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Test Drive Checklist: What to Look Out for When Buying a Car

Written By

CarOracle Experts

Published

May 27, 2023

Test Drive
Test Drive
Test Drive
Test Drive

Make the most of your test drive with our comprehensive checklist for buying a car. Ensure you cover all aspects before making your decision.

At a Glance

A test drive is a critical part of the car-buying process. This guide provides a checklist of what to inspect and consider during a test drive to ensure you make an informed decision.

Introduction

Introduction

When you're in the market for a new or used car, a test drive can be one of the most valuable tools at your disposal. It's your chance to see how the car feels, handles, and fits your driving style. However, it's crucial to know what to look for to ensure you're getting a vehicle that will meet your needs and keep you safe on the road. This comprehensive checklist will guide you through every stage of the test drive.

Before You Drive

Exterior and Interior Inspection

Before you get behind the wheel, take a moment to inspect the car’s exterior and interior. Look for any signs of damage, such as dents or scratches on the bodywork, uneven panel gaps, and the condition of the tires. Uneven tire wear can indicate alignment issues or potential suspension problems. Inside the car, check for any wear and tear on the upholstery, and test all electrical functions – lights, wipers, windows, locks, and the infotainment system.

Comfort and Ergonomics

Getting comfortable in your potential new car is paramount. Ensure that you can sit comfortably in the car, with adequate legroom and headroom. Visibility all around should be good, without significant blind spots. Check if you can reach and operate all controls easily, especially the ones you'll use most often. If the vehicle has adjustable seats and a telescopic steering wheel, make sure they can be set to a comfortable driving position for you.

On the Road

Engine and Transmission

Listen for any unusual noises when you start the car. These can indicate potential mechanical problems. On the move, check if the car accelerates smoothly and the transmission shifts gears seamlessly. Any jerkiness or hesitation could be a sign of issues. The car should maintain a straight path when you loosen your grip on the steering wheel, indicating a well-aligned and balanced vehicle.

Steering and Brakes

The steering should feel responsive, and the car should readily follow the direction you point it in. Test the brakes in a safe location to ensure they can bring the car to a stop quickly and smoothly, without any juddering or pulling to one side.

Suspension and Ride Comfort

Drive over some bumps or rough patches if possible to assess the suspension. The car should absorb shocks well and not bounce excessively. Notice if the ride comfort matches your expectations and preferences.

Noise Levels

With the radio turned off and conversations on hold, pay close attention to the noise levels in the cabin. Excessive wind, road, or engine noise could be a sign of insulation issues and can make the driving experience less pleasant, especially on longer journeys.

Post-Drive Reflections

After the test drive, take a moment to reflect on your experience. Did you feel comfortable and confident behind the wheel? Did the car meet your expectations in terms of performance, comfort, and noise levels?

Conclusion

The importance of a test drive can't be overstated. It's not just about whether you like the car, but about uncovering potential issues that might cause problems later. Take your time, trust your senses, and don't let the excitement of a potential new car cloud your judgment.

If you like the car after the test drive, consider taking it to a trusted mechanic for a thorough inspection. This may cost a bit, but it can provide you with additional peace of mind and potentially save you from costly repairs down the line. The test drive is your best opportunity to ensure you're buying a car that's the right fit for you. Happy driving!

Vehicle Valuation & Pricing FAQs

How can I determine if a used car is priced fairly?

To determine whether a used car is priced fairly, start by using vehicle valuation tools like Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, or Black Book to find the average price range for the specific make, model, year, mileage, and condition of the car you're interested in. Compare the dealer's price with these figures. Next, examine the vehicle's history report for any factors that could affect its value, such as an accident history or extensive repairs. Consider the car's maintenance and service records, if available. Regular maintenance and timely repairs can enhance a vehicle's value. However, always have a trusted mechanic inspect the vehicle to uncover any potential issues that might not be visible or disclosed.

How can I determine if a used car is priced fairly?

To determine whether a used car is priced fairly, start by using vehicle valuation tools like Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, or Black Book to find the average price range for the specific make, model, year, mileage, and condition of the car you're interested in. Compare the dealer's price with these figures. Next, examine the vehicle's history report for any factors that could affect its value, such as an accident history or extensive repairs. Consider the car's maintenance and service records, if available. Regular maintenance and timely repairs can enhance a vehicle's value. However, always have a trusted mechanic inspect the vehicle to uncover any potential issues that might not be visible or disclosed.

How can I determine if a used car is priced fairly?

To determine whether a used car is priced fairly, start by using vehicle valuation tools like Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, or Black Book to find the average price range for the specific make, model, year, mileage, and condition of the car you're interested in. Compare the dealer's price with these figures. Next, examine the vehicle's history report for any factors that could affect its value, such as an accident history or extensive repairs. Consider the car's maintenance and service records, if available. Regular maintenance and timely repairs can enhance a vehicle's value. However, always have a trusted mechanic inspect the vehicle to uncover any potential issues that might not be visible or disclosed.

What is Manheim's MMR and how does it feed into Kelley Blue Book, Black Book, and others?

Manheim Market Report (MMR) is a pricing tool used by dealers that provides data on wholesale used vehicle prices, and it's largely based on Manheim auction transactions. These figures are an important input for other vehicle valuation services like Kelley Blue Book and Black Book. The MMR provides a snapshot of what similar vehicles are selling for at wholesale auctions, helping these services understand current market trends and adjust their pricing models accordingly.

For a more in-depth review, please read the article What are Kelley Blue Book Values?


What is Manheim's MMR and how does it feed into Kelley Blue Book, Black Book, and others?

Manheim Market Report (MMR) is a pricing tool used by dealers that provides data on wholesale used vehicle prices, and it's largely based on Manheim auction transactions. These figures are an important input for other vehicle valuation services like Kelley Blue Book and Black Book. The MMR provides a snapshot of what similar vehicles are selling for at wholesale auctions, helping these services understand current market trends and adjust their pricing models accordingly.

For a more in-depth review, please read the article What are Kelley Blue Book Values?


What is Manheim's MMR and how does it feed into Kelley Blue Book, Black Book, and others?

Manheim Market Report (MMR) is a pricing tool used by dealers that provides data on wholesale used vehicle prices, and it's largely based on Manheim auction transactions. These figures are an important input for other vehicle valuation services like Kelley Blue Book and Black Book. The MMR provides a snapshot of what similar vehicles are selling for at wholesale auctions, helping these services understand current market trends and adjust their pricing models accordingly.

For a more in-depth review, please read the article What are Kelley Blue Book Values?


What is Kelley Blue Book's Fair Purchase Price and what is it based on?

Kelley Blue Book's Fair Purchase Price is an indicator of what other buyers in your area have been paying for a similar vehicle. It's derived from millions of real-world transactions and adjusted regularly as market conditions change. This includes both dealership and private party sales. Keep in mind that the Fair Purchase Price is a range, not a single number, and your actual price may vary depending on factors like color, options, dealer incentives, and local demand.

For a more in-depth review, please read the article What are Kelley Blue Book Values?


What is Kelley Blue Book's Fair Purchase Price and what is it based on?

Kelley Blue Book's Fair Purchase Price is an indicator of what other buyers in your area have been paying for a similar vehicle. It's derived from millions of real-world transactions and adjusted regularly as market conditions change. This includes both dealership and private party sales. Keep in mind that the Fair Purchase Price is a range, not a single number, and your actual price may vary depending on factors like color, options, dealer incentives, and local demand.

For a more in-depth review, please read the article What are Kelley Blue Book Values?


What is Kelley Blue Book's Fair Purchase Price and what is it based on?

Kelley Blue Book's Fair Purchase Price is an indicator of what other buyers in your area have been paying for a similar vehicle. It's derived from millions of real-world transactions and adjusted regularly as market conditions change. This includes both dealership and private party sales. Keep in mind that the Fair Purchase Price is a range, not a single number, and your actual price may vary depending on factors like color, options, dealer incentives, and local demand.

For a more in-depth review, please read the article What are Kelley Blue Book Values?


How do dealers price their used cars?

Dealers price their used cars based on various factors. These include the car's condition, mileage, the demand in the local market, and the wholesale price they paid for it, influenced by vehicle auction data. Dealers also factor in their reconditioning costs, marketing expenses, overheads, and a target profit margin. They also consider their inventory turnover. If a vehicle has been sitting for more than 30 days, they're more likely to lower the selling price. Dealers often use tools like vAuto, a sister company of Kelley Blue Book and AutoTrader, to understand vehicle pricing in their market. vAuto leverages used car vehicle listings to assess the market, which reflect retail prices, or prices being offered to and paid by consumers.

How do dealers price their used cars?

Dealers price their used cars based on various factors. These include the car's condition, mileage, the demand in the local market, and the wholesale price they paid for it, influenced by vehicle auction data. Dealers also factor in their reconditioning costs, marketing expenses, overheads, and a target profit margin. They also consider their inventory turnover. If a vehicle has been sitting for more than 30 days, they're more likely to lower the selling price. Dealers often use tools like vAuto, a sister company of Kelley Blue Book and AutoTrader, to understand vehicle pricing in their market. vAuto leverages used car vehicle listings to assess the market, which reflect retail prices, or prices being offered to and paid by consumers.

How do dealers price their used cars?

Dealers price their used cars based on various factors. These include the car's condition, mileage, the demand in the local market, and the wholesale price they paid for it, influenced by vehicle auction data. Dealers also factor in their reconditioning costs, marketing expenses, overheads, and a target profit margin. They also consider their inventory turnover. If a vehicle has been sitting for more than 30 days, they're more likely to lower the selling price. Dealers often use tools like vAuto, a sister company of Kelley Blue Book and AutoTrader, to understand vehicle pricing in their market. vAuto leverages used car vehicle listings to assess the market, which reflect retail prices, or prices being offered to and paid by consumers.

How should I compare prices from competing dealers on a new car?

When comparing prices from competing dealers on a new car, it's crucial to compare the "out-the-door" prices. The out-the-door price is the total cost of the car, including taxes, registration fees, and any dealer-installed options or accessories. This ensures you're comparing "like to like", considering the same year, make, model, trim level, features, and overall cost, rather than just the sticker price. Keep in mind that the lowest sticker price may not always be the best overall deal when you factor in all these variables. Always consider the full terms of the deal, including any incentives, rebates, warranties, and post-sale services.


How should I compare prices from competing dealers on a new car?

When comparing prices from competing dealers on a new car, it's crucial to compare the "out-the-door" prices. The out-the-door price is the total cost of the car, including taxes, registration fees, and any dealer-installed options or accessories. This ensures you're comparing "like to like", considering the same year, make, model, trim level, features, and overall cost, rather than just the sticker price. Keep in mind that the lowest sticker price may not always be the best overall deal when you factor in all these variables. Always consider the full terms of the deal, including any incentives, rebates, warranties, and post-sale services.


How should I compare prices from competing dealers on a new car?

When comparing prices from competing dealers on a new car, it's crucial to compare the "out-the-door" prices. The out-the-door price is the total cost of the car, including taxes, registration fees, and any dealer-installed options or accessories. This ensures you're comparing "like to like", considering the same year, make, model, trim level, features, and overall cost, rather than just the sticker price. Keep in mind that the lowest sticker price may not always be the best overall deal when you factor in all these variables. Always consider the full terms of the deal, including any incentives, rebates, warranties, and post-sale services.


What are the pros and cons of leasing a car versus buying a car?

Leasing allows you to drive a new car every few years with potentially lower monthly payments and less up-front costs. It's a good option if you like having the latest models and don't mind always having a car payment.

Buying, on the other hand, might be more expensive initially, but you have the freedom to modify the car, sell it, or drive it for many years, potentially saving money in the long term. However, you'll be responsible for maintenance after the warranty expires. This decision depends on your financial situation, how much you drive, and whether you view a car as an asset or a tool.

What are the pros and cons of leasing a car versus buying a car?

Leasing allows you to drive a new car every few years with potentially lower monthly payments and less up-front costs. It's a good option if you like having the latest models and don't mind always having a car payment.

Buying, on the other hand, might be more expensive initially, but you have the freedom to modify the car, sell it, or drive it for many years, potentially saving money in the long term. However, you'll be responsible for maintenance after the warranty expires. This decision depends on your financial situation, how much you drive, and whether you view a car as an asset or a tool.

What are the pros and cons of leasing a car versus buying a car?

Leasing allows you to drive a new car every few years with potentially lower monthly payments and less up-front costs. It's a good option if you like having the latest models and don't mind always having a car payment.

Buying, on the other hand, might be more expensive initially, but you have the freedom to modify the car, sell it, or drive it for many years, potentially saving money in the long term. However, you'll be responsible for maintenance after the warranty expires. This decision depends on your financial situation, how much you drive, and whether you view a car as an asset or a tool.

Should I buy new or used?

The decision between new and used cars depends on various factors including your budget, needs, and preferences. A new car is just that - new. This means that everything from the tires to the brakes and engine has not been used, which can provide peace of mind about its condition. Additionally, new cars come with the latest features and are typically covered by a comprehensive manufacturer warranty.

Financing rates for new cars can also be more attractive, especially when manufacturers are offering incentives. These incentives can lower the interest rate, sometimes to below what you'd get for a used car loan.

However, new cars can be significantly more expensive upfront and depreciate quickly. Once you drive the car off the lot, its value can drop substantially.

On the other hand, used cars are generally more affordable upfront and they suffer less depreciation. For the price of a new car, you might be able to get a used luxury or high-performance car. But, a used car can come with maintenance issues from previous ownership, and you'll likely face higher interest rates when financing. A certified pre-owned program can help provide some assurance about the condition of the car, but it's not the same as having a brand-new vehicle.

In the end, the decision between new and used cars depends on your personal preferences, financial situation, and risk tolerance.

Should I buy new or used?

The decision between new and used cars depends on various factors including your budget, needs, and preferences. A new car is just that - new. This means that everything from the tires to the brakes and engine has not been used, which can provide peace of mind about its condition. Additionally, new cars come with the latest features and are typically covered by a comprehensive manufacturer warranty.

Financing rates for new cars can also be more attractive, especially when manufacturers are offering incentives. These incentives can lower the interest rate, sometimes to below what you'd get for a used car loan.

However, new cars can be significantly more expensive upfront and depreciate quickly. Once you drive the car off the lot, its value can drop substantially.

On the other hand, used cars are generally more affordable upfront and they suffer less depreciation. For the price of a new car, you might be able to get a used luxury or high-performance car. But, a used car can come with maintenance issues from previous ownership, and you'll likely face higher interest rates when financing. A certified pre-owned program can help provide some assurance about the condition of the car, but it's not the same as having a brand-new vehicle.

In the end, the decision between new and used cars depends on your personal preferences, financial situation, and risk tolerance.

Should I buy new or used?

The decision between new and used cars depends on various factors including your budget, needs, and preferences. A new car is just that - new. This means that everything from the tires to the brakes and engine has not been used, which can provide peace of mind about its condition. Additionally, new cars come with the latest features and are typically covered by a comprehensive manufacturer warranty.

Financing rates for new cars can also be more attractive, especially when manufacturers are offering incentives. These incentives can lower the interest rate, sometimes to below what you'd get for a used car loan.

However, new cars can be significantly more expensive upfront and depreciate quickly. Once you drive the car off the lot, its value can drop substantially.

On the other hand, used cars are generally more affordable upfront and they suffer less depreciation. For the price of a new car, you might be able to get a used luxury or high-performance car. But, a used car can come with maintenance issues from previous ownership, and you'll likely face higher interest rates when financing. A certified pre-owned program can help provide some assurance about the condition of the car, but it's not the same as having a brand-new vehicle.

In the end, the decision between new and used cars depends on your personal preferences, financial situation, and risk tolerance.

What is the difference between getting pre-approved and pre-qualified for a vehicle loan?

Pre-qualification is often the first step in the auto loan process. It gives you a rough estimate of how much you might be able to borrow based on basic financial information that you provide. It doesn’t guarantee you'll get the loan, as it's a preliminary assessment.

Pre-approval, on the other hand, is a more in-depth process. The lender will check your credit history and other financial information in greater detail to offer you a specific loan amount and interest rate. This step can provide you with a stronger negotiation position when you are at the dealership because you have a firm understanding of how much you can borrow.

What is the difference between getting pre-approved and pre-qualified for a vehicle loan?

Pre-qualification is often the first step in the auto loan process. It gives you a rough estimate of how much you might be able to borrow based on basic financial information that you provide. It doesn’t guarantee you'll get the loan, as it's a preliminary assessment.

Pre-approval, on the other hand, is a more in-depth process. The lender will check your credit history and other financial information in greater detail to offer you a specific loan amount and interest rate. This step can provide you with a stronger negotiation position when you are at the dealership because you have a firm understanding of how much you can borrow.

What is the difference between getting pre-approved and pre-qualified for a vehicle loan?

Pre-qualification is often the first step in the auto loan process. It gives you a rough estimate of how much you might be able to borrow based on basic financial information that you provide. It doesn’t guarantee you'll get the loan, as it's a preliminary assessment.

Pre-approval, on the other hand, is a more in-depth process. The lender will check your credit history and other financial information in greater detail to offer you a specific loan amount and interest rate. This step can provide you with a stronger negotiation position when you are at the dealership because you have a firm understanding of how much you can borrow.

Why are some vehicle dealers non-negotiable like CarMax and others are negotiable?

Different car dealerships have different sales models. Dealers like CarMax use a no-haggle pricing model, which means the price you see is the price you get. This model can reduce stress for buyers who dislike negotiation. It also offers transparency in pricing.

Why are some vehicle dealers non-negotiable like CarMax and others are negotiable?

Different car dealerships have different sales models. Dealers like CarMax use a no-haggle pricing model, which means the price you see is the price you get. This model can reduce stress for buyers who dislike negotiation. It also offers transparency in pricing.

Why are some vehicle dealers non-negotiable like CarMax and others are negotiable?

Different car dealerships have different sales models. Dealers like CarMax use a no-haggle pricing model, which means the price you see is the price you get. This model can reduce stress for buyers who dislike negotiation. It also offers transparency in pricing.

Dive Even Deeper into Vehicle Valuation & Pricing

Dive Even Deeper into Vehicle Valuation & Pricing

Dive Even Deeper into Vehicle Valuation & Pricing

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CarOracle is a California-licensed automotive dealer, License No: 43082, with an autobroker's endorsement, enabling us to represent consumers in the purchase or leasing of new and used vehicles.

©2024 CarOracle. All rights reserved

CarOracle Logo

CarOracle is a California-licensed automotive dealer, License No: 43082, with an autobroker's endorsement, enabling us to represent consumers in the purchase or leasing of new and used vehicles.

©2024 CarOracle. All rights reserved

CarOracle Logo

CarOracle is a California-licensed automotive dealer, License No: 43082, with an autobroker's endorsement, enabling us to represent consumers in the purchase or leasing of new and used vehicles.

©2024 CarOracle. All rights reserved