Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsAutomobiles

BUMPER CROP: NEW MODEL PREVIEW

Lemon or Cherry? A Road Test Will Help You Tell

October 01, 1998|DEANNA SCLAR | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Buying a new car is more than just a financial transaction, it's the start of an intimate relationship with a vehicle that can either get you there in style or drive you to despair.

We spend more money on cars than we do on anything but houses; spend more time in them than with many of our friends; and depend on them to reach our sources of food, income, education, entertainment, health and home. Yet when shopping for a new car, most of us do little more to cull the cherries from the lemons than drive around the block distracted by a nonstop sales pitch from the dealer in the passenger seat.

How can you be sure that a vehicle will perform splendidly under the driving conditions you're most likely to encounter? Or that you and your passengers will be comfortable and safe on both long trips and everyday short hops? Most of the answers lie exactly where you and the car will spend most of your time together: on the road.

Here's how to inspect and test-drive the most promising new vehicles you find.

*

Be Prepared: A test drive involves more than just taking to the streets; there are many features to evaluate. Bring along anyone who'll be driving or riding in it frequently, and stash the salesperson in the back seat where he or she will be less of a distraction. Be sure the vehicle you're testing has all the options and features you want but isn't a more expensive, souped-up model than the one you'll buy. View the car as an extension of your personality. Is this the image you want to project?

*

At the Dealership: Take a good look at the car in natural daylight; showroom lighting and nighttime floodlights can conceal a lot of flaws. Make sure the car is worth test-driving: Are the paint and chrome trim classy? Does the hood open easily? Are the coolant and wiper-fluid containers, the oil and transmission dipsticks, the oil filter and the spark plugs convenient to access? Will the trunk hold enough to suit you? Can you easily reach and remove the spare?

Unlock the door and get in. Is it easy to enter and leave all the seats? Are they comfortable? Is there plenty of headroom and legroom? How do the seat belts fit? Will the cup holders, glove box, door pouches and console provide room for all the stuff you like to have at hand? How do you feel when you sit at the wheel? You're going to spend lots of time there, and you should feel at home.

If you'll be sharing the driving with someone who differs greatly from you in height and girth, be sure the front seats, mirrors, belts and steering wheel can be readjusted easily or can "remember" more than one setting.

How's the view through the rearview and side-view mirrors? Is the right-rear window visible in the rearview mirror? If it isn't, you can run into serious trouble when you need to change lanes.

*

Turn the Key in the Ignition: Can you read the dashboard instruments effortlessly and access the controls for the wipers, lights, air conditioning, heater and sound system without taking your eyes from the road? Insert your favorite CD or cassette in the sound system. Do you like what you hear? Check out the interior lights.

*

Drive Down a Quiet Street or Alley: Can you reach and operate the pedals and gearshift easily? Is the steering responsive at slow speeds? If the car has a manual transmission, do the clutch and gearshift work smoothly or do they feel awkward? When the road behind you is clear, alert everyone to check his or her seat belt and then hit the brakes. Do they take too long to stop or stop too short? If there's an anti-lock braking system, how does it feel to you?

*

Try Stop-and-Go Traffic: Does the car accelerate easily from a full stop at a light? How's the turning circle on U-turns and three-point turns? Can you parallel-park effortlessly in a small space? How is the handling and visibility for curbside parking?

*

Head for the Highway: Can you accelerate swiftly when you enter the freeway or want to pass? Is shifting smooth at higher speeds? Check the engine, wind and road noise levels with the windows and the sunroof open as well as closed. Are the windows, sunroof or convertible top easy to operate without distracting you from the road?

*

Take to the Hills: Does the car sail right up or struggle? Can you accelerate easily to pass? Can you drive over unpaved roads, speed bumps or railroad tracks at a decent speed and keep your teeth?

*

Sample the Night Life: Test-drive the car you like best again after dark to be sure the visibility is good with headlights, brights and backup lights before you buy. You're going to be together for a long, long time!

Highway 1 contributor Deanna Sclar is the Los Angeles-based author of "Auto Repair for Dummies" and "Buying a Car for Dummies," both forthcoming from IDG Books.

* TEST-DRIVE CHECKLIST: Deanna Sclar has compiled a checklist of features to evaluate during a test drive. You can find it on Highway 1's Web site: http://www.latimes.com /highway1.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|