I preach it on the radio regularly, but it happens way too often. People go out and buy themselves a new vehicle, and within 72 hours they realize they don’t like it or it doesn’t fit their family, or some other issue. It is called buyer’s remorse, and in spite of what people think, there is no “cooling off” period in any state in America. When you drive away, you own it. Usually when someone regrets his or her purchase, it is because he or she didn’t take a proper test drive.
Don't Skip The Test Drive
I believe the test drive of a new or used vehicle is a very important step in the car buying process. I cannot imagine spending money on shoes without trying them on, and I sure cannot imagine making your second-largest purchase without driving what you are buying. Here are some tips for taking a proper test drive - whether it's an at-home test drive or one you take at the dealership - so you get the most out of the experience.
Before you drive a prospective car, know your priorities.
For some, it is power when accelerating, for other people it is comfort, and the list goes on by individual. I have seen people for whom cup holders were a top priority. Look for what is important to you from the start of your test drive.
Before you put the car in gear, get to know the controls for a safe trip.
Set the mirrors and your seat adjustment for safety. Tilt the steering wheel to the position that feels best to you, and head out on your journey. Of course keep your eyes on the road at all times. If you have someone with you, let him or her drive at some point so you can look at the features of the car safely.
Don’t rush the test drive, even if the salesperson makes you feel rushed.
You are spending a lot of money, so you are literally in the driver’s seat. Drive in different kinds of traffic if at all possible. Most dealerships are near a highway, so experience the acceleration of the freeway entrance and see how the car feels to you at freeway speeds.
VW's “Test Drive with Alexa” feature allows shoppers to take Volkswagen’s electric SUV on an interactive real-world test experience. Credit: VW.
During higher speed driving, turn the air conditioner and radio down to check for interior quietness and road noise.
Excessive road noise or wind noise is a real problem for many people, so pay close attention to this.
In the course of your test drive, check the visibility limitations when you go to make a lane change to the left and to the right.
Make sure you can see behind you through the back glass without any problems. Depending on your size, you may not be able to see well out of certain cars and this can be a real safety hazard to you and others.
Either on the test drive, or back at the dealership, check to see how comfortable you are parking the car.
Pull it in, back it in, and find a place to parallel park the car. Make sure this is not something you think you’ll have trouble with. This is a classic mistake people make, especially those who are not great at parking.
Once you are finished with your test drive, feel free to ask your salesperson to give you a few minutes to reflect on the experience of the test drive.
How did the car REALLY feel to you? What did you not like? Did it meet the requirements in a car you set out to purchase? Can you see yourself driving this car for the next five years? Be sure you are honest with yourself and not just in love with the thought of a new car.
A couple of final thoughts: If you are going to compare more than one car for your potential purchase, try to do them on the same day while everything is fresh on your mind. Also, don’t let a bad salesperson ruin a car choice for you. If the salesperson isn’t helpful on the test drive, don’t get down on the car, just don’t buy from that person.
Unless the dealership has a written return policy, as soon as you cross the gate, the car is yours, for better or worse. Even if a dealership has a 3 or 7- day return policy, be assured there are strings attached. Know what those are.
In addition, thanks to the chip shortage, some people are buying cars that are not at the dealership yet. If you do that, when the vehicle arrives is the time to do that proper test drive and not to shortcut it. If you are using one of my dealers, I promise you they won’t mind.
The test drive is not just fun, it is important! Make sure you do it right and take your time.
This article was republished on March 3, 2023.