Making the Most of Your Test-Drive
Story by Sharon Naylor
When you first slide into the seat of the vehicle you’re thinking of buying, you might fall in love with the gleaming new dashboard, the high-tech navigation system that wasn’t even on your wish list and that new-car smell (if you’re test driving a new car and not a used car). At least that’s what the car salesperson would love.
But it’s important for you to keep a clear mind and remain objective for all of the tests this new car has to pass to get you to make the purchase. A test-drive’s goal is to give you a taste of the experience of driving the vehicle: the quality of the ride, how it handles turns, its acceleration, what it sounds like when idling or braking, what it’s like in action. You’re getting to know what could be your new baby.
You’d never buy a vehicle without test-driving it first, right? Well, you’d be surprised to find that, according to a new survey from Maritz Research, approximately 11.4 percent of consumers who bought 2012 vehicles didn’t take the vehicles out for a test drive before closing the deal on them. This stunning statistic may have a lot to do with people not wanting to be pressured by an aggressive car salesman. Perhaps they feel they’ve done enough online research and read enough reviews. Or maybe they always buy a particular make and model of car, so how different could the new one be?
It’s always advisable to take a test drive, even if the salesperson is annoying. Nonresponse on your part usually gets them to dial down their intensity, and you can remain in control with the following smart tips:
• Bring your spouse or a trusted second person with you, but not the kids. Too many voices, and your kids’ enthusiasm, can cloud your judgment and make it harder for you to hear the noises the car is making—or not making. A partner in the passenger seat can share valuable information from their perspective, such as how the seat feels, how easy it is to turn around and reach the children sitting in the backseat, and any flaws they see that escaped your attention.
• Keep the “five senses” rule in mind. Assess how all of the vehicle elements look, smell, feel, sound (in some cases) and, well, not taste, but the rule of using all of your senses is a good one to maximize your test drive.
• Aim to drive on as many different kinds of roads as possible. If you shop in a town you’re familiar with, you’ll know how to get to curvy residential streets, steeper roads and different terrain that the salesperson may not direct you to. Some salespeople, especially on busy days, will just guide you onto a highway, around a few blocks and back to the dealership. Map out your test drive prior to your visit, and see how this vehicle handles different driving conditions.
• Try out several different types of cars. You might be sure you want that Nissan Rogue when you get on the lot, but it can’t hurt to take a quick spin in a Murano to see whether the experience beats out the other model.
• Don’t be a pleaser. Don’t worry about taking up the salesperson’s time and rush through your test drive. Claim a reasonable amount of time as your own valued investment in your vehicle purchase. The salesperson will likely be grateful you didn’t take all day like some other customers do.
• As for demonstrations, slow the salesperson down if they’re going too quickly. They often know the car so well that they’ll hit buttons on the navigation system and sound system at lightning speed. Don’t be afraid to ask them to slow down so you can follow along.
• Try every moving part. Open the trunk to see how easy it would be for you to bash your head on the open door. Do the automatic side doors slide smoothly and quietly? Does the sunroof slide open and lift up? Sit in every seating position to be sure your passengers will have sufficient legroom and be comfortable. Turn down the sound system while driving. You want to hear how this car sounds when “cold,” when warming up and while accelerating, braking and turning.
• If it’s a used car, bring along someone who knows vehicle engines to check out the heart of yours.
• Park it. Always be sure to test out pulling into a parking space, including parallel parking, to be sure you’re comfortable with this car’s dimensions. It will surely be different from your old car, but a test drive could reveal that this vehicle is too large and its visibility too limited for you.
• Walk away. While the salesperson will want to get you into that cubicle and go talk to the manager about all of the fabulous deals he or she can get for you, post test-drive is your time to get out of there and make notes and think about how it felt to drive the vehicle so you can proceed with a clear mind. Take that salesperson’s business card, get your driver’s license back and part with these words: “We’d like to think about it, and we’ll be in touch soon.”