Skip to content

Test Drive Advice from a Car Salesman: Look, Listen, and Take Your Time

Buying a vehicle is a significant investment that can impact your daily life for years to come. Whether you’re in the market for a new, used, or certified pre-owned car, one crucial step in the buying process is the test drive.

A test drive is your opportunity to get up close and personal with a potential new set of wheels, allowing you to assess its performance, comfort, and overall condition. In this guide, we explore the importance of test driving a vehicle and what to look for and listen for.

The Significance of a Test Drive

A test drive is more than just a leisurely cruise around the block; it’s a crucial part of the car-buying process and you should take your time. Here’s what to pay attention to, and why it’s so important to insist on a longer test drive:

  1. Assessing Comfort and Ergonomics. Everyone’s body is different, and what might be a comfortable seating position for one person may not work for another. During a test drive, you can adjust the seat, steering wheel, and mirrors to your liking. Pay attention to whether you can find a comfortable driving position and if the controls are easy to reach and use.
  2. Evaluating Performance. Performance isn’t just about speed; it’s also about how a car handles, accelerates, and brakes. A test drive allows you to feel the vehicle’s responsiveness and how it behaves in different driving conditions. This is especially important if you have specific driving needs, such as city commuting, ride sharing, or highway travel.
  3. Examining Visibility. Good visibility is essential for safe driving. During the test drive, take note of any blind spots, obstructions, or visibility issues that could affect your ability to drive safely.
  4. Testing Comfort Features. Modern vehicles come with a range of comfort features, from climate control to entertainment systems. A test drive lets you evaluate how well these features work and whether they enhance your driving experience.
  5. Checking for Fit and Space. Ensure the vehicle has enough space for your needs, whether you have a family to accommodate, need ample cargo space, or just prefer a more spacious interior. Use the test drive to confirm that the vehicle meets your spatial requirements.
  6. Inspecting Build Quality. Test driving allows you to assess the build quality of the vehicle. Listen for any unusual noises, rattles, or squeaks, which could be indicative of poor craftsmanship or potential issues. For pre-owned vehicles, don’t be afraid to ask the dealership to provide inspection reports, a Carfax, and service history.
  7. Assessing Fuel Efficiency. If fuel efficiency is a top priority for you, a test drive is an excellent opportunity to gauge real-world fuel consumption. While manufacturer estimates can provide a rough idea, your actual mileage may vary based on your driving style and conditions. Don’t be afraid to ask for a longer test drive.
  8. Verifying Handling. Different vehicles have varying levels of handling prowess. During the test drive, pay attention to how the car responds to steering inputs, corners, and maneuvers. Ensure that it feels stable and easy to control.
  9. Gauging Safety Features. Modern cars are equipped with numerous safety features like adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and automatic emergency braking. Use the test drive to test these features and assess how they work in real-world driving situations.
  10. Confirming Reliability. Though you can’t predict the future, a test drive can give you an idea of how well the vehicle has been maintained and whether it exhibits any signs of potential issues.

What to Look for and Listen for During the Test Drive

Now that we understand the importance of a test drive, let’s move on to what specific aspects to pay attention to during the drive and inspection:

  1. Engine and Transmission. Listen for any unusual noises coming from the engine. Pay attention to how smoothly the transmission shifts gears. Are there any jerks, delays, or rough transitions? An erratic engine or transmission can be a sign of trouble down the road.
  2. Steering and Handling. Take note of how the car responds to steering inputs. Does it feel tight and responsive, or is there excessive play in the steering wheel? Uneven or shaky steering could indicate problems with the suspension or alignment.
  3. Brakes. Test the brakes at different speeds and in varying traffic conditions. Do they feel responsive, or do they require excessive force to stop the vehicle? Squealing or grinding noises when braking may indicate brake pad wear or other issues.
  4. Suspension and Ride Comfort. Pay attention to how the vehicle handles bumps and rough road surfaces. A smooth and comfortable ride is essential for long-term driving satisfaction. Clunks, squeaks, or an overly harsh ride could be signs of suspension problems.
  5. Noise Levels. Listen for excessive wind noise, road noise, or rattles inside the cabin. A quiet interior can make a significant difference in your overall driving experience. Any unusual noises may require further investigation.
  6. Visibility. Check for blind spots and any obstructed views. Ensure that the mirrors provide adequate coverage and that you have a clear line of sight when changing lanes or maneuvering.
  7. Comfort and Ergonomics. Assess the comfort of the seats and the adjustability of the driving position. Are the controls easy to reach and use? Make sure you can comfortably operate the vehicle for extended periods.
  8. Technology and Infotainment. Test the functionality of the vehicle’s infotainment system, including navigation, audio, and connectivity features. Ensure that the interface is user-friendly and intuitive.
  9. Heating and Cooling. Try out the climate control system to see how effectively it heats or cools the interior. It’s crucial for maintaining a comfortable driving environment in extreme weather conditions.
  10. Parking and Maneuverability. If parking and tight maneuvers are part of your daily routine, test the vehicle’s ease of parking. Consider factors like turning radius and rearview camera visibility.
  11. Safety Features. Activate and test any safety features such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and automatic emergency braking. Ensure they function as expected and provide added peace of mind.
  12. Maintenance Records. If you’re test driving a used vehicle, ask the seller for maintenance records. A well-documented service history can provide insight into how well the vehicle has been maintained and whether it has any recurring issues.

Additional Tips for a Successful Test Drive

To make the most of your test drive, here are some additional tips:

  1. Schedule Ample Time. Don’t rush your test drive. Plan to spend at least 30 minutes driving the vehicle in various conditions, including highway and city driving, to get a comprehensive feel for it.
  2. Bring a Checklist. Create a checklist of the specific aspects you want to assess during the test drive, such as comfort, performance, and technology features. This will help you stay organized and focused during the drive.
  3. Drive Familiar Routes. If possible, drive on roads you typically use in your daily life. This will give you a sense of how the vehicle performs in your regular driving environment.
  4. Involve All Decision-Makers. If you’re buying a car for a family or a group, bring all the decision-makers along for the test drive. Everyone’s input is valuable when making such a significant purchase.
  5. Trust Your Instincts. If something doesn’t feel right during the test drive, don’t dismiss your gut feeling. Investigate any concerns or questions you have before making a decision or ask the dealer to show you other options. Good, reputable dealerships will typically have several similar vehicles to show.
  6. Multiple Dealerships and Vehicles. If you’re considering several vehicles or dealerships, don’t hesitate to test drive multiple options. This will give you a broader perspective and help you make an informed choice.
  7. Keep an Open Mind. While it’s essential to have specific criteria in mind, be open to unexpected discoveries during the test drive. You may find that a particular vehicle exceeds your expectations or that certain features are more important to you than you initially thought.


A test drive is an indispensable step in the car-buying process, allowing you to assess the vehicle’s comfort, performance, and overall condition. By paying attention to what to look for and listen for during the drive, you can make a more informed decision and select a vehicle that aligns with your needs and preferences. Remember to take your time, trust your instincts, and explore multiple options to find the perfect vehicle for your lifestyle and budget. Happy driving!