With so many options for car shopping online and a general disdain for the dealership experience, consumers are willing to buy a new car -- the second most expensive purchase for most people -- without actually testing it out first.
This is a disturbing trend, as no matter how good a car may look on paper or how well it is received by critics, consumers can still find crucial flaws with a certain car during the test drive -- mechanical, personal or otherwise.
The reality is there is no replacement for testing out a car, despite having so many shopping tools at one's fingertips. We absolutely recommend that you use our shopping tools to do your research, but you need to actually experience a car yourself.
If you're unsure of what to do or what to expect during a test drive, click through to see how you should evaluate a car. You don't have to be a pro to make the right decision.
1. Take your time
Remember, buying a new car is a major decision that involves a lot of money. And seeing as you'll most likely keep the car for several years, make sure to give the car a thorough test before pulling the trigger.
Drive along different roads at different speeds -- city streets, highways, residential roads, etc. Basically, you should try to replicate your daily driving to get as accurate idea of how the car is going to perform under your normal driving conditions.
Too often, drivers rush through the test drive, due to schedule crunches, not wanting to be around the salesman or just plain apathy about cars in general. Trust us -- take a good, long time when you're on the road. It will pay off in the long run.
2. Park it
In addition to driving, it's important to try parking the car you're testing out.
Is it easy or difficult to parallel park? Are there big blind spots that interfere with backing out of a space? Is it maneuverable enough to meet your daily parking needs? Can you get in and out with ease? These are aspects of car ownership that a lot of people don't think about, which can turn into issues after it's already too late.
3. Play with the tech and other features
Familiarize yourself with the infotainment system. Is it easy to use or clunky and distracting? Play with the radio and see how the speakers sound. Take a minute and connect your phone to make sure the Bluetooth connection works, if it's available.
Additionally, it's important to ask about and test out other features that you think are going to be important to your ownership experience. Find out how the luggage rack works and see how easy the seats fold down, for instance.
So much goes into driving a car in addition to working the gas, brakes and steering that you should absolutely devote some time to testing these things out.
4. Test the handling as the driver and the passenger
Get a feel for how the car drives from the perspective of the driver and the passenger. A vehicle's handling can be a very important aspect of your ownership experience. Although you may love the way a certain car looks, the way it drives can make or break how much you actually enjoy having the car.
Make sure the car has the suspension you want (too tight, too soft or just right), has good braking performance, steers the way you want and has the right amount of power for you.
If you're going to have passengers regularly, ride in the front and back seats to ensure that others are in for a comfortable experience.
5. Listen for anything and everything
At some point during your test drive, turn the radio off and, since many car salesman will talk throughout the drive, ask them to kindly zip it for a few minutes so you can listen for any issues with the car.
Wind noise is a major complaint for many drivers, so make sure that the cabin is well insulated from it. Additionally, listen hard for any clunks or rattles. Anything that sounds out of place should be investigated, as it could point to safety issue or expensive repair down the line. Odd sounds should be looked at by an independent mechanic before purchasing a new vehicle.
6. Don't fall into a false sense of security
Remember, just because you are testing a new car does not mean that it is free from defects or other problems. You should be just as meticulous as you would testing a used car.
Look for issues with the paint and interior materials, as, even though the car may have been perfect when it rolled off the assembly line, nicks and scratches can occur when the car is transported to the dealer.
7. Bring a friend
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, two sets of eyes and ears are always better than one. Bringing a friend or family member who can help you notice things that you may not catch yourself. Make sure that this person can also keep you from getting overly excited about a car and making a rash purchase.