Car-Buying Tips for Families: How to Take a Test Drive


Once you've done all your pre-dealership research and narrowed your list of potential cars down to a manageable number, it's time to take a test drive — and then test-drive some more.

Read More #FamilyCarAdvice

As one of's expert reviewers, I keep every car I test-drive for a week on average. I can tell you there are umpteen nuisances and/or surprises that don't jump right out at you in the course of a 10-mile test drive. Look the vehicle's interior over from front to back. Take notes. Let the salesperson know you will be taking your time so you won't be rushed.

First things first. Here's your guide on how to take a test drive:

Take the initial test drive without your kids: Drive as many cars as possible the same day (and on the same route, if possible) to get an equal comparison. Just plan for a long day and hammer them out. Some cars will jump right out to you as feeling more like home than others. Be up-front with the salespeople and let them know you're going to test-drive several cars, both with and without your family, and that you will not be ready to buy a car right off the bat.

Drive the way you would drive at home: After having a salesperson with you briefly for a test drive to point out some features (they're trained on a few key points; the others you may have to uncover on your own), ask if you can take the car out on your own. This will give you a chance to talk with your significant other or friends candidly about the pros and cons of the vehicle.

Map out your own route: Include highway on-ramps and merging to test acceleration. Spend some time on the freeway to test lane changes and long-driving comfort. Make a stop at your favorite drive-through to test how the car fits and what your access feels like. Pull into and out of several parking spaces, and don't forget to take a stab at parallel parking. Squeeze in some hectic urban driving to get a feel for the car's maneuverability. Try out the radio for a bit and pair your phone to the Bluetooth system to check for ease of use, but the rest of the time keep the radio off so you can identify any obvious road or wind noise. Put the car into Reverse to test its maneuverability in that application. Don't forget you'll be backing out of your garage or driveway every morning. How's rear visibility? Is there a backup camera or parking sensors? Are you comfortable going backward in this car?

Once you've narrowed it down to two or three cars, take the kids (but feed them first): Despite the possible pain involved, take your kids and their child-safety seats along with you. Ask the dealership to pull your test vehicle right next to your current car so you can easily transfer the car seats and kids. You want to know how easily car seats can be installed, how well they fit (especially if you're trying to squeeze three seats across one row), whether the third row is easily accessible and how comfortable the kids are in the back. Kids have a completely different take on cars than you do, so take the time to ask for — and listen to — their comments. They may notice that their booster seats are difficult to buckle, or they may be thrilled with the storage compartment inside the armrest to stash their stuff. Remember that comfortable kids are happy kids, and happy kids make for happier parents. Liven things up by bringing books and non-messy snacks along for the little ones.

Climb in and out of all the seats and have all the drivers in the family drive the car: Do you hit your head jumping into the car or hurt your back bending down to get in? Will others in the family drive this car? How does it fit them? Do the seats adjust easily to fit all drivers? Do you need a memory feature so you don't have to fuss with the controls every time you get in?

Don't get seduced by a shiny new car and that new-car smell: Even if your tush feels fused to those swanky, heated leather seats in your dream car, get out now! Hang onto your checkbook and don't even think about buying. Only after you've identified your wheels of choice — free from any salespeople or impulsive decisions — can you enter the next phase: the actual vehicle purchase. It's easy to fall in love with the first shiny new car you climb into (I call it puppy dog syndrome). Don't fall for it. You won't know what you're missing until you drive as many cars as possible. You don't want to make an expensive mistake. Take the time to explore all your options in person, and do not fall in love with the model with leather and a DVD player if you're planning on buying one without those features.

Editor's note: Some of these tips came from our former sister site, Colette Fischer and Sara Lacey contributed to this article.


By Kristin Varela | March 26, 2014 | Comments (13)



Your an idiot, don't you have any respect for the salesperson who only gets paid on only the sale of a vehicle. Its not brain surgery drive a car and if you like it, buy it, drive 4 or 5 cars is rediculous. Go rent these vehicles and drive them and when you see the cost you won't. Think of the poor salesperson for a change


That's why she recommended letting the salesperson know upfront that you're not interested in buying yet. That gives them the option to focus more attention on other customers, if necessary, while you play with the vehicle independently. A car is a huge purchase, you will mostly likely have it for multiple years, and will use it almost daily. The purchase is also just as emotional as it is logical. If you have no pre-existing bias, it is more than a smart move to test many models. If you're a family who will only buy from certain brands, that wouldn't be an issue.


I found the article very practical and realistic. Finding a vehicle doesn't and should have to be an impulse buy. Nor should one fall for the lines many cars salesmen give. Let's face it they don't really car about you, their goal is to get as much of your hard earned money as they can from you. Their goal is to push features that you probably don't, want, need or will use. A car consumer has to be smart, and have a game plan before venturing in a dealership. Know what you want, and what is a fair price for it. This is definitely a case where knowledge is power. I will use some of the principles in this article the next time I am in the market for buying a vehicle.


What area of the country have dealerships let you test drive a car for a "week"? Unless you have a really "great" relationship or using a refundable deposit with a dealer, I have a hard time believing this happens.


Her job provides week-long test drives. I've had dealerships offer me an overnight test drive, that's as good as it gets for a commoner car guy.


With information at your fingertips why bother by going from dealership to dealership, instead stay in front of you computer monitor doing research, after you zero in on the brand and model you like you go and waste sales people time, if you're a mature adult you should already know what is best for you, you're buying not renting. If you chose wisely you'll enjoy the ownership experience. I have personally met many people that are very unhappy with their cars, because they chose based on first impressions.


I recommend making a photocopy of your license before you go to the dealership, and not handing your actual license over for them to copy. Make the copy, black out your address and zip code on the copy with a magic marker, along with half of your driver's license number. Then copy that copy and bring it to the dealer for the test drive. Flash your real license for a second so they know it's you. Greatly reduces the possibility of ID theft, IMHO.


Carma, I would bet money that they won't let you drive it on a pre-copied and redacted license. The whole point is to know who you are, not half your info.


Steve, nice. Please don't call someone an idiot and then embarrass yourself with spelling and grammar mistakes.


'The poor salespeople'? Are you insane? Their job to to sell cars, which means their job is to let me drive the cars and answer my questions. How is it possibly disrespectful to comparison shop?

Kyle W

Great article. I disagree with wain, though. I think it's good to test drive several choices and find out which car fits YOU the best...not what other people say about the car and their personal opinions on them. I've gone and test driven cars that I thought were "right" for me only to find I did not like them at all.

Great post! I agree, make sure to explore all the options first and then decide for buying a used car.

Great tips! Thank you so much for sharing this information.
Your blog will help me a lot.

Post a Comment 

Please remember a few rules before posting comments:

  • If you don't want people to see your email address, simply type in the URL of your favorite website or leave the field empty.
  • Do not mention specific car dealers by name. Feel free to mention your city, state and brand.
  • Try to be civil to your fellow blog readers. This blog is not a fan or enthusiast forum, it is meant to help people during the car-buying process and during the time between purchases, so shoppers can keep a pulse on the market.
  • Stay on topic. We want to hear your opinions and thoughts, but please only comment about the specified topic in the blog post.
view posting rules

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In

Search Results

KickingTires Search Results for

Search Kicking Tires

KickingTires iPhone App