One of the important steps in buying a new car is the test drive.
This practice allows customers to experience the physical act of driving the vehicle they are interested in buying in a real-world setting.
With test drives, consumers learn if the vehicle is a good fit — meaning if the seating is comfortable and the pedals and dashboard controls are easily accessible, and to assess the visibility through the front, side, and back windows, etc.
If you have not test driven many vehicles, you may be surprised to learn how makes and models can differ widely in comfort, driveability and overall feel.
There has been a lot of discussion in the media about ‘virtual’ test drives, which has led to some confusion among consumers.
A real virtual test drive — although interesting in theory — does not yet exist in practice. Many manufacturers have produced 3D videos for their websites, where consumers can view a close-up of the vehicle’s features and benefits. This provides a close approximation of what driving a specific vehicle might be like.
A Google research study revealed that online video is the number one ad format that drives auto brand consideration, and more than 50 per cent of auto shoppers view 30 minutes or more of online videos throughout the car-buying process.
Audi has come close to an actual virtual test drive, teaming up with Samsung to develop a virtual headset. Consumers wear virtual headsets to tour a vehicle’s interior and even manipulate some of the controls to simulate an actual driving experience.
In 2013, BMW produced an interesting virtual test-drive app to promote its i3 electric car, where the viewer could interact with the vehicle’s features in “immersive 360-degree technology.”
As technology evolves and real-world virtual test drives become closer to reality, the best way to evaluate a vehicle remains the traditional test drive, where someone physically gets into a vehicle and drives it on an actual roadway.
Another reason to test drive a car is to build an emotional bond with a vehicle — to see the shiny new paint, to feel and smell the vehicle’s interior and ensure a great driving experience.
That’s not to say that virtual test drives don’t have value in the car-buying process. I’ve viewed several 3D videos produced by auto manufacturers, and they provide compelling insights about a vehicle’s interior features.
But for anyone in the market for a new or pre-owned vehicle, before you commit to buying it, I strongly recommend taking the vehicles on your short list for a physical test drive.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of your test drive:
1) Avoid playing the radio or a stereo. Listen to how a vehicle operates;
2) Plan on driving for 20 to 30 minutes to evaluate how a vehicle handles on city roads and on highways, how it turns and parks, and whether there are blind spots;
3) Have a friend or family member accompany you, so they can identify potential issues. If someone other than yourself will be driving the vehicle, that person should drive it, too;
4) Pay attention to interior comfort; a vehicle should intuitively feel right when sitting in the driver’s seat;
5) Locate and test the main controls, such as the wipers and washers, headlights, and hazard lights;
6) Ensure there is ample space requirements for your lifestyle (i.e., back seat comfort, adequate trunk space). Pictures and videos don’t always provide a totally accurate representation of a vehicle’s interior and trunk space.
New technologies have made researching vehicles more efficient than ever, but there is still no technology that replicates an actual test drive: it remains an essential part of the car-buying journey.
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This column represents the views and values of the TADA. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to tada.ca. Larry Lantz is president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association and is a new-car dealer in Hanover, Ont.