Buying a new car? Don’t bother with a test drive!

For the vast majority of people buying a new car is a significant purchase with a certain amount of ritual involved. Setting aside car collectors and people purchasing a lifestyle accessory for many of us it matters that the car caters for our needs rather than wants and, for this reason we feel the need to test-drive a car. But why?

Let’s be clear; a test drive is pretty much always a complete and utter waste of time!

Typically the process starts with a little investigation, aided nowadays by the internet. But that was not always the case so a trip to a local dealership to look at the cars, grab some brochures and talk to knowledgeable people. All of which we can now achieve, and more, from the comfort of our own home, or the desk at work. Today we are armed with more knowledge and can do much greater levels of research in advance of the ritual.

Setting aside commercial vehicles and lifestyle purchases; the majority of new cars sold are from commercial dealers. Ritual dictates that, having shortlisted a number of vehicles the prospective purchaser arrives at the dealership, on a dry and sunny day, full of enthusiasm to drive the new car.

The car is very well presented and parked in the perfect location for an easy getaway with plenty of room all round. The salesman will ask specific questions, not at all to find out what you want but to reinforce the positives of his product. If it has a small boot he won’t be asking if you have much luggage. However, a car with a large boot he will ask about your last holiday with a tilt at luggage but fundamentally to get you into a happy mental state following your idyllic two weeks in the Med. The car sales person is not trying to help at all in these pre-test drive questions. The entire process is to reinforce the good bits, get you in a happy state of mind and build the anticipation of the all-exciting test drive!

The route selected has some billiard-table smooth roads along some wide avenues and sweeping bends. All very idyllic. The conversation will hark back to earlier comments and only focus on the bits he wants you to hear, not at all what you need from the car. In short, the test drive is a waste of time and the conversation equally so.

If a test drive is mandatory for the purchase, then pick a day when it is wet and humid. Make sure the car is wedged into the smallest parking space possible and go from there. Stepping into the car soaked from the rain will test the demister and heater to equal measure. Trying to squeeze in through the door will show its own practicalities, or not. Backing out of said bay will show how easy it is and then pick the tightest roads, worst road surface and, if you can, a series of pot-holes, width restrictions, road humps and vicious kerbs. All before stopping mid High Street to get an over-filled cup of coffee and test out all the cup holders en-route back. This is real world driving and not the carefully thought out and engineered test drive the sales person has set out for you. If you want to know what a car is like to drive; drive it in the worst possible roads, in the worst possible weather and don’t listen to the sales person.

If you must test drive, then even this approach is not enough. To test drive a car you need to have it for two days and go on a long road trip with it. Drive it at night, drive it on a windy motorway past articulated lorries throwing up spray. Pack for your journey as if you are moving house. Only then will you have some idea what it is like to drive, just how good, or not, the seating position is, what annoying switch design and location there is and, of course, that annoying rattle you never noticed in the ten minutes of perfect you had all prepared for you.

Upon your return be prepared for a full-on hard sale from the sales person. After two days they will be expecting their reward and anything less won’t go down well.

If you’re now thinking that a 48 hour test drive is the only way to go then there is a way to save two days of experimentation. A way to reduce the stress of 20 minutes splashing through puddles. A way to stop the sales person only telling you the bits he wants to tell not that you need to know. A way to stop the hard sell.

Instead of going for a test drive, simply turn up at the dealership with all your holiday luggage, maybe a buggy or wheel-chair. Perhaps a set of golf clubs and maybe the odd bicycle or two. But, whatever you bring with you be sure to include a shopping bag, one with a dozen loose apples.
Load the car and then sit in the car. Play with all the knobs and switches. Unload the car and then leave. If you decide to go ahead you’ll call them. In fact the sales person doesn’t even need to be there, they can simply leave their business card on the windscreen. Perhaps good dealerships should do away with on site sales people and just have a selection of luggage for you to choose from!

A test drive is not only a waste of time and will achieve nothing it also wastes the time of the sales person and the valet team who prep and look after every car every day. It really is inefficient for everyone and tells you nothing more than a decent blogger, a well written article or a few mates down the pub can already tell you.

If you want to test drive a car ask yourself why. Ask yourself what it will achieve that simply sitting it won’t. Ask yourself if you would not be better to see how practical it is for everyday use. But if you do, make sure it is the worst day you can find for weather. Make sure the car is parked in a tight spot and have your own, dreadful, route mapped out. If you still want to buy the car after all that then it’s the right car and you’ve only wasted half a day (on this one car, but there are others you want to look at of course).

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