Let's Try This Out

By: Anthony Fongaro

For the most part, when consumers make a major purchase, they’ll try it out first. Are you thinking about buying or renting a new place to live? You’ll first look at the images online and go there in person. At the house, you’ll check out the layout in person, see what the state of the landscaping is, and make sure this is the house for you. Are the appliances or other aspects of this potential buy outdated and you’ll have to spend thousands to renovate it. That could be a major deal-breaker. You’ll also check out all the rooms in the house, including the garage. One or a few things you’ll bring with you to this house is a car. 

Cars are one of the biggest purchases that people make. Traditionally, there’s been a process of buying a new or used car similar to purchasing a house. You find what you want, go to the dealership, spend many hours of your life with a sales consultant, and decide if you’ll take the car or walk away. There are always fundamental flaws with the buying process of a vehicle: not having information, not trying all the features, and the entire test-driving shenanigans. On a series I’m doing for Cheers and Gears, I take a look at vehicles at face-value and see how they perform on regular roads. How should you look at a vehicle before buying it? 

Before I begin, I want to talk about businesses such as Carvana that let you buy a car and if you don’t like it after a few days, you can return it. Good in theory, annoying in the process. The reason I say that is because you already have to purchase the car before trying it out. The problem with this is that you may be looking at a used car, and no two used cars are the same. Similar to this, there are some cars you need to buy before testing, such as high-performance cars. Although this makes sense so people don’t just joyride a Honda Civic Type-R, make sure you know what you’re getting into. Now that I said my piece on that, let’s actually take a look at the buying process and what you should do when looking at the car at a dealership. 

First and foremost, look at the car! Pictures never do justice. Automotive reports such as CarFax and Autocheck only go so far about damage to a vehicle and seeing a car in person reveals all the scratches and dents. If the car is far away, I understand the animosity of this and if the vehicle is too far, it may not be worth it. Yes, if you have the funds, you can fly to the vehicle if it’s absolutely the car you want. If the car is 10-30 miles away? Go for a little drive to where it is. Of course, phone the dealership first to make sure the car is there. You don’t want to have driven over an hour just to find out the car that you want has already been sold. If you can bring a companion or even better, someone that knows about cars or mechanical components, bring them around and buy them lunch for helping you out.

When you look at the car, new or used, you have to be thorough and make sure you have the people that will be using the car. It may seem annoying to the sales consultant, but bring your significant other and kids if need be. As the car is stationary, ask as many questions as possible. Have the drivers sit in every seat and anyone else not going to drive try out all the other seats. Looking at the interior of the car, make sure there’s enough space for passengers and items in the trunk. Sometimes, a car’s appearance can mask a larger or smaller feeling interior. 

Infotainment and climate controls have become quite high-tech. Sometimes, you’ll find screens that have replaced traditional dials. Looking at these, see how easy it is to use the features you would normally use. For me, it’s connecting a car to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto if the car has it or Bluetooth, see how I can adjust the climate control while the car is stationary, and try out the heated and/or ventilated seats. All of this is more important when we get to the driving portion. Seats and the steering wheel are what you’ll use the most, so part of the importance of these is adjustments that will give you the ideal driving position.

Ok, I shouldn’t have to say this: Always test-drive a car! The biggest problem with actual test-driving a car is this: “just go right here”. This is the most annoying thing about testing a car! Seriously, how can you know the car is for you if you can only drive it for the equivalent of a block or two? What do you get out of that? Dealerships should give more extended test-drives, especially if there is an area where you can drive quicker. Going right four or five times around 40 MPH does nothing but proves that there is a drivetrain. My recommendation if you’re able to: test a car in the rain or snow. If a car is terrible in bad conditions, wouldn’t you want to know that before you have to use it in those conditions? If you can,  still ask if an extended test-drive is possible either before the initial test or after.

Finally, when you test-drive the car, use every gadget you would normally use. If the climate control or infotainment is difficult to use, there may be a learning curve. Steering wheel controls and voice-commands can supplement these functions. How relaxing is the car and how safe it is? Try out the safety features you look forward to using. If a sales consultant won’t budge on trying the vehicle on a road with traffic, you might not be able to try out a blind-spot monitoring system or adaptive cruise control. Most people will never put their car into “sports mode”, so if the salesman has you try it, have fun with it but remember it may never be activated. Stop-start systems save fuel but if the car feels jerky when it comes to a stop, find out if you can de-activate it. At the end of the day, you want to be comfortable with everything in the car. 

Testing out a car can be difficult. Pushy sales consultants, technological overload, and short test-drives can be the difference a purchase and just walking out. Make sure you get every question answered and can try out the car as long as you can. Extended test-drives are usually the best option if available. This is a major purchase and having buyer’s remorse isn’t fun. Now go out there and let Anthony on Autos help you find the car of your dreams!


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