Buying a new vehicle is a fast-moving, information-lading, often overwhelming process. It’s common for people to spend their first week or two driving their new car and trying to learn where the windshield wiper controls are and how to get the Bluetooth to reliably sync with their mobile phone.

Many people wish they could have a “do over” when it comes to their test drive. There are many things that just don’t occur to shoppers when they are evaluating a car that can make or break their long-term driving comfort and safety.

Here are a few things that many people forget to check during their test drive:


Even when test driving a brand of car that you’ve owned before and are comfortable with, it’s essential to take a few extra moments and make sure that the interior design of the car’s cabin doesn’t disrupt your visibility.

For safety reasons, you need to make sure that you can see pedestrians that may be to the side or behind the vehicle. High-style sheet metal makes a statement, but also usually comes with small, gun-slit windows that can compromise the outward visibility of some drivers.

Pay attention to how much of the outside world you can see through each of the windows while in the driver’s seat. Are the blind spots dangerously large? Do the blind-spot monitors make up for the areas outside of the car that you can’t directly see?

Maintenance schedule requirements

The maintenance schedule of different brands and models of vehicles varies. Take some time to check out the maintenance schedule to understand how time consuming it will be to properly take care of the car you are test driving.

You’ll spend some time in the service department of the dealership where you purchase the car, so look them up and read reviews. Are they prompt? Do they diagnose problems correctly? Do their current customers report a consistently pleasant experience when they are in the dealership for maintenance and service?

Find out the prices for basic maintenance. If you have a service contract as part of your purchase agreement or an extended warranty, make sure you understand the requirements for following the routine maintenance schedule. If you have a service garage that you like to use for repairs that isn’t affiliated with the dealership, find out if going there with your new car will negatively affect the warranty.

The J.D. Power 2017 Vehicle Dependability Study, released in February of this year, shows that battery failure in three-year-old vehicles, not related to normal vehicle wear-and-tear, is a persistent problem. Battery failure was reported by 44% more owners this year, as compared to last year. Be sure to ask your service department how long battery replacement is covered under your new vehicle’s warranty and/or extended warranty.

The best test drives include blunders

Before you decide to buy a specific car, make some mistakes with it. Leave the keys in it and walk away. Leave the lights on. Learn what the warnings sound like. Push the panic button on the key fob and figure out how to turn it off.

After a short time driving this new car, you’ll be glad you learned its language.

Understand the infotainment

Bring your favorite electronic devices along on the test drive. Make sure your iPod syncs easily with the Bluetooth in the car, and verify that your favorite music sounds good coming out of the speakers. It’s also a good idea to make sure that the dashboard area and/or console can safely and securely accommodate the electronic devices you most often have with you when you drive.

Dependability problems with technology in new vehicles increases year-over-year, and the Audio/Communication/Entertainment/Navigation (ACEN) category is the most problematic area, statistically. It accounts for 22% of all reported problems.

The two most common complaints from consumers are Bluetooth pairing and connectivity failure and built-in voice recognition misinterpreting owner commands.

Pay attention when entering and exiting the vehicle

If your test drive was during nice weather on a clear day, you may be in for a muddy, wet surprise the first time you have to drive in the rain. In some vehicle designs, the outside metal portion of the door extends all of the way down to the bottom of the car, so your pants or skirt don’t get dirty.Dust and mud gets trapped along the grooves of the sides and bottom of the door, so when you get in and out of the vehicle, you risk getting mud on your pants.

Drive in bad weather

If you decide to buy a car that can handle nasty winter weather, you may want to try to schedule your test drive during a time when there’s snow on the ground. There’s no better way to assess how the car handles slick roads and snow drifts than driving in bad weather.

Bring the car home

More than one person has purchased the “perfect” SUV, truck, or van only to find that it wouldn’t fit in their garage. Avoid this type of disappointment and inconvenience by taking a quick trip home with the car during the test drive. Make sure you can easily park the car in the garage. Back up, park, and pull out of the driveway several times to gauge your comfort level.

Find the vents and understand the controls

It’s upsetting and dangerous to fumble through a new set of climate controls while driving down the highway. Don’t wait until you need the air conditioning or heat to learn how the controls work.

Comfort when it comes to the temperature of your vehicle’s cabin is a personal thing. Make sure the hot air blows hot enough and strong enough for your taste. Check out the windshield defrost power, lower cabin airflow, and even the vents in the backseat of the car to make sure the air flows to your satisfaction.

Certain features, or lack of features, can be irritating with day-to-day use, but are often overlooked during a test drive. Are the cup holders big and deep enough for your favorite Tim Hortons? Is there enough storage?

There’s more to test driving a vehicle than learning about how the car handles on the open road. Check these commonly missed items off of your list, and enjoy your “perfect fit” for many years to come.

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