yammering away in your ear the whole time. You’re investing a lot into this commitment on very short notice; you should know precisely what you’re getting into without distraction. Before we get too carried away in the whole relationship analogy, let’s take a look at how to really get you and your next vehicle off on the right foot – what to really look for in a test drive.

1. Comfort

Before you even start the car, answer this question: Are you comfortable? Don’t just judge the seats. Judge the seatbelt position, the ergonomics of the steering wheel, the reclining capabilities of the seats, how the door feels against your side, the position of the armrests. Check your legroom and headroom. When driving, be aware of how your legs and arms feel. Are they able to rest in comfortable positions while you drive? Is there ample room for your passengers in the front and rear? You’ll be spending quite a bit of time in this automobile over the next couple years; comfort should be very high on your priority list.

2. Practice Your Routine

Don’t just drive the vehicle to find out what it’s like to drive around the block. Practice a little bit of your daily routine in it. Hit stop-and-go spots, take it up one exit on the highway; turn on the radio and find a station you like; see if you can reach down to the cup holder comfortably; check for directions on the navigation system (if applicable). Do everything you do on a daily basis to see what added comforts and conveniences, as well as what drawbacks, this vehicle truly possesses. When you get back to the lot, open the rear door and stick your head like you’re pulling out a suitcase or bag of groceries. Open the trunk and lean in. Do all the things you’d normally do. This is the only way to get a feel for what it will really be like to own this vehicles in two years, not just two weeks.

3. Unusual Noises

Being an unfamiliar vehicle, it will probably make a few noises that you’re unaccustomed to; this is normal. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t know what they are. Even if you feel a little embarrassed because you don’t have the knowledge of a car-god, throw it out there. This is going to be a huge investment, fear shouldn’t factor in. Any unusual noise could be a sign of a problem. It’s better to find it right away than to buy a lemon and not know it until it breaks.

4. Braking Power

If you’ve turned the key and it fired up, threw it in Drive and it went somewhere, then now you’re ready to stop. This is another important area for you. Remember, the brakes are probably going to feel a lot firmer than your current vehicle. That doesn’t make them perfect. Practice a couple hard stops (not so much that you throw the salesperson’s back out when he/she lunges against the seatbelt, but give the brakes a rough push or two). See if you’re comfortable with the control they provide of the vehicle. Remember, this is the best they’re ever going to feel. If you’re not completely confident in them now, you’ll be sorry later.

5. Accessory Operation

Like a kid in a park, you’re there to play, play, play. Play with everything. Turn knobs, flip switches, honk the horn, wash the windshield, fold the seats down (preferably not while driving). Do all of these things now so that you know more about the comfort and convenience this vehicle can provide for you. Just remember the Number One rule: Have fun with a poker face. Never let the salesperson in on the fact that you love the car, until after you’ve negotiated the price.

Happy (Test) Driving!

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