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Fighting Chance

Test Driving 101

(The Fine Art Of

Shopping Without Buying)

©2011 Fighting Chance® & James Bragg

Would you buy a horse without riding it first? Of course not. You shouldn't buy or lease a new vehicle without driving it first, either. But each week I talk to several people who approach the test-driving process with dread because they'll have to deal with car salesmen. (One person cried, "They'll be on me like red ants on a spilled snow cone!")

Not to worry. That won't happen to you.

This little Test Driving 101 tutorial will teach you the anxiety-free way to navigate this necessary phase of your shopping process. If you follow this advice, you'll get all the information you need to make the right choice without being pressured into a premature price negotiation. And you'll be in total control of the process from the moment you arrive at each dealership. (Incidentally, there's no charge for this visit to your friendly Internet car-shopping shrink.)

If you like what you read here and decide get the Fighting Chance information package to help you negotiate the price of your new vehicle like an expert, I’d love to have you as a customer. But I'm pleased to help eliminate "test-drive anxiety" here for everyone who wants to conquer that silly fear. You're not chickens; you're eagles in disguise, and yes, you can learn to fly.


James Bragg


When you walk into a car store, you become some salesperson's "up." It's like a taxi stand, but without the physical waiting line. Each salesperson's name is on an unwritten list, and the one at the top who's "up" gets the next available prospect — you.

When you're there to test drive, there's a mile-wide gulf between their objective and yours: They're there to collect revenue; you're there to collect information. They're in the NOW business, you're in the NOT NOW business, and they want their business to be your business. They know that if they don't sell you a car on that visit, they'll probably never see you again.

They're playing a home game, on their field, and you're the visitor, playing an away game.

But touché! You've got a better game plan.

  • When you walk in and say, "I'm here to test drive a Honda Accord EX," the salesperson is likely to say, "This is your lucky day, we're having a big sale. If I got you the right price, would you buy the car today?"

  • To which you will respond, simply and directly, "No. I am considering a few other cars, all of which I am going to test drive before making my choice. I have an appointment to test one in an hour and a half, and I am going to keep that appointment. If I decide to buy an Accord, I'd be glad to give your dealership a shot at selling me one." (The other cars on your real or fictional list are none of their business.)

  • Then, at the end of the test drive, when the salesperson says, "Let's take a quick look at some numbers," you'll reply (firmly), "I appreciate the time you've spent today, but I don't want to waste my time or yours. And we'd be doing that to both of us if we looked at numbers on a car I haven't decided to buy. If I choose the Accord, I'll be contacting you for a price proposal."

    If you follow this game plan at every car store you visit for a test drive, even the final one, you will get a straightforward test drive without getting pressured into a price negotiation.


    Once you’ve decided which make(s) and model(s) you want to test, visit the automakers’ web sites, most of which have “Dealer Locators” listing names, addresses and phone numbers. You’ll enter your zip code and get info on the nearest dealer or two. (Newspapers also typically print dealer information in their automotive sections.) If you’re considering a make with a smaller number of dealers, you may have to move your location around to get dealers’ names over a wider geographic area.

    Don’t call ahead to set test-drive appointments; that smacks too much of a “Getting to know you, getting to know all about you” commitment. (You’re not sick. This is a test drive, not a doctor visit.) Just choose the stores you'll visit, grab a pen and a pad to take detailed notes, leave your checkbook and credit cards at home and jump in your car.


    When you tell the salesperson why you’re there, you’ll probably be asked for your driver license. That’s a pretty standard, reasonable request, something required by the dealership’s insurance company. They’ll make a copy, but you should remind them that federal law forbids them from requesting a copy of your credit report without your permission, and you are not giving them that. If they say they must check your credit to give you a test drive, say “Thank you for giving me a solid reason not to buy a car here” and walk out.

    Be sure to test cars equipped close to the way you’d want them. Don’t drive an automatic transmission if you want a stick shift. A coupe if you want a sedan. A 4-cylinder engine if you want 6-cylinders. (Test both a 4 and a 6 if you’re unsure.) And make those test drives long enough to put the cars through the paces you’ll require of them every day. If much of your driving is at highway speeds, get out on the Interstate.

    During the drive, ask the salesperson any questions you’ve got — about warranties and the cost of scheduled maintenance or about how to work all the bells and whistles on the dashboard. But avoid showing any enthusiasm. Salespeople are trained to make the purchase process as emotional as possible, believing that if they can get you excited about that car, they can sell it to you before you leave for your next test drive.

    You should project total emotional detachment. In the showroom, on the lot, during the drive your behavior should say, “A car is an appliance that gets me from Point A to Point B. Lots of cars will do that, including many I haven’t tested yet.” Act undecided, uncommitted, even a little wishy-washy. If you comment on something you like, also find something you don’t like.

    Heavy breathing in car stores only leads to heavy payments. It’s OK to fall in love with a car. Just don’t show it. And don’t put your left brain to sleep.


    After the test drive, ask the salesperson for some literature on the model — ideally the 4-color brochure. Thank him or her for their time, take their business card, and tell them you’ll be sure to contact them if you decide to buy or lease a vehicle they sell.

    Then take a few minutes to walk around their new-vehicle inventory to check out colors (which can look different in person than in a brochure) and study a few manufacturer’s window stickers on the model(s) you’re considering. Have a small pad, and write down the key information: model number and the suggested retail prices (MSRPs) of the base vehicle, plus the contents and prices of the optional equipment packages and other accessories, plus the destination charge. Automakers ship vehicles in different configurations to different regions, and in taking time to do this, you’ll learn how they’re put together in your market.


    If you're having difficulty choosing a favorite, here's an idea that beats flipping a coin: Consider renting each finalist for a day or so on weekends, as a way to learn more than you can in those brief test drives. This will set you back a few dollars, but the rental cost pales in comparison to the $25,000 mistake of buying the wrong car.

    You may have to make several calls to find what you want, but most popular domestic and import models can be rented. In fact, many new-car dealers rent cars by the day.

    That’s Test Driving 101 – The Fine Art Of Shopping Without Buying It’s your game plan for getting all the information you need to make the right choice without getting pressured into a premature price negotiation.

    For Fighting Chance customers, test driving is the last car store visit they make before going to sign the papers and pick up their vehicle from the dealer who offers the best price. The Fighting Chance information package contains everything you need to negotiate the price through a competitive bidding process, without walking into a car store. There are seven pages of instructions on what to do and when to do it, what to say to dealers and when to say it, each step of the way. Including a sample message you’d send dealers requesting price proposals.

    If you like what you’ve read about test driving, why not have the folks who wrote it help you navigate through your next new-car negotiation like a pro?

    James Bragg

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