How to go for a test drive (and not get taken for a ride)

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Most of us have a basic understanding of how a car dealership works. A consumer shows up to learn more about the vehicles that are available and determine which one is their best choice. The salesperson who has been waiting patiently for their turn to be “up,” wants to sell a car that day. There is an inherent conflict of interest between the consumer who is looking for information before making the purchase and the salesperson who wants to close the deal immediately.

What you, as the consumer, want to do is to set yourself up to get the information you need without getting stuck for hours at the dealership before you’re ready to buy.

The best way to achieve this is to prepare in advance:

  • Use the internet (and the personal guidance of your Cartelligent agent) to narrow your top choices down to two or three.
  • Have a list of features that are important to you and some specific questions in mind before you go into the dealership.  Examples include how the blind-spot monitoring works, or whether or not the control panel is easy to navigate safely while driving.
  • If you have a specific need such as a car seat or stroller that you’ll want to use in the vehicle, bring it with you to the test drive.
  • It can also be useful to bring several photocopies of your driver’s license and insurance cards (in addition to the originals). This can save you from waiting around after the test drive while the salesperson “looks for” your driver’s license.


Once you get to the dealership, you want to be firm but clear with the salesperson. You’re here for a test drive. You’re not going to make a decision today, but you are going to buy a new car in the next few months (you want your time frame to clearly indicate that no matter what they say, you won't be purchasing a car today).

Your goal is to find out if you like each car on your list, and then go home and decide which one is right for you without the pressure and sales tactics of the dealership experience. This means staying firm and not letting yourself get caught up in the sales process.

Some tactics you want to watch out for include:


The Trade In

The salesperson may ask if you’d like their team to look at your current vehicle while you’re on the test drive and let you know what it’s worth. After the test drive, they’ll try to sit you down at a desk to talk through these numbers. From this point it’s easy to turn the topic to “let me run some numbers on the car you just drove” and several hours spent at the dealership.

Your response: No, thank you. I’m just here to test drive the car today. 


The Favor

The salesperson may completely understand that you’re not here to buy today. But their manager is going to be really upset if they don’t at least show you some numbers. Would you mind letting them run payments for you? It will only take a few minutes and they will really appreciate it.

Your response: No, I'm sorry. I’m just here to test drive the car today. 


The Special Offer

It may just so happen that there’s a limited time special offer or incentive that the salesperson can only offer you if you buy today. You really don’t want to miss this one. Why don’t you just come inside and they’ll show you what a great deal you can get today.

Your response: No, thank you. I’m just here to test drive the car today. 


The Direct Ask

A more direct salesperson may just ask you outright, “What is it going to take to put you in this car today?” The implication is that they’re going to make you such an outstanding deal that it will be worth your time to at least consider the offer.

Your response: No, thank you. I’m just here to test drive the car today. 


It can be tempting to add extraneous details, fake appointments, or other excuses to your response. These just create an opportunity for the salesperson to find a chink in your armor and overcome your stated reason for leaving after the test drive. For example, if you tell the salesperson that you haven’t decided what you want to do with your current vehicle, it’s easy for them to point out that knowing the trade in value will help you make your decision. The less information you give them, the fewer openings they’ll have to pull you into the sales process.

The salesperson doesn’t expect that every single person who steps on their lot is going to turn into a sale. It is part of their job to show you the car and take you for a test drive if you’d like one. You have no reason to feel guilty or obligated to them for doing their job. Just thank them for their time and walk away after the test drive.

If you’re working with Cartelligent, call your agent and share your feedback on each of the vehicles you’ve driven. We can then get started on securing the exact vehicle you want and negotiating a below market price. Otherwise, you should weigh the pros and cons of each model on your own and decide which is the best choice for you. 


If you're in the market for a new vehicle, Cartelligent can help you get a great deal on exactly what you want. Call our team of car-buying experts at 888-427-4270 or get started today.