Getting Behind The Wheel

Your professional and consumer lifestyle guide Test-driving is more than just a spin around the block

There is nothing like the heady, enticing aroma of the fresh carpet, fabric and leather of a new car. The shiny patina of that car in your favorite color is likely to send even the strongest-willed and most astute shopper over the edge. Buying a car, whether new or used, leased or purchased, can force logic and common sense out the window.

The only way to keep your perspective is to do your homework before you actually go take a look (See “Are You Being Taken for a Ride?” April 1997). But the only way to really get a feel for what you want is to drive it. When it’s time to take a test-drive, keep these pointers in mind.

Test-drive all vehicles you are seriously considering. That could mean driving a sports car one day and a sport utility the next. Test-driving gives you a clear idea of what a vehicle is like. It also helps you decide what you don’t like.

Decide how much you can afford. If you’re more concerned about cost, cross-compare models and manufacturers. Some features may be options on one car but come standard on another. Even within manufacturers, compare the base model to its fully-loaded counterpart. Do the additions make a valuable difference in the car and how it drives? Would it be worth the upgrade to the higher-priced sister vehicle?

Create a checklist for each car. On it, include such information as:
(1) Is it easy to get in and out of the car behind the wheel, passenger side, in the rear?
(2) Are you comfortable behind the wheel, in the back?
(3) Do the seats adjust easily? Do you have adequate trunk space?
Pay attention to the details. Make sure the instrument panel is easily accessible and that gears are easy to operate both standing still and
while driving?

How does the car handle? Does the car change gears easily, whether manual or automatic? If manual, does the clutch engage easily? Is the car easy enough for you to steer? Never mind that it may be that car’s
style to be a bit stiffer; if you don’t like a stiff wheel, don’t buy it. When your grip is relaxed, does the car drift? Is it stable when turning corners?

Test-drive the car the way you drive. This may be difficult since most car salespeople want you to only go around the block and maybe on the highway to the next exit. But don’t go for it! If your salesperson does not comply, walk away and take your sale elsewhere! Ideally, you should not spend less than a half hour driving what will be the second most expensive purchase you’re likely to make. Take it on the terrains you’re likely to drive most often–smooth pavement or pot-holed streets; heavy traffic jams or wide-open highways.

Load up. Take along the people or things you’re most likely to carry for the ride. Perhaps my biggest concern was how well–and easily–my child’s car seat would fit in the center back seat. Was the center strap easy to

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