Tips for Taking a Test Drive: What to Look For and What to Bring Along

Whether buying a new or used vehicle, taking a test drive is one of the most important steps in the car buying process. It is the only way to determine if a vehicle is truly a good match for you and your lifestyle – just because it may look good on paper does not mean it will handle in a way that is comfortable for you.  

Depending on where you are in your search for your next car, you may be ready to pull the trigger on a new car the same day, or you may just be starting to look and want to take your time.  Regardless of where you are in the process, here are a few tips for making your test driving experience easy and hassle-free.

What to Bring to a Test Drive

Important Documents

Most importantly, bring your driver’s license when you are planning a test drive.  Dealerships will want proof that you are eligible to drive before handing you the keys to one of their vehicles.  

Regular Cargo

If you regularly drive with cargo in your vehicle, like a carseat, you will want to bring that along on a test drive to make sure it can be easily installed, fits comfortably, and meets safety requirements.  


A Notebook

While this isn’t the most important thing you’ll need, it will help if you can take notes and write down the things you like most about the car you are driving.  Especially if you are in the early stages of buying a car, this can help you remember what you liked and didn’t like about each car you test drive.

What To Look For Before You Start a Test Drive

Entering the Vehicle

Is the vehicle easy to get in and out of? Do you have to squeeze into the seat? Considering you will be getting in and out your car daily, make sure that you don’t have to maneuver yourself to get comfortable.  

Adjust the Seats

Take your time adjusting the seat to get it just right. Are the seats electric or manually adjusted? Is there enough headroom? Can you see over the steering wheel? Is there proper lumbar support? Do your legs feel cramped? Make sure you can answer all of these questions before getting started on your drive.  If you can’t get comfortable, there’s a good chance that car is not for you.

Familiarity of Controls

Make sure you know where all the controls are – turn signals, windshield wipers, and headlight controls are important before you hit the road.  Every vehicle has a slightly different control panel and dashboard, so familiarize yourself and make sure it is something you are comfortable with.  

Tips While You Are on the Test Drive

How the Car Handles

Be conscious of the steering and how the car handles. Each car handles differently, so see if the steering feels heavy or if it is too light. Depending on where you drive on a daily basis, you may not want to feel like you are struggling to turn the car around tight city corners, while if you drive bumpy country roads, you do not want to feel like the steering is too loose and you could lose control.

Brake Reaction

It’s important to feel comfortable with the braking of the vehicle. Is the brake reaction time slower than what you are used to, or is the braking very sensitive? Everyone has a personal preference as to what kind of braking they prefer, so if you are not confident in the vehicle’s ability to stop, then move on and try another car.  


If you are driving a car with an automatic transmission, pay attention to how smoothly the vehicle upshifts and downshifts, especially on hills.  If you are test driving a car with a manual transmission, make sure you are comfortable with the ease of shifting. Is the clutch heavy? Is it hard to discern between first and third gears?


How does the vehicle maneuver tight turns and curves on the road? Is it easy to fit in parking spaces? Is there rear-camera assistance for parallel parking? Does the vehicle accelerate properly for merging on to busy highways? These are all questions you should be able to answer during your test drive.  


Be sure you can see in all directions and are aware of the car’s blind spots.  Take note of how well you can see out the rear window, mirrors, and over the dashboard.  


Is the car stocked with the amenities you are looking for? Is there a rear-view camera? Parking assistance? Lane departure warnings? Bluetooth and hands-free technology? Navigation system? It’s important to be satisfied with the amenities the vehicle has, and that you know how to operate them properly.  

What’s Next? Tips for After the Test Drive

Even if you loved everything about the vehicle you just test drove, don’t let a dealership con you into buying right away.  As a general rule of thumb, it’s important to drive at least 3 vehicles before deciding on the one you want to purchase to keep your options open.  If you are offered a really great deal from your salesperson, write down that offer and let them know you will be in touch. Sometimes it helps to sleep on it before choosing a particular vehicle.  

If you have driven a few cars and you are ready to pull the trigger and purchase a vehicle, ask your salesperson a few questions that may influence your final decision:

  • Is there a vehicle warranty? And if so, what is included?
  • What is included in the price?
  • What finance options are available?

Knowing the answer to these questions will help determine future costs down the road – if there is no warranty, understand that you will have maintenance costs.  There may be hidden fees that increase the price (and ultimately, your monthly payment) that you are unaware of. Make sure you can get approved for a loan – unless you are able to pay cash.  Not all dealerships have the same financing options at their disposal, so it may come in handy to come pre-approved from a bank.

Buying a new vehicle is a big step, so take your time and don’t rush into a decision if you aren’t fully confident with the vehicle you test drive. When you are ready to find that perfect pre-owned vehicle, visit Trust Auto for great cars and great deals!