Test-driving a vehicle is a critical part of the buying process. And while you may be familiar with the basics, there are a number of things you can do to save time and streamline the process. Here's how to hack your way to a better test-drive experience.
APPOINTMENTS ARE KEY
Most people walk into a dealership thinking they'll hop into a car and go straight into a test drive. But salespeople are often busy, and it might take a half-hour or so before someone is available. Plus, the car you want to drive might be in an overflow lot, which is sometimes far from the main dealership. You'll wait while they find the car, wash it and bring it to you.
An appointment can put an end to these delays. Call to let the dealership know you're coming and that you want the vehicle to be ready when you arrive. Some forward-thinking dealerships employ an online appointment tool, including one version that will note your coffee preference so the dealership can have a cup ready when you arrive.
It is a good idea to confirm your appointment. Salespeople have so many no-shows that they are sometimes surprised (and unprepared) when the customer actually shows up. A phone call on the day you're going to test-drive will ensure that doesn't happen to you.
TIME IT RIGHT
The day and time you choose can be just as important as the appointment itself. Want more time with the car or more attention from the salesperson? Avoid the weekends or holidays. Don't want to be stuck in traffic while you're on the test drive? Avoid rush hours. Tuesday and Wednesdays are often the least busy days at a dealership, and mornings are ideal times to test-drive.
TEST-DRIVE THE TECH
The way you interface with a car's technology can be just as important as how the vehicle performs for you mechanically. Take some time before or after the test drive to sit in the car and get a few impressions of the infotainment system. Is it controlled by a knob or touchscreen? Which do you prefer? Is it easy to do basic tasks such as tuning to another radio station or changing sources? Want to test out the Android Auto or Apple CarPlay functionality? Make sure to bring your data cord with you.
BRING YOUR IMPORTANT CARGO
People often make the mistake of eyeballing the cargo area and assuming their precious cargo will fit only to be disappointed when it doesn't. If you have a large item you'll often carry ? such as golf clubs or a bicycle ? make sure to bring it with you on the test drive to see how easy it is to load the cargo and how easily the rear seats can be folded down, if needed.
If you have children, bring your safety seat along for test drives to determine how much space you'll have in the rear when the seat is in place. Notice how much room you have when installing and removing the seat. If the seat is rear-facing, is there room for the front passengers to slide their seats back and still be comfortable?
SCHEDULE MULTIPLE DRIVES
Since test-driving can be a bit of a chore, many people make the mistake of only doing one. But we recommend test-driving a few cars to survey the field. That's key for an informed decision.
Schedule the drives a few hours apart on the same day if possible. The differences among the vehicles will be more apparent and fresher in your mind than if you do drives days or weeks apart. A bonus is that back-to-back drive appointments give you an excuse to leave the dealership if that's necessary.
A common salesperson's tactic after a test drive is to start talking numbers, capitalizing on your excitement about the car you just drove. However, we recommend keeping the research and shopping phases separate, both to avoid a long day at the dealership and to give you time to size up all the cars you drove.
Let the salesperson know up front that you're still researching and you only want to focus on the test drive. It doesn't guarantee the salesperson will let you walk away without trying to gain your business, but at least you can say that you were frank about not buying that day.
Take your time to discuss the right options with your family, and do the purchase or lease negotiating from home via the dealership's internet sales department.
EDMUNDS SAYS: Test-driving can be an enjoyable part of the car-buying process if you take a few steps to ensure it runs smoothly.