Make sure it fits in your garage and that the wireless charger isn't useless. Seriously.
We review the majority of new cars on the road but, as you'll see, it's impossible to cover every aspect of a car for everyone. Frankly, there's stuff that's easy to overlook when the excitement of buying a new car takes over, and it's the small things that can be frustrating based on anything from the size of a family to the size of your phone. Whether it's the added cost of having to buy some new charging leads that are compatible with your car to spending years fiddling with annoying ventilation controls, the last thing you want to be left with is a case of buyer's remorse after such an expensive purchase. These are just some things we take a moment to consider and investigate on a test drive before signing anything.
Wireless phone charging is something very few automakers are getting right. It's supposed to make charging your phone something you don't need to think about by eliminating the need for leads. However, having a wireless charger in your car that allows the phone to slide around the moment you take a left turn in busy traffic becomes useless. Even worse are wireless chargers that your phone won't fit in if it has a case on and you're prone to dropping expensive technology.
The experience with wireless charging is something that often varies based on a phone's dimensions and how the automaker has worked it into the design, so go ahead and drop your phone in the charger while you're on a test drive.
This one is filed under "Basic But Important." Around 15 percent of new cars come with a repair kit, while over 50% come with a temporary spare that's designed to be small, light, and because it's often not air-filled and thin, it's just to get you home over a short distance. It's not just specialist sports cars that can come with nothing but a temporary repair kit in order to save weight - we've seen it on sporty coupes and suffered the indignity of having to call a tow truck due to a flat tire. Our example revealed a portable air compressor in the trunk but a big enough hole in the tire to make that useless. There's also the issue of using emergency repair tire foam/sealant. In a pinch with nothing else available, you have to do what you have to do, but it's far from ideal, and they often come with expiration dates.
It's important to ask yourself who is driving the car and what distances are covered. For example, if you travel long distances, do you really want a temporary repair kit? If your teenage kid uses the car to get to college and back, would you rather they put on a temporary spare or fill the existing tire with foam in the parking lot before driving home?
This is one of those things that boils down to individual body type and size. If you're buying a car with adjustable lumbar support, you should try it out - even if you don't think you'll use it. We all grow older, and it can make a huge difference on longer drives. The key is where on your back the lumbar support is in terms of height. This reviewer, for example, is six-foot-one, and often the lumbar support comes too low in a seat. It's easy to forget to check on a test drive, and if you have a partner who regularly drives or uses the passenger seat, they should check as well.
Here's a fact a couple of automakers overlook - regularly used physical buttons and knobs are less distracting to use than a touchscreen because you build muscle memory for their location and use. If you drive the car at different times of the day, deal with heavily variable weather, and change things a lot, you'll appreciate physical buttons. If you're someone that sets the "Auto" function then only ever adjusts the temperature incrementally, then having the controls in a touchscreen system isn't the end of the world.
Another thing some people will want to consider is the positioning of the volume knob and track-changing functions. If you have a passenger who likes to control the entertainment on a drive, that can be a consideration.
The first thing to check, if you have kids or ferry people around a lot in the back, is if there are USB power points in the back. The second is to see what they are, as some automakers (looking at you, Volkswagen and Volvo) are only putting the newer USB-C ports into their cars. We wouldn't base a buying decision on this by a long shot, but if you have to buy the whole family a new set of charging leads, then it's best to know before taking delivery of the new car.
Whether the new vehicle will fit in the garage is another one that sounds like a no-brainer, but it's not uncommon for someone to buy a truck and then realize it just won't fit in the garage. It's not just trucks, though. Cars, crossovers, SUVs, and trucks have gotten bigger while the garage on the side of your house hasn't. It's not just a single garage issue, though. If you've been squeezing a mid-size crossover into a double garage next to a sedan for years, then decide to bring home a new Cadillac Escalade for the expanding family; well, something is going to have to give.
For a lot of people, they're just happy if their favorite playlist has speakers to come out of. If you enjoy music, though, having a good listen is worth some time - particularly if you're going for an upgraded system. The two things to consider is that not all sound systems are equal, even if they have a fancy badge from an audio company you recognize. Cars are a demanding place for sound for many reasons, including sound reflecting from glass and road noise. We're not suggesting you have to turn full audiophile and listen to a massive playlist full of music you don't necessarily like. Still, we do suggest spending some time listening and playing a selection of your favorite tracks while the car is moving. Around 20 minutes should give you a good enough impression of whether you can live with how it sounds or if it blows you away and you can hear detail in songs you've never heard before.