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

19. Can you see clearly now? From the driver's seat, check visibility. Do you have a clear view of the traffic around you? Are there blind spots?

20. Step on it. In stop-and-go traffic, does the vehicle keep up with other cars? How much runway does it require to merge onto an expressway or pass another vehicle at speed? Do you feel safe doing so?

21. Getting shifty. If the transmission is automatic, concentrate on the smoothness of upshifts and downshifts. If it's a manual transmission, does the gearshift move through its pattern fluidly? Do you feel comfortable with the operation of the clutch and the amount of effort it takes to depress it?

22. Steer clear. Is the steering responsive? Does the vehicle track straight when the steering wheel is held in its center position or does the vehicle wander?

23. Handle with care. Does the vehicle feel stable when cornering?

24. Tight spaces. Find an empty space on the street and parallel park the vehicle. Can you see or accurately judge where the corners of the vehicle are? Does it fit easily in a normal parking space?

25. Hit the brakes. Do the brakes stop the vehicle smoothly? If you can find a safe place, such as an empty parking lot, brake hard from about 40 miles per hour; is it a controlled, straight-line stop?

When the test-drive is complete, remember: Driving the car was not an implied agreement that you will buy it. If you are not ready to buy, there's no reason to re-enter the showroom. Ask for the salesman's card. He's invested at least an hour with you, so if you do decide to return and negotiate, it should be with him. You might even ask for his next week's schedule. Be polite, but firm. Thank him for his time, and leave. If you took our earlier advice, your car keys and driver's license are in your pocket.

For more information, watch "How to test-drive a new car"

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