How Far Can You Go on a Test Drive?
Why a Test Drive is Important
A test drive is important before buying any car. It gives you a chance to see how well the car handles, how comfortable it feels, and whether it has enough room for your family, your gear and your friends.
When you buy a car, you should always make sure that you get a test drive as part of your buying decision. There are third party services, like LemonSquad.com that can inspect the car if you are physically not able to test drive it yourself. Otherwise, you might end up with a lemon.
In this article we will cover the most common questions when it comes to test driving a new car and test driving an used car.
I've had bad experiences with cars where I bought them without a test driving them thoroughly and ended up with bad paint, no air conditioning and less than stellar deal. This is why buying a car without a test drive is a terrible idea.
If you've never had a test drive, we will cover the basics of what you need to know.
How much time should you take for a test drive?
The actual test drive can be done in 10 minutes to 20 minutes. Sometimes it can take longer and you might be lucky enough to have it on the weekend. (More about that later)
But you should spend some time examining the car, the vehicle history report and potentially the dealership or private seller. You must go into the test drive looking for issues and not going in blindly believing everything you hear from the seller.
Fact, people lie or they just don't know.
When you plan to take the car on the test drive, you will want to take it on the following places if possible:
- Local Streets with stop and go traffic
- Highway or as close a possible
- Rough roads
Rule #1 with all test drives.
Be respectful of the seller's car.
You don't own it and they do have every right to end the test drive abruptly if they choose to. You can push the car a little if you are alone or you can ask the seller if it is ok to give it a little gas on the accelerator.
Local streets are easy. Most likely you will be near residential streets and you will be able to get a feel on how it drives on an average day. Be aware of speed limits especially in school zones, as you want to avoid any tickets on your test drive. Remember its 25 MPH in residential neighborhoods. This is a great way to see how well the brakes work and whether there are any problems with the steering wheel.
Uphill test drives are good at determining how much horsepower the car has as well as shifting with the transmission. Listen to the engine and feel how the car downshifts. This can be a good tell tale sign if there are any issues with the gears or transmission.
Highway test drives help test the wheel balancing, acceleration, steering and overall merging power it has. The car should accelerate satisfactorily without hard shifting or loss of power. If you have any weird noises, you can keep that in mind during discussions.
Be careful when driving on highways and freeways. Keep your distance from vehicles ahead of you. Avoid sudden braking or acceleration. Stay alert and keep your eyes focused on the road. Drive slowly and smoothly. Follow traffic rules and obey speed limits.
Rough roads help test the suspension and the geometry of the car. While the car might drive wonderfully on smooth roads, you will encounter some rough roads in the future. For example, a stiffer sports suspension and low profile tires made for a VERY FIRM ride with my recent Carvana purchase but I understood that. I also read what other owners had to say about the ride quality. Be sure to look for bumpy roads to fully test the ride quality.
You will need to ask yourself if the ride quality, road noise and handling is something you can enjoy and live with for years to come.
If you hear any knocking, it might indicate that suspension parts need replacements like shocks or struts.
After you are done with the test drive, turn off the ignition and sit in the driver seat. Feel the seat, the pedals and the steering wheel and recall any items to be discussed based on the condition of the car.
Before You Test Drive
Examine the car’s exterior. Look for dents, scratches, and other signs of wear and tear. Check the paint job and make sure the finish looks like new.
Next, look inside the car. Pay attention to the seats, dashboard and steering wheel.
- Are they comfortable?
- Do they feel worn?
- Is anything missing?
- Is everything working properly?
- Does the stereo system play music?
- Are the windows up and down?
- How do the controls work?
These questions are important because they tell you whether the previous owner took care of the car.
Do Car Dealerships Actually Let You Test Drive for a Day?
Q: Can you test drive a car overnight?
Yes. From experience, I was able to take the car for a test drive an entire weekend or an overnight test drive.
Test driving cars is common practice amongst car buyers. Dealerships usually don’t want to lose customers who are not interested in purchasing the vehicle. They know that if someone isn’t ready to buy, it could cost them sales down the road. So why do some dealers offer extended test drives?
A dealership’s willingness to extend a test ride depends on how much they want to sell the car. If they think there’s a chance that the customer might buy, they’ll probably agree to give him/her a few hours. But if they’re sure the person won’t purchase, they’ll likely decline.
So depending on the dealership and how serious you are, the salesperson might be able to have you hold on to the car for a day or so.
This personal experience amazed myself and the family that we ended up buying the car and enjoying it for years. The car dealership was BMW and it was a CPO's car that was a trade-in.
Why You Should Try to Get Permission for an Extended Test Drive?
Test driving a car for an extra few hours provides more information about the vehicle than just a short trip does. This allows you to collect more opinions from family members and allows you to do a more thorough check on the car.
Like I mentioned earlier, drive around your local area if you want to see how the car performs on different types of roads, such as highways, residential streets, and hills, you can do so while you’re still within your city.
Plus, it allows you to make sure it fits everyone & everything. When buying a car, you typically don’t know exactly how many people will use it, so you need to make sure that it can fit everyone comfortably.
Ask yourself questions about the car such as: Is the trunk large enough for my belongings? Can I fit into the rear seats comfortably? or a child seat? How much cargo space does the car offer? Are there enough cup holders? Do the doors open easily? Does the dashboard look clean? What do people think of interior design?
Additionally, you need to ensure that there are enough seat belts and cup holders, among other amenities, to accommodate all passengers.
Q: Can you Take a Test Drive Alone?
Yes, I have taken test drives alone by surrendering my driver's license and key to my own car as to provide some sense of security to the seller. If the car was priced at under $6,000 or the seller was in the middle of something, then its was a low-risk test drive for the seller.
At another time, a dealership let me drive alone as well. I also provided a copy of my driver's license and came prepared.
However, it is up to the discretion of the seller to allow that,
Tips For The Test Drive
Test driving a car is at the top of my list of MUST-DO things when looking to buy a new car. In fact, it's often the deciding factor between making a purchase or walking away without a deal. But are you doing enough to ensure that you make the best possible decision? Here are some tips to help you navigate the test drive experience.
1. Do Your Research
Before scheduling a test drive, do your research. Take into account what type of car you want, how much money you plan on spending, where you'll be taking the car, and whether or not you'd prefer to buy online or in person. This way, you'll know exactly what you're getting yourself into.
Check the VIN for the car's safety features and packages. You don't want to assume it has split folding rear seats for example, when it was a factory option. Trust me, I learned this mistake from experience.
Check the car’s history record. This includes information about accidents, repairs, and recalls. You don’t want to end up owning a lemon. Check the manufacturer’s warranty and make sure that it covers everything.
2. Be Prepared
Make sure you bring along everything you might need during the test drive. Bring a valid driver's license, cash or a credit card, a cell phone, a flashlight and preferably an OBD scanner. You don't want to have to come back because you forgot something.
3. Arrive Early
Arriving early gives you plenty of time to check out the car and meet the seller. If you arrive later, you run the risk of missing the seller, or worse, having the car sold while you wait.
What Should I Bring to the Test Drive?
The best way to ensure you find the perfect car is to take it out for a spin. But what do you really need to make sure you don't forget anything important? We've got you covered. Here are five things you absolutely must bring along to your next test drive.
1. Your Driver's License
You'll need to show proof of identification to prove your age and address. If you're under 18, you'll need parental permission. You might also need to provide proof of insurance but that is rare.
NOTE: You should ONLY test drive a car if it has plates on it. DO NOT DRIVE on the public roads without any plates. You run the risk of being fined.
2. Vehicle History Report
Bring a copy of the Carfax so you can review and discuss any potential items such as maintenance history, accidents and ownership history. You can ask the seller about any recent services and if there are any major issues or upcoming repairs to know about.
2. A Payment Method
You will want to bring a method of payment. This can be cash, check, credit card or mobile payment. This is to help you leave a good faith deposit if you end up liking the car. This will help hold the car and show to the seller that you are a serious buyer.
It's good to bring a flashlight to get a better look at the engine and the undercarriage. Oil leaks will look shiny and there might be an oil spot underneath the car. Coolant leaks typically leave white residue on the engine blocks or components.
Look for anything that might seem out of place as well. Like dodge wiring or aftermarket components that can adversely impact the engine's performance.
4. Rag or Cloth
You might need to clean your hands if they get dirty as you examine the engine and undercarriage. Bring a shop towel or rag to wipe your hands clean before you touch the shifter and steering wheel.
You can also use the rag to wipe the dipstick and check the oil the car has. Some BMWs do not have an actual dipstick so you will have to rely on the dashboard.
NOTE: Be sure to ask the seller if you can check the oil. This is still their beloved property and you want to remain respectful.
5. OBD Scanner
As part of my checklist, I also suggest bringing an OBD scanner. This simple device can scan for generic engine codes as well as check if the car was recently cleared of codes. You will want to check the IM readiness to make sure everything has a green check.
NOTE: Ask the seller if it's ok to scan the car for any codes. It's common courtesy to ask.
How does it drive?
Before we jump into the test drive. You can pick up the free downloadable guide on buying a used car. It's full of helpful tips to help you avoid costly mistakes.
Check for blind spots if you are in an unfamiliar vehicle. Sit in the driver's seats and adjust all of the mirrors. Don’t forget to consider safety. A safe car is one that offers good visibility and protection against accidents. Some cars have major blind spots. This is especially true if you have thick C-pillars or a small rear window.
On your test drive, the transmission should shift smoothly with no heavy or hard shifts. You should have adequate power to accelerate the car. You can immediately tell if the engine is stumbling or misfiring with rough idling. If you feel the transmission is shifting oddly or slips, I suggest you walk away from the car.
While it might only be low on transmission fluid, it could also be a HUGE repair bill if it's otherwise.
Listen for knocks or squealing. Anything out of the ordinary could be signs that something needs to be repaired. Suspension knocking is common on older vehicles with worn bushings and strut mounts.
Try to pinpoint the general area so that you can ask the seller if they also experienced the same thing. They might know the cause and have factored it in the asking price.
Check all power windows, HVAC blower and radio. If a seller says it's just a fuse, don't believe them. Fused cost under $5 and should have been replaced if so cheap. Otherwise, you might be looking at a repair bill to replace any non-working electrical components.
Test the Brakes
If the brake pedal feels soft, try applying pressure to the brake pedal. Does it feel firm? Do the brakes lock up? If the brake pads are worn down, the dash might have a yellow or red light indicating that the brake pad sensor was triggered.
Tires should have at least 5/32 to be legal on the roads. If you find that the tires have under 3/32" tread then you will have to factor in a new set of tires. As mentioned in my free guide, you should have matching tire sizes and brands. If not, it might indicate budget maintenance or neglect.
Steering, Handling and Ride Quality
You should be aware of the ride quality of the driving experience. Sports suspension and low profile tires can greatly impact the comfort. Meanwhile, thicker tires and a stock suspension can make for a cushier, more compliant ride.
Be aware of the type of roads you will be driving on. Highway commuting would do fine but rough roads will take a toll on the suspension parts. Ask yourself if you can live with this ride quality.
Thing to Avoid During a Test Drive
Testing driving a car is a mutual understanding between the buyer and the seller. As a buyer, you will want to be respectful during the entire process.
Take your time. Buying a new car is a big investment and you want to make sure you are comfortable with it.
1. Test Driving in Rain or at Night
Don't make the same mistake I did. Do not get emotional and trust your gut. You must test drive the car on a clear day. Rain and water will deaden the sound of the car and make it more difficult to listen to the car.
Secondly, test drive and check the car during the day to ensure paint matches, body panels match, and the condition of the exterior paint is ok.
2. Criticizing or Nitpicking About Car
It's rude and does not help in negotiations if you continually comment negatively about the car. Save your thoughts during the negotiations and keep all of the wrong things with the car in your mind. You do not want to antagonize the seller during the test drive.
3. Abusing the Car
Do not go out joyriding or be a tire kicker. While you want to ensure that you are getting the full experience knowing the car does not do burn outs or heavy acceleration that can damage transmissions and wear out tires.
Final Thoughts on Test Driving
In conclusion, buying a used vehicle is a smart move because it saves you money. However, it's also important to know exactly what you're getting into before you buy.
For example, if you want to make sure that you're getting a reliable car, you should follow the steps detailed above as it gives you a chance to check out the engine, transmission, brakes, suspension, and interior.
When you're done, you'll have a clear idea of whether or not you want to continue with the purchase. More importantly, you should feel comfortable with the vehicle, with the price and your future ownership.