Don’t get me wrong, I do it. But I do it because I love trying out different cars and driving as much as I can. However, in terms of assessing the car thoroughly it is as valuable as reading the specs sheet.
Well, unless you are buying a sports car, you will want to know a few things. For example, it is very important to know how easy it is to park in reverse, or parallel; or how comfortable it is on a long trip after you’ve sat in it for hours; or how intrusive the engine sound is after a while on higher revs while travelling at motorway speeds; or how easy it is to load it up and how easy (or possible) it is for you to get your bulky suitcase/baby stroller/guitar amp… into the boot; or how many spots there are which are difficult to access and clean for you, while your baby manages to hit them with food unmistakably… There are so many of these that there is no way you will ever be able to remember them all.
But, most importantly, there is absolutely no way you can check vast majority of these in those five or ten minutes that you get to spend behind the wheel when testing a car. Add to this the fact that you will have an awkward sales person sitting at the front and handing you his or her sales pitch all the time and that you will probably be driving on less than familiar roads and the test drive is suddenly far from conclusive.
There are so many things that we do without knowing it and we will only notice that we miss them after a week of use when, for example, the rain stops falling and we finally roll the window down in order to put the elbow out only to learn that that damn B pillar is where you want your elbow to be.
I remember LOVING the first S-Class Mercedes I tried. It was amazing to drive, fast despite its size, packed with luxury and absolutely fantastic in every sense. And then I tried to drive out of my house whose garden fence limits street visibility greatly. There was absolutely no way of getting a glimpse of the street without letting the huge hood enter the road clinging to luck and hope that the oncoming traffic would be far enough. If I had lived at her place, it would have been practically impossible to own the S-Class. There is no test drive to prepare you for that.
OK, but what if you are buying a sports car?
You will surely want a test drive in that one. You will want to know how it handles, how easy it is to control its over/understeer, at what speed and force it loses traction, at which point electronic aides jump to assistance, how the gearbox works in extreme conditions, how well its aero kit does its job at high speeds… That’s all true. But do you think there will ever be a car seller which will allow you to drive the car so aggressively to be able to test these things before you actually pay for the car? No way you’ll ever find one.
So, you shouldn’t test drive it?
You can, especially if you like doing that. Also, it might happen that you immediately encounter a thing that is a put off. The point is that if you like a particular car during a test drive, this is by no means an assurance that you will like it after you’ve owned it for a month.