Test Drives – Eric’s Auto Buying Adventure Pt 4

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Do some smart test drives before buying a new car.
Eric gets ready to test drive some potential vehicles.

Now that I am pre-approved for my auto loan and have done preliminary research on different vehicles, it’s time to get out into the field! This is “the fun part” of the whole experience, actually getting out and test driving the cars! Before I even get step foot on the first dealer lot, I already have a few vehicles in mind from browsing online at DCCU’s Auto Resource Center.

I’ve decided on my list of “must haves.” The first of those is gas mileage. Gas mileage is very crucial. Since my accident I’ve been driving my mom’s old SUV and I’m done with filling up every couple of days from being on-the-go, all the time. It’s helpful to see city and highway gas mileage spelled out right on the website to make comparing vehicles easier. I am holding out for the highest MPG vehicle I can get. These days with raised fuel economy requirements, you can get something like the Hyundai Accent that gets in the mid 20’s for city and mid 30’s for highway. That’s what I’m talking about!

The second of my biggest factors is price, of course. I’m still trying to stay within my target budget. Here again, I like where the Hyundai Accent is valued. Even the year of the vehicle is important to me. If I buy something a little older, and decide on a longer term to pay the loan off, payments will be lower but I’ll definitely end up paying more than the vehicle is worth.

The last factor that’s becoming increasingly important to me is cargo space. The Kia Rio’s roomy cargo hold appeals to me because I have golf clubs in the summer, and a snowboard in the winter and in between is a mirage of other items. And thinking ahead, if I decide not to re-sign my apartment lease next year, it would be nice to be able to move some of my larger items around when moving. But that’s a whole different story. Or blog.

Ok, now that I have narrowed down what exactly I need, let’s do this! For the actual test drive, there are many things that I need to keep in mind. For one, the smoothness of the ride, how it handles in the simplest of driving conditions is often the most important. Hopefully there’s no jarring, and no jerky movements while on the road. I like to take a test drive onto the highway or higher-speed roads if I can. I want to see if the car can get up to speed easily, and if it’s annoyingly loud when it does. At higher speeds does the engine whine? Does the whole car shake? When I’m back in town, I try to find some quiet side street or an empty parking lot to do some small-range driving tests. Here I like to simulate a Y-turn, parallel parking, and backing the vehicle straight up. This is the best way to check for blind spots, which is key for me. Better to learn these things now than to get surprised with them after I buy!

If everything checks out well for the car in terms of starting, driving, and stopping, I can then focus more on the feel, and aesthetics of the car. I’m not looking for a whole lot on this, mainly more of a common sense approach to the interior. At 6 foot, I need some legroom, for sure. And things like well-placed heat and air vents, airbag arrangement, and even cup-holder locations are some of the things that I take into account. I’ve seen some cup holders that are shoved right up against the dash, even obstructing some of the instrumentation – really?!? Even smaller things, like where the pedals are located, the adjustability of the seats. Does this car really fit me? If it doesn’t feel right during the test drive, it’s never going to feel right. I’m looking forward to looking at the interior of the Chevy Sonic. It looks great online and this car has a great safety rating.

I’ll test drive several other models too, including the Kia Forte and Hyundai Elantra Touring, just to make sure I’m not overlooking anything and to get a good feel for all my choices. I don’t feel the need to jump on the first car I drive, especially since this will be an investment that hopefully lasts several years. I’ll take my time but once I find the right vehicle, it’ll be onto the next step: Negotiation, and purchase!

Did you miss part 1, 2 or 3 of my story?

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Eric E.

Eric was an asset to DCCU until 2019, when he moved away and on to another career opportunity.