I need a new car. I think I know the model I want and I’m ready to go to the dealer for a test drive. But a few minutes in the car isn’t close to what it will be like to own it. So, what should I look for in a test drive?
Anxious but Excited, Annapolis
You lucky girl! You’ve got the hard part figured out: You know (pretty much) what you want. But you are right: the test drive is just a taste of what the car will be like for the next few years (or more). So put it through the paces of your life.
First, be sure to have plenty of time to drive it. Don’t plan to dash in, take it around the block and then dash off to your next appointment; carve out a nice stretch of time to spend time with the car. Ask the dealer if you can take it home over night–some dealers are fine with this. Also ask if you can drive it solo. If that’s not an option, let the dealer know you plan to spend a good amount of time with the car.
Next, put the car through a day in your life (even if it’s an abbreviated day): Before you leave the dealer, learn to adjust the radio, set the navigation system, play with the seat adjustments and mirrors, sync your phone and get a primer on the car’s technology. Then, strap your kids’ car seats into the back, load the stroller into the cargo area or trunk and take the car on your rounds: school pick-up, dry cleaning pick up and Costco for quick case or two of paper towels. If the car has center seats that fold down, be sure to put them down to accommodate your cargo (most cars with fold down seats offer a 60/40 split so you can fit in both kids and cargo). Call your mother or best friend from the car’s hands free phone–see if she can hear and understand you; ask her how you sound calling from the car. Be sure to take the car on the highway to test its acceleration, and find a bumpy road or speed bumps to see how comfortable it is on less than ideal road surfaces.
Take the car home to make sure it is a comfortable fit in your driveway and in your garage (this is a great time to take a picture of it so you can think about it over the next few days). Before you leave home, load up all those bags of used clothing in your garage and head for your local GoodWill–get the experience of hauling stuff in the car. If your kids can accompany you on these errands, all the better; it’s important to see what it’s like for them to get in and out of the car before you commit to it. And if your husband/dad/boyfriend or other male who will spend time in the car has a say in what you decide to buy, make sure he gets to take a ride too (maybe even let him drive it!).
Back at the dealer, thank your sales person profusely for his (or her) time, accept any sales materials offered, ask for a copy of the car’s Monroney (the window sticker, which you can read more about below) so you can easily review the standard features and options of the car you drove, and promise to call in a few days. Don’t let the salesperson pressure you into making a decision; take time to sleep on the experience first.
If you’re considering a few different models, schedule a test drive of each one, take photos of them and make notes about the features you liked best about each car. Then, once you are sure which model you want, you are ready to begin negotiations for your new baby.