The average age of cars on the road is 10 years. Most prefer to start off their life long journey with an old car and then graduate to a new one when the financial situation permits.
With this in mind, how old do you have to be to test drive a car?
To test drive a car, the only pre-requisite is to hold a license and the minimum age requirement for obtaining one is 18 in most states.
While I should be able to test drive a vehicle at 16 years of age, not all dealerships would allow me to take it out by myself.
Hence, it is better to have an adult accompanying me to the dealer when test driving a car.
The above rings true with a new vehicle, but for old cars, dealers usually allow me to test drive it as long as I have a license.
That said, it again depends on the dealer and the car. A dealer most probably would not allow me to test drive a fast car or one that has been souped up.
When it comes to new cars, dealerships do not allow teenagers to test drive a vehicle even with a license.
The closer you get to test-driving is in the passenger seat while the salesman or your parent drives it.
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Am I Old Enough To Test Drive A Car?
Be it a used or a new, the foremost thing before buying is to test drive the car. Test driving lets me understand the car and get a feel for it.
I would also want to see how the car handles when driven in certain circumstances, apart from a smooth road.
And most importantly, I need to be comfortable when driving the vehicle and also like it.
I certainly do not want to drive a car that does not sync with me or simply does not meet my needs.
After test driving a few cars, I am sure I will get an idea about the one that is right for me.
Skip that process, and you will end up with a vehicle that least suits you and may not even be the one for you.
Now that you have decided to test drive a car, ensure that you have a license handy.
Most states have the minimum age limit for a full license is 18 with a restricted license at 16 and a learner’s permit at age 14. Then again, not all states follow this.
The above statement is true for Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Georgia, and a few more states.
But states like Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, etc., have the minimum age limit at 16 for a full license.
Then again, some states have 17 to be the age limit for a full license or even 16 years and 6 months. The same goes for learner’s permits and restricted licenses.
Then again, while I am eligible to drive with a license, my dealer might not yet trust, not when I am so young.
I’d have to fulfill the age requirements set by the dealership too. Unless I meet both these terms, I cannot test drive a used car, let alone a new one.
What If I Am A Teenager And I Want To Test Drive?
I have no hope of test driving a car unless the dealership allows me to. And, if you are a teenager, most probably they are going to reject the idea.
Most dealers prefer their clients to be at least 18 years or above to test drive since they are thought to be adults at this point.
The best way to circumvent this is to get an adult to accompany you, preferably your parents or guardians.
Despite the above, whether I get to drive the car or not is the dealer’s discretion.
Few dealers would allow you to drive one, under your parent’s supervision since your parents would be there to guide or pull you to safety if need be.
If you are really looking to buy a car and want to test drive one, it is up to you to convince the salesman.
Do your homework and gather details of the vehicle even before you head to the dealership.
Also, instead of asking to test drive right off the bat, get the attention of the salesman. Enquire about the car and build a rapport with him.
The reason for the above rules is insurance. Test drives are usually accompanied by a waiver stating their right to collect damage costs from the driver.
Any disclaimers signed by a teenager under 16 years are not valid. It has to be signed by an adult above 18 years of age.
Get The Most Out Of A Test Drive
Buy a car is a big decision for most of us, especially teenagers shopping for their first car.
Test driving is how you decide if it is suitable for your needs. When you arrive at the dealership, make sure you ask to test drive a car you are looking to buy.
Here are a few pointers to check before you test drive your vehicle:
- Test drive the vehicle you are looking to buy: Call the dealer ahead of time and let him know the version you are looking to test drive. Not any generic model but just the one. Don’t let his sales pitch talk you out of this.
- Educate yourself: Research the model and the kind you want to buy. Make a list and keep yourself open to options. Narrow it down to a few models depending on the budget and features.
- Copy of your license: Your dealer would require a photocopy of your license before you test drive. Though they have a photocopier, make sure you bring in your license-copy.
And get the license copy back after the drive. Fraudulent dealerships can use your license copy for counterfeit applications.
- Take your time and choose your route: Test drives can take up to an hour or more. Make the best use of your time.
Do not hurry up the process. Test the car in various routes, freeways, highways, bumpy roads, and also in traffic. Take it in its paces and make sure it responds the way it should.
- Comfortable or just adequate: How comfortable is the car? There is no point in spending money on one that is neither convenient nor satisfying.
Make sure to check the driver’s seat. Are you able to adjust it without much difficulty?
Make sure the mirror and the dash are easy to reach. Try the visors and the glove box to check if they open and close smoothly.
- How spacious is it? Make sure the car is spacious. You should be able to get in and out without cramping your body or hitting your head. How vast is the storage? Can you fit all your necessities?
- Understand the car: Do you comprehend the gauges and the displays in the dash? What about the navigation system, audio, and Bluetooth?
Make sure you get the salesperson to explain it for you and also check out the stuff for yourself.
- Inspect the car: Walk around the car and make a note of anything that’s out of place, especially if it is a used car. Dents, rust, and scratches also play a part in fixing the price.
- Bring in an adult: Finally, make sure to bring in a friend or an adult who knows about cars if you are a teenager.
The salesman works for his commission, and his aim is to sell you a car no matter what. An adult would know what to look for and also see past the sales pitch.
What To Look For In A Test Drive?
Don’t let anyone take advantage of your age and pull you into something that you are not ready for.
So, when you go for a test drive trust your instincts and don’t let their sales pitch distract you.
Test driving the car is all about feeling the car when you drive. The smoothness of the drive, the gentle lull of the engine, the steering in your grasp, and the brakes under your feet.
These are the things that tell you if you are in sync with the car and if anything is wrong:
- Steering: The steering should move freely to your needs without any vibration. Heavy steering can be cumbersome on city roads, whereas light steering can make it challenging to control the car.
- Brakes: Your brakes should give you the confidence to take the car out on the highways. How fast does the brake engage?
It should stop quickly but smoothly. Make sure to note how the brakes feel under you.
- Transmission: Manual or automatic; What’s your preference? For a first time owner, automatic works better.
Keep an eye on how the gears respond uphill and downhill, and if it shifts smoothly. In the case of manual gear, can you shift the gears without crunching?
- Suspension: How smoothly does your car perform in bumpy roads? You should barely feel the bumps. Also, keep an ear out for rattling sounds from the suspension.
- Maneuverability: How easy is it to move your car in traffic? Does it handle rapid shifting and lane changing quite well?
This gives you an idea of how it handles acceleration. Make sure to park in tight spaces and also parallel park if possible.
- Engine: Be sure to check the engine, before you start and at the end of the drive. It should be cold to touch at the start.
Keep an eye out for smokes when you are out driving. You should not hear engine noises either.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Can I Test Drive A Car With My Kids?
Yes! You can test drive a car with your kids. But I’d suggest not to do so on the first time around.
Use the initial ride to weed out the undesirables. Take your family the second time around complete with car seats and booster seats if required.
You may get a completely different reception from the kids depending on their comfort.
Q2. Who Pays For The Damages Caused During A Test Drive?
If you are the cause of the accident when test driving a car, your insurance would kick in and pay, since, in insurance terms, you would be driving a rental.
But, if the other party is negligent, his insurance would compensate.
In case the car is the cause of the accident, the dealership would have to pay for your injuries, and the other parties via his insurance thought they would try to pin it on you and your driving.
Remember to check your insurance before test driving. Verify if your insurance policy covers the accidents that happen when driving a rental.
Q3. How Old Do I Have To Be To Rent A car?
You have to be 21 years old to be able to rent a car in the US. Most rental companies prefer their renters to be at least 25 years.
Though they allow anyone above 21 years of age to rent, they charge youngsters, 21 – 24 year-olds a Young Renter Fee. Very few rentals allow 18-year-olds, but they will be charged a fee.
Car rental companies like Avis, Budget, Alamo, National, etc., charge their teenage customers a surcharge from a minimum of $41 per day.
A meticulous is vital before purchasing your car. It gives you a sense of the car, and how comfortable you are in it.
And if it’s a second-hand car, test drive becomes even more important.
The minimum age requirement to test drive is 18 or whatever age you obtain your full license.
In most states, it is 18, and in some others, it is 17 or even 16. It also depends on the dealerships.
The reason being, the waiver dealers ask you to sign before a test drive. Any signature by a minor is invalid.
To get around this, you can get an adult to accompany you to the dealership.
Even then, it is up to the dealership to let you drive. In this case, the adult can test drive it for you.