A Toronto area dealership recently introduced a new feature on its website.
This feature allows customers to buy a vehicle entirely online, without having to visit the dealership at all. All stages of a purchase and/or lease — selecting a model, establishing trade-in value, credit application, financing and add-ons — are facilitated online.
At my Ford dealership, we have had two customers in the last three years choose to purchase their vehicle entirely online, without visiting the dealership except to take delivery
Would I recommend this method of buying a vehicle? In some cases, buying sight unseen might work, but in the majority of car-buying situations, I would say, “No.”
Buying a vehicle entirely online deprives the buyer of one important aspect of car buying — the test drive. Besides, an automobile is typically a person’s second largest purchase in life. Why wouldn’t you want to see it, touch it, feel it and drive it?
Consumers can gain valuable information from car manufacturers’ and dealers’ websites, professional car reviews, independent research companies (J.D. Power) and automotive websites.
However, what these sources cannot replicate is the tactile experience of actually sitting inside a vehicle and taking it for a drive.
Some manufacturers have introduced virtual reality goggles that allow consumers to have an immersive experience (virtual test drive) inside a vehicle. As impressive as this technology is, it still falls short of the real thing.
I know customers who have researched a particular model online and visited a dealership prepared to buy that model — until they took the vehicle for a test drive.
The test drive convinced them it was not the right vehicle for them.
A test drive helps purchasers evaluate the many features they cannot determine by visiting a website, reading a brochure or watching a video. It provides key indicators to persuade or dissuade them from buying a particular model.
A sales adviser at a new-car dealership will always suggest taking a test drive so that you get an on-road sensation of how a vehicle feels and handles
Here are some things to keep in mind before taking a test drive:
• It is standard policy to produce a driver’s licence and proof of insurance.
• Test drives are at the discretion of the sales manager, and insurance regulations usually require a representative of the dealership to be in the car with you.
• Plan on driving for 20 to 30 minutes. This will give you ample time to evaluate how the vehicle performs at various speeds and on different road conditions.
• Experience the vehicle with the stereo system off and the windows closed.
• Make sure the controls are visible and easy to access. Also, check the comfort of the seat and your view of the road.
• Evaluate how easy it is to stop and accelerate. Brakes should feel firm and responsive.
• There should be no excessive play in the steering. Does it feel comfortable turning at all speeds? What about parking?
• Check visibility. All mirrors should be easily adjustable and offer excellent rearward views.
• Change seats with the salesperson to gain a passenger’s perspective on handling and comfort level.
• Don’t overlook trunk space. Is there enough room to accommodate suitcases, duffle bags and other items you transport on a regular basis?
• Consider taking other drivers within the family along for the test drive. This will lead to consensus in a decision on what to purchase.
A final benefit in choosing to take a test drive is that it will give you a chance to become acquainted with the dealership and meet the people who may be servicing your automotive needs for years to come.
This column represents the views and values of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to tada.ca. Cliff Lafreniere is president of the TADA and is president of Pinewood Park Motors (Ford) in Kirkland Lake. For information about automotive trends and careers, visit carsandjobs.com.