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Dear Kelley Blue Book Canada: How Do I Test Drive a New Car?

With online car buying resources like KBB.ca, it’s never been easier for consumers to get all the information they need to make an informed and educated decision on their next new vehicle, whenever and wherever.

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With over 300 new models in Canadian showrooms, it can be challenging to select the new vehicle that meets both your needs and your wants. If you are in the market for a new car, truck or SUV with specific needs or requirements, drop us an email at Dear Kelley Blue Book Canada about your new vehicle requirements to be featured in our Tips & Advice section. Every month, our team of editors will select one reader’s request and share detailed, unbiased advice to that specific scenario to help you and all of our readers better understand the car buying journey.

 

Vehicle prices, trade-in values, features, warranty information, reliability history, fuel economy — it’s all there online. However, as tempting as the thought of buying a new vehicle without having to go to a dealership may be for many buyers, one of the most important yet overlooked parts of the new car buying process is the test drive.

After establishing your new car budget, the test drive is arguably the second-most important step of the new vehicle buying process. You may be buying or leasing a vehicle that you will drive for three to eight years, if not even longer. So, your next car must check off all the boxes regarding your driving, passenger and cargo needs. And a proper test drive at the dealer is the only way to ensure that.

 

The ”Stationary” Test Drive

 

The first part of any test drive involves no driving at all. Whether inside the dealer showroom or out in the lot, start by evaluating the interior of the vehicle. Begin with sitting in the driver’s seat. Once you’ve adjusted the seating position to your liking, ask these questions:

  • Is there enough leg, hip, shoulder, and headroom?
  • Can you and reach the pedals, steering wheel, and other controls without having to stretch?
  • Can you tilt or telescope the wheel for a better fit?
  • Can you easily read the gauges, infotainment, and HVAC controls?
  • Can you correctly set the exterior mirrors so you can eliminate any blind spots?
  • Can you safely see outside the car, not only when in traffic but also if I need to park in tight spaces?

Evaluating the driving position is just the start. Get up and sit in the front passenger's seat and see if any issues or challenges arise. If the vehicle has back seats (or in a minivan or SUV, multiple rows of seats) sit there as well to check for the amount of comfort and space. This will not only illustrate how easy it is for you to get in and out of the vehicle, but also give you an indication of the level of comfort for any of your prospective passengers.

And don't forget your cargo needs. If you are expecting your new vehicle to be able to house a couple of hockey bags and sticks, bring the gear to the dealership. Does it all fit inside the trunk or cargo area? How high do you have to lift the bags to get them in? If you need to lower the rear seats, how easy is that operation to do? If you need to haul long objects, is there a pass-through in the trunk?

As well, make sure you go through the process of connecting your smartphone to the vehicle’s infotainment system. Most new cars come with Bluetooth connectivity as standard equipment. Also, see how easy it is to connect your phone if the car has Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

By going through the stationary part of the test drive, you may discover a fault or concern (you don’t have enough headroom; you can’t easily get in and out of the vehicle; those hockey bags don’t fit, etc.) that makes an on-road test drive a moot exercise. However, if the prospective test vehicle has stood up to your evaluation so far, it’s time to hit the road!

 

Test Driving the Car Out on the Road

Most dealers have a prescribed test drive route. But to evaluate the vehicle based on your driving needs, ask the salesperson if you can take a route that will replicate as close as possible the driving you intend to do with your new car.

If that means stop-and-go traffic, then find a route that matches that. If you plan on long commutes on the open road, then take the car for a drive on a local four-lane highway — essentially, as best as possible, try and match the road and traffic conditions that your vehicle will have to handle in the future.

Once you are on your test drive route, here’s a list of questions to properly evaluate the vehicle:

  • Does the car accelerate as quickly as you would like or expect?
  • How do the brakes feel when stopping?
  • Is the ride too firm or soft for your liking?
  • Is there too much road noise?
  • If it’s winter, how does the car handle if there are slippery road conditions?
  • Does the steering deliver a decent amount of communication as to what’s going on at the road level?
  • If the vehicle has any active driving safety aids, like blind-spot monitoring or lane departure warning, how do these features work and behave?
  • On a car with a manual transmission, is the clutch take-up light or heavy? Do the gears shift easily?
  • On a vehicle with an automatic transmission, will it allow you to shift on your own or have multiple gear modes; how does that work and behave?
  • And finally, try out the car’s interior controls, like the HVAC and infotainment systems while on the move to see how much that distracts you from driving.

 

No doubt, the proper way to take a test-drive will take longer than the typical 20-minute dealer route. But you will be more comfortable that you are getting the best-suited new vehicle possible for the long term.

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