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Anne Fleming

Anne Fleming President & Car Buying Advocate

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Dealers: 'Just Say NO' to No-Test-Drive Buyers

A new report released by Maritz Research recently claims that four in 10 customers are not even test driving their cars before purchasing. This is an astounding number of consumers, even if half of them didn’t tell the truth.

This phenomenon of customers bypassing the test drive can actually cause a backlash of issues for dealerships. How so?

Let’s start with design trends for vehicles in the 2013 or 2012 class.

On many models, back windows have a much shorter rise, and front headrests and side mirrors are larger. The team test drives cars 40 weeks out of the year for our HER & HIS Car Review section, and these three vehicle features can negatively impact visibility and contribute to blind spot hazards for today’s drivers.

Both complaints are valid, but not solid reasons to return a car, since these customers willingly said “I’ll take it,” got their financing order, and drove off into the proverbial sunset. Furthermore, both also said that they experienced no pressure from dealership personnel to buy.

These customers – one in St. Louis and the other in Pittsburgh – contacted their respective dealers, and, in both cases, the GM’s were sympathetic and willing to get them into another, same-priced vehicle. However, neither were satisfied and both:

1) Wrote highly negative reviews about the dealership on multiple dealer rating sites;
2) Gave highly negative CSI scores about their experience there; and
3) Are pursuing legal action against these two businesses.

Do we buy a house without walking through it and having it appraised or inspected? Of course not.

My suggestion is to have an unwritten policy with your sales team about the importance of test drives. While it may be fun and expedient to move quickly to a sale, these no-test-drive customers can hurt your dealership in the long run. While it’s not practical to turn away business, when a customer insists on buying a model without previously driving it (with you or elsewhere), or after driving it for only 10 minutes, note this on the paperwork so that you have something to reference should that customer return.

Encouraging substantive test drives into your sales process is best. “At Day Chevrolet we insist that they take as many test drives with as many vehicles as they like while at the dealership. It is imperative that they feel free to test drive various makes and models so that they can be completely satisfied with their ultimate purchase,” says Vic Olive, General Manager at Day Chevrolet in Pittsburgh.

Ford and Lexus are taking a similar approach to helping buyers get to know their vehicles.

The instant gratification of a quick sale may not feel so gratifying a week or two after the transaction when the (online) complaints commence.


Jim Bell
Great post Anne! When I read that report the other day, I was flabber-gasted. I don't know why a person in their right mind would want to spend xx dollars and not even take it for a short spin around the block. This goes back to my saying, a good deal on the wrong car is never a good deal. That is what customers are leaning towards. They have read so many things on how to negotiate, the people that write these online articles forget to let them know to drive the car first to make sure it even fits the needs of the customer. The last thing that we want as dealers is to sell the wrong car at the right price and see them back in a month after they realize they don't like it or it doesn't fit the needs of the customer. Dealers are failing if they aren't getting the customer to test drive the car before going into finance. I understand that a lot can be done online, but you can't drive a car online and see if it will fit your lifestyle. It isn't the dealers' fault when they are offered a test drive and it is declined, it is the customer's fault and have no one to blame but themselves when they find it isn't the right car for them.
Brian Chee
From my pov, the test drive is only as good as the salesperson makes it. Most people learn little about a car during a quick drive unless they're guided through the features and technology. It could be a very powerful part of the sales process, but many of the test drives I've been on have been a waste of time. I wonder what percentage of test drives actually include a feature walkaround the car? Cars are getting better all the time, and more sophisticated. It should be required to give a serious buyer a serious introduction to what they're getting.
Bryan Armstrong
I agree with your point. I believe when put in the correct light ie. "I wouldn't dream of asking you to buy a pair of shoes you hadn't tried on, much less a vehicle" or "for your safety's sake you need to check for blind spots if nothing else" trnsitioning into a test drive would be a natural, no-pressure situation. The so called "expert" and "How-to" sites that warn Consumers away from this important research step as to emotion building are doing all a disservice.
Larry Schlagheck
I learned this lesson the hard way a few years back. Thought I knew all about the vehicle I was buying only to learn that it was completely uncomfortable for me and the sight lines didn't fit me at all. The dealer I bought it from (a friend of mine) worked with me and we swapped keys for another (and completely different) vehicle less than 5 mos. after buying the first.Yes, I lost money. And, yes, it was my fault. Lesson learned.

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