The Value – Issue #11: Test drive? Yes please! By: Brian Murphy

Welcome to The Canadian Black Book – The Value. Our goal is to provide our clients and partners with news, event updates, new initiatives and opinions from Canada’s trusted source for vehicle values and automotive insights. In this edition we cover:

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This month’s article is intended as an open letter to consumers, in praise of the test drive, and why you should always, always, take one or learn to live with the results.

Dear Canadian Vehicle Consumer:

At a conference I attended recently, a participant in a panel discussion commented that he had worked at a dealership that would refuse to sell a car unless the client had test driven it first.  This practice, admittedly a bit heavy-handed, was intended to reduce the chance the customer would show up a few days after, unhappy with the car, and want to return it.  Nowadays, the speaker clarified, it was no longer the practice, and they would happily close the deal if there hadn’t been a test drive.  I believe that the mandatory test drive might not have been such a bad idea in the first place, here’s why I strongly feel that way.

I asked my friends at J.D. Power, what percentage of Canadians take a test drive before buying a new car.  Their J.D. Power 2017 Canadian Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) StudySM   indicates that 80% of consumers do.  There certainly are legitimate reasons for some of the 20% that didn’t. However, to me these people are missing out on a very important part of the vehicle purchase process.  After all, would you buy a couch without sitting on it?  I didn’t think so.

I’ve spent most of my career in the car business, in my humble opinion (I’m not alone) you should take a test drive every time you buy a new or used car.  In fact, I’d take as many test drives as possible!  You would be hard pressed to find an automotive professional who would suggest you pass up that essential evaluation drive before signing on the dotted line.  If a sales person doesn’t want you to take a test drive then you may be working with the wrong sales person.  Many auto retailers will deliver a car to your home or work so you can try it out, why not take them up on it?  Before we get into the how’s and why’s of this, I should explain that I have a great deal of test drive experience and am therefore opinionated about the topic.  I am not an engineer, nor a professional driver.  However, I’ve spent many years planning future products for two Japanese OEMs, followed by several years evaluating vehicles during development as part of a global consulting team.  Now, at Canadian Black Book, I am part of a team that drives over one hundred different vehicles yearly, in order to assess competitiveness of the product, before forecasting its future value.  For example, in the last week and a half I have driven a very nice three row SUV, three pickup trucks and a really amazing 480 hp sports coupe. Based on this experience, I conclude that you should always go for a test drive, let me explain why.

First and foremost (and obviously!), a new car is a major financial commitment, second only to your home in terms of cost, for most of us.  You may spend the next seven or eight years paying for it, and even choose to keep it for longer.    If you end up with a car you hate it’s going to feel a lot longer than seven or eight years.  Getting out of a car before the end of a lease or loan can be challenging.  In a lease you are committed unless you can find someone, to take over your lease.  In a loan, you may owe more than your car is worth (also known as being upside down) making getting out of the loan potentially an expensive financial burden.

I think there is a myth out there, that vehicles “these days” are all very good and largely the same, negating the need for a test drive.  I firmly argue the opposite. Vehicles these days are more complex than ever before, with an even greater number of differences than ever before.  Just because you own a 2012 version of the same vehicle does not mean you will like the 2019, you might hate it.

Here are some pointers regarding your test drive, many of which can be checked before even leaving the dealer’s lot:

  1. How does the car drive? Are the steering, brakes, engine and transmission what you were expecting?  How about the noise levels inside the vehicle?  Make sure you try out a variety of driving scenarios(highway, city, residential, parking lot).  Do you feel safe in each of these environments?  Can you park it easily? Is it enjoyable  to drive?  You are going to spend thousands of hours behind that wheel, it might as well be a pleasant experience.
  1. Does the car physically fit you and your passengers? People and vehicles come in all shapes and sizes.  Can you operate the vehicle safely and comfortably?   Are there any problematic blind spots?  Do your child seats (if you have them or are planning to have them!) fit?  Is there room for the back-seat passengers, and will they be happy back there?  Do you have enough headroom?
  1. Are the seats comfortable? The spines and backsides of Canadians are like snowflakes, there are no two alike.   Are you comfortable? If not, does the seat adjust in a way that you are?  An extended test drive is important, some seats are comfortable for an hour, and then not anymore!  If you have never had a car with heated and cooled seats, you might want to investigate that further.  Trust me on that one.
  1. Do the controls seem easy to use and understand? If they seem more like a Rubik’s cube, then maybe that is not the car for you.  If you can’t easily understand how to use the various controls after some help from the salesperson you are unlikely to use them, despite having paid for them!
  1. Does all your junk fit in the trunk? If you are a golfer or regular carrier of 50lbs of smelly hockey gear or a stepladder collection check that it fits.  Bring it to the dealership to check, don’t just assume it fits.
  1. Does all your essential tech work? Today(if you are buying a new car) your car should support Apple’s CarPlay/Android Auto or have some phone integration that allows you to make/receive phone calls, text and get directions in a safe and legal manner.  If you own no technology whatsoever then skip this step.
  1. How will this car be at night? It’s a good idea to drive the car at night as well.  Some vehicles I have driven have horrible headlights or distracting reflections in the windows. Some offer poorly illuminated controls that make driving at night a pain.
  1. Will the car be winter friendly? Will you need snow tires?  Will you feel confident piloting your new chariot through the worst February has to offer?  If you would like a safe and uneventful winter, then AWD and snow tires might be the best money you’ve ever spent.
  1. Are you sure you have the right type of car? After the test drive it’s always a good time to ask yourself, if you are shopping for the right type of car. Are you looking at a three row SUV when maybe a moderately sized hatchback would work?  Are you thinking of buying a convertible when you really aren’t a convertible person?  Are you thinking of starting a family, yet you are considering buying a racy little sports car? Don’t buy the wrong type of car!  The test drive is a great time to validate this one last time.
  1. Trust your instincts. After you’ve had a chance to drive it, then trust your gut instinct.  If you don’t like the car don’t be talked into buying it.  Maybe you have the right brand, the right dealership, but not the right model.  Express your specific concerns to the sales person and see what alternatives they propose.  Failing that, go home, regroup and repeat as necessary.

If you, the consumer, really don’t want to drive a vehicle, obviously it’s crazy for a sales person to insist that you do.  After reading this article at least you’ve been warned.  As for me, that 480hp coupe is one that I am still thinking about many days after we gave it back to the manufacturer.  What would my monthly payment be?  I want the dark green one.

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