2009 Winter Auto Guide
A close up of a black, white and red gear shift
25-point checklist for new-car test drive

9. Check under the hood. Ask the salesman to point out the oil dipstick and where oil is added. Is the battery easily accessible?

10. Locate the spare. Is it a full tire or a doughnut? Is it reasonably accessible? Do you think you can operate the jack?

11. Size up cargo space. Is the trunk is large enough and properly configured for any special needs you might have, such as golf clubs or a toddler's playpen?

12. Sit in every seating position. Will passengers be comfortable? Because of insurance requirements, the salesman will probably accompany you on the test-drive and even drive the vehicle off the lot. If so, take that opportunity to check out the backseat.

13. Test the in and out. Enter and exit the vehicle, ensuring that you can do so easily and without hitting your head or banging your shin.

14. Get behind the wheel. Make sure you can find a position that allows you to reach the pedals and steering wheel comfortably. Is there enough headroom? Are all of the controls within easy reach?

Behind the wheel

15. Get out and about. A test-drive restricted to motoring around the block isn't a test-drive at all. Test the car in the same environments in which you will drive it -- on the expressway, stop-and-go traffic, crowded parking lots and on hills, if available.

16. Map out a test course. If you don't know the area well, tell the salesman the types of driving you want to do and ask him where to go. If he seems unwilling to allow you the 30 minutes minimum you need for the test drive, politely ask him if there is another salesperson with more time. Remember, you are the boss!


17. Drown the sound. You listened to the audio system earlier. Now turn it off. Use the quiet to judge outside noise seeping into the passenger compartment. Unless you are spending big bucks on a luxury car, there will probably be some ambient noise, but is it excessive? Listen for wind noise around the outboard mirrors or window seals, as well as the hum of the tires. There will probably be some increase in engine noise under hard acceleration. Can you live with what you hear?

18. Smooth sailing. Concentrate on the smoothness of the ride. Does the suspension absorb minor bumps, such as railroad crossings, without drama or does it feel like a stagecoach bouncing over the Chisholm Trail?

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