A consumer may take months to winnow down his or her car-buying choices to a reasonably few models, having read reviews, researched prices, and perhaps even attending a regional auto show to “kick the tires,” only to make a final buying decision based upon a too-hasty test drive with a chatty salesperson in the passenger’s seat. And that’s assuming a given shopper bothers to take one at all.
That’s according to the findings of a recent survey conducted by the car-shopping website AutoTrader.com in Atlanta, Ga. that seems to indicates too many buyers are ultimately favoring style over substance.
While car-buying experts often suggest shoppers rent a similarly equipped vehicle under consideration a full weekend’s test drive, nearly half (49 percent) of all respondents said they require only 30 minutes or less to thoroughly put a vehicle through its paces. What’s more 44 percent of shoppers surveyed said they only need to test drive a vehicle once before making an informed buying decision.
“What strikes me is that people are doing only cursory evaluations of a vehicle that they will end up driving for some amount of years,” says Rick Wainschel, vice president of automotive insights at the car shopping website AutoTrader.com in Atlanta, Georgia. “It’s easy to form an early impression, but taking a longer and more real-world test drive can be important for forming deeper opinions about things like driver and passenger comfort, ease of access to controls and overall trunk dimensions.”
The average car costs well over $30,000 these days and is typically kept for around six years, so it’s in a buyer’s best interests to be fully satisfied with his or her vehicular purchase before signing on the dotted line.
So what’s the best way for a car shopper to make the most of his or her limited time behind the wheel? Start by assuming the driving position and getting a feel for such things as ease of entry, seat comfort and position, leg, head and shoulder room and outward visibility. Are the dashboard gauges large and legible? Do the controls come easily to hand and are they easily operated? Those with young children will want to bring along a car seat to see how well it fits and how easy it is to install.
Start the engine, shift the car into gear and put all five senses into overdrive: Is the exhaust note too loud or harsh or does the engine make any unsettling mechanical noises? Note how smoothly or abruptly the transmission shifts gears, both under a light throttle and full acceleration. Negotiate around-town traffic to see how it behaves at slower speeds and under stop-and-go conditions, as well as how smoothly it rides over speed bumps and potholes. Take the vehicle out on the highway to test its mettle in on-ramp acceleration and at passing speeds. Change lanes abruptly when it’s safe to do so to see how secure the vehicle feels in what might otherwise be an emergency-avoidance maneuver.
Negotiate some curves and corners at varying – but still prudent – speeds to see how the car responds. Ideally, the car should remain well balanced, with the suspension absorbing much of the centrifugal forces. Apply the brakes, both at lower and higher rates of speed. Does the car slow steadily and confidently? Do you feel the brakes uncomfortably “fade” (meaning you have to put your foot harder into the pedal) as the car comes to a stop?
Rather than just pull back onto the lot at the dealership, park the car at the curb. Note how light or heavy the car’s low-speed steering feels and whether you can get a quick sense of the vehicle’s exterior dimensions to properly position it into an open parking spot.
Take another walk around and don’t afraid to nit-pick; what now may be a minor inconvenience can swell to become painfully annoying over time.
© CTW Features