Interested in buying a car? Of course, we all know it can be a hard process, between getting a loan, doing your research, shopping around and negotiating. Possibly the most important part of the car-buying process, though, and often one of the most overlooked, is test-driving. So, we have a few tips about where to go and what to do when you're on a test drive.

Don't Follow the Usual Route

When you take a test drive with a dealership salesperson, it's likely that the route won't be very long. This isn't because the salesperson is trying to keep you from spending time with the car; instead, it's usually because most customers simply don't request anything longer.

We strongly advise you not to be one of those customers. Nearly any salesperson will allow a longer test drive, if a shopper requests it, especially if they're serious about making a sale. In fact, we probably wouldn't buy a car from a salesperson who didn't allow us to spend as much time behind the wheel as we needed in order to feel comfortable.

Drive on Rough Roads

One of the most important places to go on a test drive is on rough roads. There are two reasons for this. One is obvious: You'll know how a car drives on harsh surfaces. It would be no fun to drive home in a new car and discover later that the ride is too jarring for you to handle, which would be a problem that you'd only recognize more as you spent more time with the car.

The other reason that rough roads are an important place to go test-driving is that harsh surfaces will help you hear any issues with the suspension. When you're on a rough road, we suggest turning down the stereo volume and listening for noises. A sound that's out of place could mean that the car has suspension issues that need to be fixed.

Parallel Parking

Many shoppers on a test drive forget a crucial aspect of driving that can be very stressful: parallel parking. That's why we strongly suggest that you take any vehicle to a parking space, even if there aren't any other cars nearby, and attempt to parallel park. If you do, you might discover potential flaws with the car, such as poor visibility. Of course, you also might find out that the car is easy to park, which can only be a good thing.

Drive on a Highway

Most dealership salespeople make sure that getting on the highway is part of a test drive. In case they don't, we strongly suggest that you head for the nearest highway and drive there for at least a few minutes. The reason: Cars sometimes behave a lot differently at high speeds than they do on city streets. You might hear wind noise you don't like, for instance, or you might hear more noise from the tires than you want. Those are things that you won't find out unless you take the car on the highway.

Drive on Curvy Roads

After you've driven on a rough road and on the highway, your next stop should be a road with some curves. You'll want to do this in order to feel the physics of the car. Is it too top-heavy? Do its motions make you carsick? And, of course, do you feel like the steering and handling is adequate for your needs? A curvy road is the best place to answer each of those questions.

Try Your Garage?

If you have a small garage or parking space, this one might be a no-brainer, but we felt like reminding you anyway. Before signing the papers on any new or used car, take it to your garage just to make sure that it fits. The last thing you'll want to do is drive home in your new car only to discover that you can't park it in your designated space.

Don't Be Shy

Our most important test-driving advice for shoppers interested in buying a car is simple: Don't be shy about asking for a longer test drive in order to reach the places we've mentioned. After all, it's likely that you'll own your next car for years to come, and that means you'll want to spend more than a few minutes behind the wheel before you sign the papers and drive it home.

author photo

Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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