Things to look & listen for on a test drive -


Things to look & listen for on a test drive

If you're in the market for a Ferrari or just something to go get groceries with, first impressions count. But falling in love with a new beauty too soon may not lead to a long, happy relationship.

"You don't want to have an emotional attachment to the car right away because then, if you do like it, you overlook things that are wrong with it," advised Dustin Carter, operations manager at the Exotic Driving Experience at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

First, examine the exterior of the vehicle. Look for tiny fractures in the glass, matching paint on every panel, signs of damage or replacement, and evidence of wear and tear--even if it's a brand new car or truck.

"Sometimes, when they come off the trailer, they get scratched, the rims get scratched, so you want to look over the outside very, very well," Carter advised.  

Before driving the car off the lot, first, get down on the ground and examine the car.

"As you look underneath, if you see the frame exposed, you want to make sure there isn't any holes in it or any rust," Carter said. 

Whatever you usually haul in your vehicle--child restraint seats, golf bags, tool boxes, children or even your spouse--bring them along with you. Make sure they all fit safely and comfortably.

If you haven't purchased a new car in a few years, you should allow adequate time to familiarize yourself with all the new technology before taking off.

"You want to concentrate on driving," advised Freddy Skipper with Town & Country Ford in Charlotte. "Let the technology work for you, not against you."

Bring your own personal gadgets so you can see how to set them up.

Make sure they sync with and sound good on each car you're considering buying.

Hold off if you are tempted to turn the radio on right away.  

"Don't turn the radio on," Carter said. "Leave the radio off and listen to the car."  

Listen for chirps, squeaks, clanks and clunks. A new car may make noises that are new to you, but ask about the unusual.

Whether you're driving on a professional racetrack or on the dealer's pre-determined drive route, don't be shy to request a route on the type of roads you usually travel.

It is important for you to compare how the vehicle handles on highways versus neighborhoods.

Give the brakes a good workout listening for any sounds and testing their sensitivity. You should be able to make a hard stop without making a heart-stopping stop. 

"You don't want to throw someone into the windshield, but you can break quickly and still feel the ABS (Anti-lock Braking System)," Skipper said.  

Feel the car's alignment by seeing if it stays on a straight course.

"Just for a second, just take your hands like this, and it should run fairly true," Carter said.

Ask to test drive the same car twice to confirm your choice. Consider driving all your car candidates on the same say so its easier to compare them without confusing them.

"Was it this vehicle that had this, or the one I just got out of?" Skipper said.

At this point, you'll probably be brought back to talk about price.

Instead, you may want to stop by the service center and ask about maintenance schedules and costs which really do add up over the lifetime of your vehicle.

Taking a test drive is not a spectator's sport, but if you customize the trip and ask lots of questions, you'll soon be hitting the road in a new ride.

While it's easy to forget, make sure the car you're considering will fit in your garage! Otherwise, you may not realize until it's too late.

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Additional Information:

The following car-buying tips are from Dustin Carter, Operations Manager at Exotic Driving Experience at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

  • If the car starts chattering when you brake, it's a sign that the rotors are damaged.
  • If there is chirping when you brake, the pads may need to be replaced.

The following information is from Freddy Skipper with Town & Country Ford in Charlotte, NC.

  • Ask your salesperson to walk you through all of the technology features before driving.
  • The noises and touch screen can become distracting to drivers who are new to the car.

The following tips are from the website Carbuyer in an article entitled "Test drive tips: what you need to look out for" (Source:

  • The test drive is one of the most important steps of the car-buying process. It's the driver's way of making sure the vehicle meets expectations, is enjoyable, and in good condition.
  • Don't be afraid to ask to take a car out more than once to confirm your first impression.
  • Make sure you are insured, or find some kind of comprehensive short-term coverage.
  • Adjust the seats and steering wheel.
  • Make sure any removable seats are easy to work with and not damaged.
  • If you plan to use child seats, make sure they fit.
  • Check to see that the engine is cold before it starts and that no smoke comes out the back when starting.
  • Check the suspension when turning corners by looking for bouncing or rolling.
  • When the car isn't moving, turn the steering wheel from lock-to-lock to check for smoothness and no resistance.
  • Turn the car in a full circle in a parking lot to check turning radius.
  • Make sure the brakes respond immediately without pumping or pressing hard, with no loud noises.

The following tips are from (Source:

  • First, do your research and generate a short list of cars in your price range that meet your criteria.
  • Bring a copy of your car key and a photocopy of your driver's license with you. Some unscrupulous dealers will "misplace" them in order to get more time to sell you on a car.
  • Record the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).
  • Try fast acceleration, braking, sharp turns, and bumps.
  • Check for blind spots.
  • See if you can parallel park easily.
  • Turn off the radio and roll down the window to listen for noises.

The following information is from (Source:

  • Drive potential candidate cars back-to-back on the same day so you can easily compare.
  • Measure your garage and the car, make sure they fit!
  • Check day-to-day use features like storage, cup holders, ease of opening trunk.
  • Check ease or entry for rear-seat occupants.
  • Review safety features (airbags, seatbelts, etc.)
  • Find out if the vehicle takes premium or unleaded gasoline and any unique maintenance procedures.
  • Review towing features and trailer-hitch type.
  • Bring your iPOD or electronics to make sure they work with the electronic gadgets in the car and sync.
  • Rather being rushed into a buy after the drive, go see the rest of the dealership. Check in with service/parts to get an idea on maintenance costs. 
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