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Ask a Man: Getting Behind the Wheel With Confidence

November 1, 2010

This month our Ask a Man blog is taking a detour from fashion to discuss another important matter of personal style–having the right car. Of course, finding the perfect car is not just about falling in love with the color or design, it’s also about negotiating an affordable price. Try Dustin’s tips to learn how to maneuver your way through a car inspection with confidence and drive the stylish vehicle you want home from the lot.


Do you have any advice for a woman interested in buying a car? I always feel like the people at the car dealership are trying to pull a fast one on me. What can I do about this?

-Mary, 32; Madison

Hi Mary,

This is a great question. A lot of woman seem hesitant to shop for vehicles on their own for fear of being taken advantage of.  Don’t be afraid.  As a person in a position to buy a vehicle you are literally in the driver’s seat.  My first advice is to sit down and get some kind of idea what you want in a vehicle.  Do some research! There is a wealth of information on the internet about vehicle safety ratings, blue book value, features available and so forth.  Once you have an idea of the vehicle you want get out there and “kick some tires,” go to a few dealerships and look at what they have in stock.  Get a feel for the sales staff; remember this salesman is essentially working for you. If a smarmy salesman comes over and treats you with anything other than absolute respect, leave.

Next is what I, as a salesman, consider the fun part, the test drive.  Get in, adjust the seat, get comfortable.  Can you see yourself behind the wheel of this car for five years?  That is the average length of a car note these days.  Now ask the salesman to explain to you some of the features, not because you can’t figure it out but simply because that’s what this person is paid for.  When you go on your test drive you should be looking and listening for specific things.  Does the car shift through the gears with ease? Is there any unusual engine noise specifically grinding or clunking noise?  Try the vehicle at highway speeds. I like to power brake a couple times to check the ABS (anti lock braking system).  Continue to ask questions of the salesperson, is that noise normal? What is the gas mileage at city speeds? Miles per gallon highway?  If you are at a larger dealership test drive more than one of the same vehicle or multiple mid-size sedans for comparison.  After you are satisfied by the test drive take the vehicle back to the dealership, walk around and inspect the body of the car?  Next pop the hood.

Now this part can be overwhelming for anyone but check just a few specific things.  First ask for a rag to check the fluids.  Look for a yellow topped dipstick, the yellow indicates it’s for the oil.  Pull out the dipstick wipe it off and replace it. Now pull it out and check the oil level, there should be markings on the bottom of the stick which indicate oil level- usually a hash mark of some sort.  Is it at the right level? Next look at the dipstick itself is it discolored? If it’s a used car this could indicate the previous owner didn’t follow proper maintenance.  It is a good idea to also check the transmission fluid.  Start the car and look for a red topped dipstick which indicates it’s for the transmission fluid. Same as before pull it out wipe it off and replace. Now pull it out again and see if it reaches the right hash mark. Shut off the engine, go back to the transmission dipstick and pull it out, get a little transmission fluid on your finger and smell it. Does it smell burnt?  Does it look any other color than deep red? If so it could indicate abuse by a previous owner. Obviously if you are buying new you don’t need to worry about a previous owner, but it is still good to go through these steps.  At the very least it will make you look like you know what you are doing!  And sometimes that’s all you need to get salesmen to treat you with respect and offer you the deal you deserve.


Send your questions to stylefileman@gmail.comPlease include your age and city.

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