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How to (really) test drive a car

How to (really) test drive a car image

Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: Jet Rabe | posted November 12, 2015 15:33

Tips, tricks and what to look out for when test driving a car

Let's face facts: for most of us, buying a car is one of the most major purchases around, second only to a house or a condo.

We've given out our pointers on how to go about really buying a car. It was so long we had to split it up into part one and part two, just so we can give you the most comprehensive guide to actually buying a car and, more importantly, getting the better deal.

Now we come to the nitty gritty: testing driving cars.

If there's one thing we at AutoIndustriya.com have become quite proficient at, it's testing. Over the years, we've picked up many different ways to figure out if that new family sedan, rugged SUV or performance sports car is any good and worth your money.

So, without further ado, here's our 'quick' guide on how to really test that car you've been losing sleep over because in reality, you'll get more than just restless nights if you buy one without thoroughly testing it first.

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Settle in and take your time

The first and most important part is that you have to get comfortable in the car, van, SUV or truck that you're going to take for a test drive. Many of us advocate that you go for the 'proper' driving position (upright, with a slight lean for comfort), but really you should find the best seating position for you based on how you actually drive. Check your seats whether they're soft enough to your liking or you might end up making more regular trips to your chiropractor after a long drive.

Familiarize yourself with the positioning of the controls and the ergonomics too. Is the shifter within easy reach? Is the wheel actually comfortable? How's the visibility of the windshield? Can you see vehicles around you using your mirrors? There are plenty of other considerations, but it's really important for you to be able to settle in comfortably to the car to be able to drive it the way you like it.

 

Play with the features, read the manual

Before you even drive out of the dealer forecourt for your test drive, take time to familiarize yourself with the features; all the better to go through the nice features of the car like the audio system, the controls and other bits.

You'll definitely (unless I'm mistaken) have your sales representative there in the passenger seat with you, so you can refer to him/her for things on how to use the more complex or possibly unique features of the car. Some autos today come with self-parking features and advanced safety equipment (lane assist, adaptive cruise control, auto braking, etc) so you should have the sales rep brief you on that. If he or she can't do that competently then, well, you know.

You should also browse through the owner's manual... it's that big, thick book most of us usually store in the glove compartment and forget about.

One thing you shouldn't forget, particularly with vehicles equipped with a multi-info trip computer is to reset the fuel economy meter. It may not be 100% accurate (nothing is) but it would give you a ballpark figure of what the vehicle can do.


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Keep the salesman in check

A key component in effectively testing a car you're eyeing for your own garage will be how you manage the sales representative in the car with you. As a former car salesman, I can tell you now that they're typically briefed to try and monopolize the conversation in the car in order to make a sale.

My advice is to tell him or her, in a firm but polite manner, to keep quiet as you drive and enjoy the car. This way, you can pay more attention to the noises the car makes, how clear the audio system is, how the car handles and more, all without having to listen to his/her voice telling you how great it is.

Remember: testing is about seeing, hearing, smelling and feeling (hopefully not tasting) the car for yourself. Having the sales person yammer on and on will only distract you from that or, quite possibly, mask a flaw that you otherwise would have noticed.

 

Bring the family (if applicable)

For family men and women, it's a good idea to make a test drive a family affair.

The reasoning is simple: you'll be able to assess if the vehicle you're testing is ideal for your family. No need to bring the extended family (we're known for that), but do bring the significant other, the kids and yayas if applicable. That way, you can see if the whole family is comfortable on the drive and that all are secure with seatbelts or ISOFIX baby seat anchors.

Also, more importantly, having a car fully occupied with your family could lead to some important revelations. You can check if the vehicle squats a bit too much or if the suspension (particularly the rear) bottoms out on speedbumps. You can also tell if the vehicle still has ample power to make it up inclines with everyone aboard and, more importantly, what the fuel economy would be like on a family trip.

 

Drive normally, take it on your daily route

Chances are you'll be testing the car from your local dealership, either close to your own home or place of work. The one thing we would advise you to do is to take the vehicle on your daily route.

The reason is quite simply that it would enable you to compare it to your current daily drive on the exact same roads you take to work, school, or to the supermarket. You'll be able to tell if it’s more comfortable, more responsive, and easier to maneuver in traffic or even if it's more efficient. That way, you can tell if it's actually worth buying.

Also, we'll advise you to drive as you normally do.

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Find a rough patch

Here comes the hard part: you should try looking for a stretch of road that you personally find rough to give the suspension a bit of a workout.

A rough road (one that has a mix of potholes, patch-up work on the tarmac, ribbed concrete and the like) would quickly expose any weaknesses in terms of quality and comfort. EDSA offers a 'nice', diverse blend of roughness, and so try to drive it with a bit of speed; 50-60 km/h is fine.

Pay attention to tire noise, suspension noise, rattles and creaks in the cabin. Also pay keen attention to how the suspension handles the rough stuff and how much of it is transmitted to the occupants in the vehicle.

No sense getting a car that makes you cringe in annoyance or possibly even pain when driven on a road of significantly lower quality.

 

Stretch its legs

If you can, toss in a stretch of open road and have a little fun.

If the dealership would allow it, take it on the expressway so you can stretch the car's legs. Let the engine reach the higher parts of the rev range so you'll know if you have ample power, not to mention if it's too noisy for you.

Of particularly note would be aspects like stability at speed, you can do this by trying some smooth lane changes at 80 or 100 km/h. If it's leery or feels scary at those slow speeds, I wouldn't advise buying that car.

Other things to watch out for are things like wind and tire noise, as well as how high the RPM is at the highest possible gear at 100 km/h; the lower the RPM, the better for economy and the better for engine noise (typically).

If you can, try to find an area where you can try out the handling. It's not about trying to 'race' the car, but more about seeing if you feel confident cornering and maneuvering it around.

 

Park it a few times

Here's something many testers forget: do a few test parking maneuvers with the demo car.

Find out if you can see clearly enough out of the mirrors or if you can gauge where the bumper is. Try backing up into a parking slot, parallel parking or even parking forward to see if you're comfortable with how it maneuvers in a tight spot. Parking sensors and cameras are definite plus points.

Lastly, figure out if you can actually park it in a space the size of your own garage... a friend of mine bought a new SUV without test driving it, only to find out that he can't open the driver's door when he parks at his own condo's slot.

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Keep an open mind

The most important part is to keep an open mind when you test any car.

You shouldn't approach a test drive looking for mere validation or to convince yourself into a hasty, ill-considered purchase. Be prepared to walk away from a dealership if you can honestly tell yourself that the particular vehicle isn't a fit for you, your driving style, your family's needs or something as simple (yet as inflexible) as the size of your parking slot.

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You should always be honest with yourself when it comes to a testing car simply because in the end, it's your hard earned money and you'll end up paying for a bad decision for 12, 24, 36, 48 or 60 months.

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Has this guide been helpful to you? Let us know in the comments below.