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Video: Need a new car? Take it for a test spin

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    >>> is on your holiday wish list, you'll want to take a test drive and it calls for a lot more than a simple spin around the block. car reviewer and room growth.com editor in chief tara winegarten gave kristen dahlgren a checklist for test driving . take a look.

    >> there are not many things in this world that scare me. i am pet prified of going to the car dealership .

    >> you're going to walk in and take control, you're not going to let the salesperson dictate how your test drive is going to go. i know it sounds silly but getting in and out is a big deal . is it comfortable to get out? go back in. come on out. we're going to go. a test drive should be a workout. now we're inside the car. this is where you live so we are going to touch everything, open everything, see if your stuff fits. how's the cup holder ?

    >> i need to know this is no girly cup holder .

    >> that's right.

    >> got to fit my mega joe. wow, okay.

    >> the trunk is really important in a test drive , so bring all the stuff with you to the dealership and see if it fits in there.

    >> you brought me to a parking lot . the whole point of the parking lot thing is to determine how you can see in a tight space.

    >> this handles pretty well around these tight turns, so that's pretty good.

    >> how's the visibility in here, is it good?

    >> yeah, pretty good.

    >> so now we go into a quiet street. this is where we're going to test out the brakes. you're going to get the car going about 20, 25 miles an hour. you can going to slam on the brakes.

    >> they work!

    >> awesome. the last test is the highway. the point of this is go, hit the fa gas, see how it accelerates, see how you like it.

    >> you ready?

    >> i'm ready.

    >> let's go.

    >> for today, kristen dahlgren, nbc news, rolling down the highway in los angeles .

    >> she cut it out before the police sirens. tara , good morning to you.

    >> hi.

    >> so is the dealer really going to let you spend that much time with the car and kind of pick at everything like you suggest?

    >> they don't want to. they want you in and out of there in five minutes. but you know what, it's your money. you dictate how long the defendant dritest drive is going to be so i recommend a half an hour.

    >> is there a best time to take the test drive ?

    >> during the week. on the weekends the dealerships tend to be busy so you want to go during the week when they're less crowded.

    >> and sometimes you can call and make an appointment and say i'm coming in, i want to spend a half hour with x car?

    >> yes, that's really important. try to call ahead or e-mail them and ask for a half hour or longer and say this is what you're going to need.

    >> if you've got kids, should you bring them on the test drive and make a adventure out of it?

    >> not the young ones . 5 and older maybe and see how they like the car.

    >> one of your suggestions is that you should test drive at night. why do you say that?

    >> you know, all the cars have different instrumentations and illuminations and the only way you'll see that is at night, so you've got to turn on the lights and see how it looks to you.

    >> a lot of people may love the orange interior lights, other people it will bother them forever.

    >> that's right.

    >> another of your tips is check the trunk. why?

    >> you know what, a lot of the cars now are not coming with spare tires. and what it does is it reduces the cost of the car so they're able to reduce the price and make themselves more competitive. but if you don't know it's there and you're out on a highway and you get a flat, you're in big trouble .

    >> and sometimes you can get it as an option, though, right?

    >> you can get it as an option. i recommend that you do that.

    >> everyone is so wired these days, cell phones and that kind of thing. you want to make sure that this car you're thinking about buying is able to be connected to your particular phone. how do you find that out?

    >> all the phones are compatible with all the cars. what's different is how easy they are to operate. some of the car companies have more difficult telemetrics which is what it's called than others.

    >> this is a great time to buy a car, right?

    >> yeah, the model year switchout so there are certain companies bringing in the new models for 2012 . the sweet spot is between christmas and new year's.

    >> perfect time . just in time for the holidays. tara , thank

Image: Tara Weingarten
NBC News
Tara Weingarten, editor-in-chief of Vroomgirls.com takes a car for a test drive with Kristin Dahlgren.
updated 11/29/2011 11:21:12 AM ET 2011-11-29T16:21:12

Buying a car is the second most expensive purchase many of us make after buying a residence, and yet few of us take the proper amount of time at a dealership to fully evaluate a vehicle we’re considering.

Driving around the block does not constitute a test drive. How much information can you honestly glean from five minutes in the car? And yet, that is exactly what most dealerships ask you to do when trying out their vehicles. Don’t let that happen.

I say it takes at least 30 minutes to adequately size up a car. Do not let the salesperson control this transaction. You are the one spending the money, you are the one who will say when the test drive is over.
At VroomGirls.com, we suggest you test out several brands on a single day so you can evaluate them back-to-back and the comparison will be fresh. Follow these tips to fully assess a car’s attributes.

And take this checklist with you to the dealership so that you won’t forget what to look at.

1. Interior comfort: Get in and out of the car several times to see how easy it is to access the driver’s seat. Do you bump into anything? Now play with the seating controls. Get into a proper driving position. Can you easily reach the pedals and still keep a safe distance from the steering wheel? Does the steering wheel tilt and telescope in and out. Is the driver’s seat comfortable? Now sit in all the passenger seats, and ask any friends and family who came along to give their assessment of passenger comfort.

2. Storage space: Do you regularly haul a lot of stuff around? Bring sporting gear, child safety seats, golf clubs, pet carriers, strollers and even luggage with you. Now load up the trunk or cargo space. The point is to see how the things you use on a daily basis will fit. If your gear doesn’t fit, you can stop the test drive and move on to your next vehicle choice.

3. Touch everything: Though one of the reasons you may purchase a particular car is for it’s snazzy exterior looks, the truth is, you live INSIDE of the car. So touch all the surfaces. Are they appealing to look at, as well as to touch? Or does the car have so much hard plastic that it’s ugly and off-putting? Now open all the storage compartments. Is there a convenient place for your cell phone to charge? How about your sunglasses, your purse or briefcase, or coins, if you happen to travel on a toll road? Check to make sure you like the interior storage configurations.

4. Time to cruise: Here’s where the salesperson is likely to rush you. Be strong. You’re in the driver’s seat now. Take the vehicle to a nearby shopping mall. Park the car in a tight spot. Can you see all four corners of the car so that you know how close you’re getting to other vehicles? Now back out of the parking space. How are the blind spots? Do you have adequate visibility on all sides so that you don’t fear hitting a passing pedestrian? And if the vehicle has a back-up camera, check for its clarity and scope. Does it have a wide field of vision? But don’t rely solely on the camera. You still need to look both ways with your own eyes before you back out of any space. Never use a back-up camera as a crutch.

5. Scare the salesperson: Now drive to a quiet side street that has little traffic. See how well the car does a U turn. How is the turning radius? If it’s not so great, will that bother you over time? If so, stop the test drive and move on. If it’s ok, then try out the brakes. Accelerate to about 25 mph and slam hard on the brakes. Does the car stop quickly and surely? Did you feel safe in that emergency maneuver?

6. Hit the highway: Now, you’re ready to go at highway speed. Find the nearest highway onramp and get on the gas. Can you get up to freeway speed quickly? Or is the car working too hard, making too much noise, to make you feel like the vehicle will perform when you need it to. Now that you’re on the highway, punch it. Does the vehicle downshift quickly and accelerate ably? This test is meant for when you need to pass a slow-moving truck or vehicle, and you have limited time to do it, like on a double-lane highway.

7. City of lights: You still aren’t done. You’ll need to revisit the dealership at night. Get inside the car and turn on the headlights and see what the interior cabin looks like. Different car manufacturers use different colored lights. You won’t like them all. Some are overdone and confusing. Some carmakers use orange, some red, some white, and some blue. Only by seeing what the gauges look like at night will you be able to tell if you like what you see.

8. And finally: One trick some carmakers use to keep prices artificially low is to remove items that once were standard on all vehicles. I’m talking particularly about spare tires. Not only can manufacturers improve fuel economy by removing the heavy spare tire (a lighter car saves on gas) but it can also reduce the sticker price, giving their car the appearance that it’s more competitively priced. In its place, carmakers are putting in the trunk a “spare in a can.” This is a fine device should your tire only need to temporarily plug a hole should you run over a nail. But if you shred the tire and have a completely blowout, the can won’t be much help. If you travel on unpopulated and remote roads where help can’t easily reach you, you’ll want a spare tire in the trunk. While at the dealership, check to see if there is one, and if there isn’t, how much it will add to the cost of the vehicle to buy one.

Tara Weingarten is editor-in-chief of VroomGirls.com, a comprehensive automotive website for women. It features up-to-date car reviews, safe driving tips, fun features, and road trip recommendations in a jargon-free format written especially for the female car shopper.

Copyright 2012 Vroomgirls. All rights reserved.


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