So you found a car you’re interested in, called up the dealership, scheduled a test drive and here you are. How do you make the most of it?

First of all, line up a few test drives back-to-back on the same day. That should help you really tell the differences between the cars. Another bonus is all those back-to-back appointments give you an out if a salesperson starts to pressure you. Just tell them you have to get to another dealer.

Now, on the drive itself, think carefully about a number of factors:

  • How does the car ride? Make sure to drive over some manhole covers or patches of broken pavement to really get a sense of the suspension. Get up to highway speeds – legally – and listen carefully for wind and road noise.
  • How does the car accelerate? Does the transmission upshift smoothly, and when you press on the gas, does it downshift to lower gears without too much delay?
  • How does the car handle and brake? Take a few corners and observe the brake-pedal feel, steering feedback, body roll.

Aside from driving, make sure to check out the seating comfort and sit in every row of the car. Evaluate things like cabin quality, cargo space, visibility and how easily the seats fold down.

After a day of test-driving like this, you should really be able to see – and quantify – the differences between your choices. Car shopping isn’t always easy, and but with a level head and good notes, you can cross off the cars you don’t like, find the right one and end up confident about your decision.