There are several steps in the process of buying a vehicle – taking a test drive is one of the areas that really helps define your mission and reinforce what you're really looking for in a vehicle.
As you know, research is the foundation of car shopping. Knowing about the type of vehicle you want, the reliability, the performance, the safety, the model lines, the options, the resale value is very important. Knowing all about a vehicle and its manufacturer is what you need to know before you visit a car dealership. "Landing" on the right vehicle is another critical step.
In your research you might narrow down where prospective vehicles are that you are interested in. Color and options, year, model and trim levels are important as well. You might have narrowed your search down to vehicles at a few car dealerships. So when you arrive let the salesperson know what your objective is. Let them know if you are searching for a specific vehicle with a specific set of options and of a specific mechanical condition and, of course, the price range. Arrive early enough in the day so you can really review the exterior and interior condition of the vehicle while there is daylight outside.
As you approach the vehicle, take note of the way the vehicle sits. Are the tires inflated? Does the vehicle tilt from one side to the other? Do the tires match? What is the overall condition of the paint? Does the car appear to have been sitting in one spot for a long time? Look around the vehicle for dents, dings, scratches, mismatched paint colors, rust, abrasions, and missing parts (antenna, roof rails, etc.).
When you open the door, does it creak? Does the door shut tight? What about the interior smell of the vehicle? Sometimes in the reconditioning process a dealer will add scent to freshen up the smell of upholstery that might have been exposed to cigarette smoke or other odors. Look for fabric stains, tears, rip, etc. Are there parts missing inside (visors, headrests, etc.)?
When you start the car, how does the engine sound? Turn down the radio to hear if there are unusual noises (power steering screeches, rattles, pops, squeaks, etc.). Listen to the radio. Does it work in AM and FM radio work? Does the CD player work? Do all of the speakers work (check the balance, fade, etc.).
When you drive the car, how does it feel on the road? At highway speeds does the car pull to one side or the other when you loosely hold the steering wheel? When you apply some pressure on the brakes while stopping, does the car pull from one side or the other? Is there a lot of "travel" in the brake pedal? Is there smoke coming from the exhaust pipe? Is there the smell of exhaust in the vehicle?
Take the car on a route that is similar to the conditions you will be using the car on a daily basis. Get out on the highway for a little bit to get the feel for acceleration and handling at highway speeds. Take a run through some neighborhood streets to see how it handles at slower speeds.
Do all of the gages work on the dash? Are there buttons or functions you are not familiar with? Have the salesperson show you what the buttons are for. When you return, be sure to check into the trunk and back seat to see if the spare tire, the tire tools and the jack are present. Look over the areas that you haven't looked at or sat in to see if everything is okay.
If you're on the test drive and you hear or feel something unusual, ask the salesperson if they hear or feel the same thing. Have them make a note of it so you can address it when you return to the dealership. Be sure to ask for a CarFax or an AutoCheck to get the chance to review the car's ownership history. If possible, ask for any repair records. For complete peace of mind, ask if you can take the vehicle to your own mechanic to review the vehicle for its soundness. Most mechanics will charge a fee for this service, so find out in advance what you need to do to set this up with your mechanical advisor.
At some point the salesperson will ask the question, "is this the vehicle for you?" If there are issues that are preventing you from making a sound decision, then bring those issues up with the salesperson and/or the sales manager.
If you get all of your questions answered, and you feel the vehicles does what you want it to and it performs to a level you think it should, then it's time to go onto the next stage – agreeing on a price and terms. So many people are uncertain about a vehicle and will go straight to negotiating numbers. This often leaves the buyer feeling like maybe they overlooked something. With a good test drive, a prospective buyer can answer their own questions and confidently know that a vehicle will work for them and give them the driving satisfaction that they're looking for.
Source: Bob Hurley Ford