For car enthusiasts—and also just to consumers who are careful with their money—it’s a given that you must do a test drive before purchasing a vehicle. In fact, to scope out the options and make a wise decision, it’s a good idea to get behind the wheel of several competing car models. Nonetheless, more than 1 in 10 new-car buyers agree to spend tens of thousands of dollars on vehicles that they’ve never taken on the road.
Citing a new survey from Maritz Research, the Detroit Free Press reports that roughly 11.4% of consumers who purchased 2012 models didn’t bother to take the vehicle out for a spin before closing the deal.
To many, the test drive isn’t just smart, it’s essential, so skipping the step is crazy:
“I just find it quite fascinating and a little baffling,” said Chris Travell, vice president of strategic consulting for Maritz Research, which conducted the survey. “As cliché as perhaps it sounds, there’s that new-car smell that needs to be experienced firsthand and cannot be experienced over the Internet.”
Speaking of the Internet, it’s the piles of research and reviews available via the worldwide web that some are using as substitutions for the old-fashioned test drive. Some buyers may also have experience driving older versions of the model they’re purchasing, and assume that the new model will drive pretty much the same.
Then there are the consumers who hate car sales employees and the car-buying experience so much that they’ll do anything—even skip a test drive—to make the transaction proceed more quickly. When the Detroit Free Press inquired why one consumer didn’t bother with a test drive when he bought a new Honda Fit a few years ago, his answer got right to the point: “Honestly, I hate dealing with car salesmen.”
Wow. When you’re willing to accept making a potentially bad choice on such a big-ticket item all to cut down on small talk with a smarmy sales staffer, that’s a lot of hate. It certainly provides more fodder for the argument that the car purchase is one of the most painful shopping experiences of all—one that might have to change to meet the desires of younger consumers.
Last fall, the New York Times took note of data from LeaseTrader.com indicating a sharp rise in the number of consumers agreeing to take over a car lease in a transfer without every driving the vehicle. Then too, an auto industry consultant noted that many buyers were skipping the test drive at least partly because they hate car dealerships so much:
“A lot of people are leery of the face-to-face interaction with the dealer’s sales staff, so not taking a test drive allows them to avoid all the manipulation and game-playing.”
Buying is obviously a longer-term commitment than a lease, however, and experts and everyday consumers alike attest to the fact that a test drive will help drivers make smart decisions, if for no other reason than eliminating the unknown. According to Maritz’s survey, 80% of new-car buyers said the test drive was “very” or “somewhat” influential in their choice of purchase.
Nonetheless, an apparently growing number of drivers are buying with a test drive—perhaps because they’re already familiar with the car, perhaps because they trust car reviewers better than themselves, perhaps because they assume all cars on the market today are decent enough, perhaps because they just don’t care much about how a car drives, and/or perhaps because they just really, really hate car dealerships and car salesmen and want to minimize their dealings with them.
It appears as if Canadians hate dealerships and sales staffers even more than Americans do: 26% of our northerly neighbors say they purchased a new car without test driving the model in question.