12 Common Sense Test Drive Tips: Little Things Can Make A Big Difference

June 15th, 2016 by

Test Drive Tips

By KBB.com Editors

One of the integral elements in buying a car is the test drive. While it can be a fun experience zooming down the road in a brand new car, it is also an opportunity to learn about the vehicle that you’ll be relying on daily for years to come. And it’s the little things that you need to pay attention to that will make the difference between really loving your decision or learning to live with the little annoyances that aren’t big enough to make you want to get another car.

car’s features

That means doing your homework by spending that extra time to carefully go over all the car’s features. Here are a dozen things that you should do that you ordinarily wouldn’t think to consider on a test drive:

  1. Seating comfort in all positions. Set the driver’s seat the way you would like it. Then get into the back seat and buckle yourself into each seating position. Pay particular attention to the middle position in the rear to see just what you’ll be sentencing friends/loved ones to in a pinch.
  2. Cupholders/console storage. If you often enjoy a beverage while driving, bring along the cup to check for cupholder fit, access and obstructions. Likewise, bring cell phones, tablets, handbags and other items that you carry with you at all times. Make sure there is sufficient, accessible storage, especially secure covered storage for larger items like laptops.
  3. Car seat use, stroller and large item storage. Bring along car seats, strollers and large items that you normally keep in your car like golf clubs or bikes to see how easy it is to put in and take out of the vehicle. Sometimes an inch can make all the difference in the world.
  4. Trunk pass-through. When buying a sedan, see if the rear seat has a folding feature. Is there just a single center pass through for things like skis, or is it a one-piece or a split folding seatback. The latter is preferable if you want to carry long objects and still have the option for some rear seating capacity.
  5. Vehicle ingress/egress. Look at how wide the doors swing open and their relation to the seats. Also check for headroom clearance especially getting in and out of the back seat. Some rooflines are so low, that it’s sometime difficult to avoid hitting your head when getting in and out of the car. Great for styling, not so much for the passengers.
  6. Check controls and illumination. Experiment with the controls and infotainment system to see the adjustability of the lighting and screen illumination and how easy it is to make those changes. If it’s daylight, drive to a darkened area to see what the dash will look like at night. Also, check to see how easy it is to pair a phone and whether or not the voice recognition uses simple commands to access various functions, especially navigation.
  7. Go through the audio system. Check the reception of all channels, especially AM, which is notoriously bad on some cars. Also, see how easy it is to adjust volume, change stations and toggle between audio sources.
  8. Test the climate controls. Turn the air conditioning and then the heater on max and see how loud the fan is as well as how much air comes out of the vents and how easy it is to close them.
  9. Sun visor position. Flip them down, see how easy they are to unhook from their anchors and how much coverage you get from them in the side positions. Are you able to slide the visor back and forth or is it fixed?
  10. Parking maneuverability. On the test drive, find a small parking space and get out of the car. Was it easy to get into the space and how was the visibility at all four corners? Can you easily get in and out of the car, even when parked close to the next vehicle? When backing out, check the rear sightlines, as well as how effective the back-up camera and warnings are, if so equipped.
  11. Overnight test drive. If possible, take the car overnight and be sure to drive it at night to see how well the headlamps illuminate the road. Also, you can check out the level and adjustability of any ambient cabin lighting, which could be a distraction.
  12. Focus on a steady state drive. While it may be fun to see how quick off the line the car is, or how well it handles on twisty roads, the best measure of a car’s performance is straight line driving at moderate speeds on a stretch of highway or a boulevard. What sort of exterior noises are transmitted to the cabin? Do pitch levels change when driving over different surfaces and is it apparent? Are their rattles and squeaks? Does the car track straight?

Taking the extra time and effort to thoroughly assess your new cars will pay dividends in your ultimate decision. You may discover surprise and delight features, like the Magic Seat in the Honda Fit and HR-V, which has a seat bottom that folds up, allowing you to carry tall objects. Or seats that slide and fold with the touch of the button, like in the Honda Pilot. Using the test techniques that professional road testers use when they evaluate vehicles can be the difference between getting a car that simply fills most of your needs and a car that delights you every day and night you drive it.