How to Test Drive a Car

This is a guide for how to test drive a car. Test driving a car includes doing research, inspecting the features on the car, and driving in a variety of settings in the city and on the highway.
Written by Nicholas Wilson
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
Test driving a car is a vital part of the
car buying
process. Just as you wouldn’t purchase a house without first viewing it, you shouldn’t buy a car without getting a feel for how it drives and if it is right for you.
Very often, a test drive is the only chance you’ll get to tell for sure whether or not a car works for you, so you should make the most of your time and use the opportunity to get a true sense of how well you and the car fit together.
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How to test drive a car

Step 1: Prepare for your test drive. The most important part of the test drive takes place before you even arrive at the dealership: you have to have an idea of what car you want to buy.
In the first place, know exactly which vehicles you want to test out. Don’t go in on a whim without any clue as to what vehicles you might like. Have a fully researched set of options in mind before you head to the dealer so that you can match your expectations to reality.
Second, you should bring a friend. Maybe you will get overwhelmed by the experience of driving a fabulous new car, or maybe you are easily tempted by sales pitches.
Whatever the case is, having a friend along for the ride will give you a more objective perspective on the car and its features. Your friend may also notice perks or disadvantages you overlooked.
Step 2: Inspect the vehicle. Every new car is going to perform the basic function of a car, so the purpose of your test drive is to get a sense for the details of the vehicle.
Check the outside of the vehicle to ensure that it matches what the online pictures showed. Look for any special features you had your eye on to make sure they work as expected and are convenient to use (such as a trunk that opens by motion activation or doors that open sufficiently wide).
Check the inside of the vehicle for any difficulties you might encounter. Evaluate the quality of the AC and if the car supports the sorts of technology you need.
Ask yourself some questions that might not occur to you at first thought. Is there a noticeable lack of cupholders? Are the seats comfortable? Is your field of vision clear? Does the car seem high enough off the road for your liking? These questions and other topics of concern to you should be on your mind as you get situated in the car.
What makes or breaks a car for most people is not always how well it drives, but rather, the small details that add up to a positive or negative experience.
Step 3: Drive the vehicle. Now that you have viewed the exterior and interior features, drive the car.
Try driving on a number of different terrains and settings. Get on the highway and see how you like it. Go through a couple of local streets to test its handling in city driving.
Most of all, think of what sort of driving you will be doing on your daily commute to get an accurate sense of whether or not you could love the car on your daily drive.
Step 4: Make notes on your experience. As you are struck by the various pros and cons of the car, make a note of these.
If you are test driving several vehicles, you may want to take a notepad to record all your thoughts so you don’t get overwhelmed when you need to make a decision.

FAQs about test driving

What do you need to test drive a vehicle?

Typically, you only need a valid driver's license with you to test drive a vehicle. Some dealerships may have other requirements, so make sure you call ahead and ask.

Can you test drive a car with a permit?

Yes, you can test drive a car with a permit. Since permits usually require you to drive with an adult who has a valid driver's license, you will need to have someone accompany you.

How old do you have to be to test drive a car?

The only basic requirement to test drive a car is to have a valid driver's license or permit, so you have to be old enough to have your permit, at the very least.
Keep in mind that dealerships aren't obligated to let you take a test drive. If you're wanting to test out a hot car just for the fun of it, they probably won't let you. But if you show up with your parents and it's clear your family wants to purchase a car, they'll be more likely to let you test drive.

Do you need insurance to test drive a car?

You don't explicitly need insurance to test drive a car. This is because dealerships carry their own insurance to protect their vehicles.
However, the dealership may hold you liable in certain situations. If you have your own personal insurance policy, you're be better protected in case of an accident while test driving.
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