Most people don’t know how to take full advantage of a test drive. We drive the car around the block a few times. Maybe even get it up to a decent pace on the freeway. We pop the trunk, look under the hood, and push all the levers and buttons. Maybe we ask a few questions about horsepower or gas mileage. But the truth is, some of us don’t even know what we're looking for. And we can be so overwhelmed by the shopping process that we aren’t really absorbing the
Instrument Panel - 2008 Ford Econoline Cargo Van E-250 CommercialEnlarge Photo
We aren’t simply looking for something to drive. We want a vehicle that’s tailored to our lifestyles. The key to a successful test drive is to treat the car we’re looking at the same way we treat our current car -- sans the papers under the seats and the crumbs in the creases.
Before you head to the dealership, load up your car with the stuff you use on a regular basis. Yes, it’s a pain. But having those items in person will help you see how well things fit.
If you travel often, bring your suitcase. It can be empty. Play golf? Bring your clubs. Grab your pet carrier (ideally without the pets), your tool box, your surf board. Parents with small children should bring the car seat and the stroller. And bring your kids. Be mindful, however, that dragging the whole menagerie could annoy the salesperson and, more importantly, the other customers. But hey, it’s your money and you want to make sure you’re spending it wisely.
Even if you don’t lug around big or bulky objects on a regular basis, you still want to get a feel for what it’s like to live with the car day after day. Bring along your favorite mug or water bottle to see how it fits in the cup holders. Some of those shallow, pop-up types are notorious for not keeping drinks steady (it’s no fun being hit by a flying Evian bottle while rounding a corner). Look at the shapes and sizes of the interior compartments. Where would you keep your phone, sunglasses, change, purse, or briefcase? Note whether the hanger hooks large and sturdy enough for your dry cleaning or suit jacket.
Trunk - 2007 Land Rover LR3 4WD 4-door V8 SEEnlarge Photo
Also consider the trunk opening. Does the lid open on its own, or do you have to do all the lifting yourself? How easy is it to close? Pay attention to the depth, width and design. Practice loading and unloading all the objects you brought along. Rearrange things. Consider the amount of effort it takes to put them in and take them out – especially the heavy ones. If the rear seats fold down, test those out, too.
In the cabin, install the car seat. Find the LATCH restraints. Notice the amount of time and effort it takes to get everything buckled in, and how much space there is to maneuver.
You might not be able to simulate every scenario you could encounter while driving. But you can walk out of the dealership armed with infinitely more knowledge by taking the time to test a vehicle in the ways you would most often use it. And that’s infinitely better than relying on your imagination.