Most car buyers don't do more than the most perfunctory test drive of new or used cars. But with so much new technology and features in today's cars and trucks, a thorough test drive is more important than ever.
According to a survey by Cox Automotive only 32 percent of consumers know the exact vehicle they want when they start car shopping. But 55 percent test drive only one vehicle — the one they end up purchasing. You're likely to try on more than one pair of shoes or hat, even when they have your size and you know what it is.
Ron Montoya with Edmunds.com, the car buying website, says a lot of people think, " 'Hey, this car's new. I'm driving an old car. I don't really need to drive this new car. Anything is going to be better than what I'm currently driving.' So they don't test-drive it."
But they should. The average car on the road is over 10 years old. Technology has changed significantly in the last decade, so many of the features on that new vehicle may be unfamiliar. Things such as drive assist, lane keeping, and turn assist weren't around just a few years ago.
"If you want a certain package, if you want a certain engine, make sure you drive that one and don't drive something else just because it's closer to the lot or it can be a quicker test drive," Montoya says. "You want to make sure that it's the car you want, because that's the car you're going to buy. You're going to be spending a lot of money on it."
While driving the car, pay attention to things like how the steering feels in your hands, how the vehicle feels as it's turning and how the brakes respond, says Jean Jennings with Jean Knows Cars. "Your hands, your feet and your butt — those are the things that are most important," she says.
Jennings, who was the longtime editor of Automobile magazine, says most importantly, you should enjoy the experience: "The first person who knocks your joy down one tiny bit, walk out! How dare they! It's your money and your joy. If you're going to spend that kind of money, why would you deal with anyone who gives you any pain at all? Am I right?"
Jennings is right. Driving a car should not be painful. Here's some ways to ease the pain.
Tips For The Test Drive
- Do your homework. What type of car works for your lifestyle? You might not want a Lamborghini for your 50-mile-round-trip commute.
- Schedule an appointment with the car dealer. Actually, schedule several appointments on the same day. This will force you to drive several cars, and it gives you a legitimate excuse to leave the dealership.
- Make a list of the cars and features, and check the various consumer websites for the most recent car reviews. Maybe the quality for your beloved brand has slipped.
- Pick a day solely for test driving. Don't buy a car on the same day you test drive. The smell of a new car can have an intoxicating effect.
- Make a checklist. Consumer Reports has a checklist of what to look at and think about when test driving.
- Bring a buddy and your stuff. Once you walk into a dealership, the goal of the salesman is to get you to buy a car. A friend can keep you sane, and focused. Also, if you have a car seat or a bike, bring that so your know how easy it is to put your cargo and a passenger in your car.
- Comfort is key. Can you easily get in and out? Do you actually fit in the seat? Think about your car and body in the future. That red sports car may look cute now, but will you be able to get in and out of it in, say, 5 years?
- Bring your own photocopies of your license. To test drive, most dealerships will photocopy your license. Bring your own copy, ask for documents back, and destroy the copies. Identity theft around vehicles is on the rise. According to Autoblog.com, "In the 1990s, around 10 percent of stolen vehicles were obtained by using fraudulent applications. By the 2000s, that percentage had ballooned to 70 to 75 percent."
- Walk around the car. Check for scratches, rust, missing pieces, etc. even with a new car. Vehicles can be damaged during shipping (and test drives) so be wary.
- Check the tech. Can you easily pair your phone with Bluetooth? Do you know what all the beeping noises mean?
- What's the fuel? Find out the fuel economy. Does the vehicle take premium gas or need special maintenance?
- Drive the car. If most of your commute is on the highway, then drive on the highway. Try to drive over a bumpy road or railroad track to check how it rides.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
If you're going to buy a pair of shoes, you try on several pairs, and you walk around. NPR's Sonari Glinton says, do the same thing when you're buying a car or a truck. A survey by Autotrader shows 97 percent of consumers say test drives are extremely important. But most people only take one vehicle for a spin.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Well, we're going to start this story with a very basic premise, that you probably should be test driving a car. And I'm here with Ron Montoya. He's with edmunds.com. So he brought a car for us to test drive. So what do you have here?
RONALD MONTOYA: It's a 2017 Mazda3.
GLINTON: OK, so why would I need - I mean, this looks like a standard hatchback. Why do I need to test drive this thing?
MONTOYA: So on this particular one, the way you interact with a lot of the controls is through the dial and the rotary knob there. And if you're not familiar with that, if you come from a car with touchscreen or it had a ton of buttons in it, this may be a new way of interacting with the car, and you may not like that.
GLINTON: The average car on the road is well over 10 years old. So that means there are many features that you may never even have heard of - drive assist, lane keeping, turn assist - that's a thing. Montoya's pro tip for figuring this all out - take your time, call ahead and schedule an appointment.
MONTOYA: You need to drive the vehicle that you want to buy. So if you want a certain package, if you want a certain engine, make sure you drive that one. And don't drive something else just because it's closer to the lot or it can be a quicker test drive. You want to make sure that it's the car you want because that's the car you're going to buy. You're going to be spending a lot of money on it. So this is why it's important to schedule the appointments so that they have that car already pulled out and ready for you.
GLINTON: The key to that is schedule a few appointments at different dealerships on the same day. It's not a good idea, though, to test drive on the same day you purchase a vehicle. You can find more of my pro tips at npr.org. What Montoya says you should do is bring your stuff.
MONTOYA: You can bring your bike. I recommend people actually bring in their child seats - that's another one that you might not think of - because sometimes just you getting in the vehicle and the way you have to contort yourself to get the child seat to fit may be a bit of a pain. And you might have an easier time in another vehicle.
GLINTON: To find out more about the inside of the car, I talked to Jean Jennings. She's with Jean Knows Cars. And she says it's all about the little details.
JEAN JENNINGS: Your hands, your feet and your butt - those are the things that are most important.
GLINTON: By the way, I talked to Jennings at a big auto show in New York.
JENNINGS: How the steering feels in your hands, how linear it is when you're turning and how nice it feels when you're turning the steering wheel and how it responds - the brakes, you want them to be linear and really smooth and do a beautiful job braking. You're partly involved in that process (laughter) so you better be a good driver. And your butt feels the suspension and how it all - how it goes together.
GLINTON: Now, the point to that is take your time. Have fun. Touch everything. Open everything. Operate literally everything. Manipulate everything yourself.
JENNINGS: It has all the USBs, auxiliary outlets. This center armrest pops up. And I always look at all this stuff. I open everything I can open. I was that kind of kid. You can't even hear this...
JENNINGS: ...With how beautifully that opened, snicks down with a little tiny nose - beautiful thing.
GLINTON: Have the dealers show you the new features and how they work. Then, test them out yourself. Jennings says, this is your car, and it should be fun.
JENNINGS: The first person who knocks your joy down one tiny bit - walk out. How dare they. It's your money and your joy. If you're going to spend that kind of money, why would you deal with anyone who gives you any pain at all. Am I right?
GLINTON: She's right. Car buying should not be painful at all, seriously. Sonari Glinton, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF JAMES BROWN'S "UNTITLED INSTRUMENTAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.