A car is the second-most expensive thing people buy, but shopping for one is apparently so despised that people are not looking around very much to make sure they are buying the right car at the best price.
DMEautomotive, an automotive marketing company, conducted a survey on car buying habits and found that even though the average cost of a new car is $32,000, almost half (49 percent) of buyers test-drive only one or no vehicles before buying. Twenty-five percent say they test-drove two vehicles and 14 percent drove three.
Part of the reason people are not test-driving more cars is that they are visiting few dealerships. DMEautomotive's study shows that more than two-thirds (68 percent) visited only two dealerships or fewer before buying. Forty percent said they visited just one dealer.
This means people are not comparing the feel and drive of a Ford to a Chevy to a Toyota to a Mini.
They also don't have to deal with as many salespeople. The survey found only 21 percent claimed they perceive car salespeople as "trustworthy." That is worse than the trust levels for lawyers but better than politicians and telemarketers.
When people buy cars these days they are doing the bulk of their shopping on the Internet. Four in five say they use the Internet for car shopping — and visit about 10 auto websites, on average, in the process. "More people are stealthily comparison-shopping dealerships and inventory online, and then swooping in to buy when their minds are already made up," is the way Mary Sheridan, manager of research and analytics at DMEautomotive, describes what is going on.
Jim Gorzelany writes at Forbes about another survey: "A separate study conducted by AutoTrader.com determined that among shoppers who did in fact take a test drive, 49 percent said they spent fewer than 30 minutes to make an informed decision."
Gorzelany says it is clear that people are narrowing their choices using the Internet before they show up at a car dealer. "Still," he says, "we can't help but find the idea of spending an average of $32,000 on a vehicle in which someone might spend as much as three or four hours a day without fully putting it through its paces (or testing another model for comparison) to be foolish."
Patrick George at Jalopnik says people know a lot from the Internet about the various gas mileages and reliability before they go to buy. "Still, I agree with Jim on this: I can't imagine ever buying a car without driving one extensively first," George says. "You wouldn't buy a new pair of pants without trying them on first, right? Why would you do any less with a car?"
Doug Van Sach, another DMEautomotive executive, wrote at Dealer Marketing Magazine that younger consumers take their time in deciding which vehicle to buy. "Compared to consumers over 35, Millennials are more likely to be value shoppers and delay their brand or model decision until the last possible moment. They are even more likely to take longer when making a purchase decision, with half taking four or more months to decide versus a little over a third of those over 35," he wrote. "Fifty-three percent of younger customers used their mobile phone for research, almost double the rate of older customers who only used their mobile phone 28 percent of the time."
Forty-eight percent of car buyers are still checking their smartphones for car buying information even when they do visit a dealership — 30 percent of millennials admit looking at a dealer's competition website while at the dealership.
How to test drive
Gorzelany also wrote at Forbes about tips on how to test drive a car. For example, he says to make sure the car you drive is as close to what you will buy as possible. A car model might have different engines, suspensions, seating options, etc.
"Observe how certain features might become irritating in day-to-day use, such as inadequate storage cubbies and cup holders, as well as a trunk that is difficult to operate or has an opening that is too small or too high, Mike Sutton wrote in Car and Driver. "The driver's and front passenger's doors may be large and easy to open and close, but also examine the ease of entry and exit for rear-seat occupants, including ingress and egress to the third row of seats, if applicable, and how difficult it is to install a child seat."
James Bragg at Fighting Chance says one way to not get bogged down is to tell the salesperson you do not want to go over any numbers until you test drive more cars. He also says to project emotional detachment. "In the showroom, on the lot, during the drive your behavior should say, 'A car is an appliance that gets me from Point A to Point B. Lots of cars will do that, including many I haven't tested yet.' It's OK to fall in love with a car. Just don't show it."
Phillip Reed at edmunds.com recommends adjusting the seats properly and to take a test drive that simulates the type of driving you will be doing. While driving, he says to pay attention how the car accelerates. Turn off the radio and listen to the engine and tire noise. How do the brakes feel? How does it steer? How is the suspension?
"Remember that little things you spot now could be major annoyances later," Reed wrote, "so don't discount any of your reactions."
As George says, "You can read reviews until your eyeballs bleed, but nothing ever compares to actually driving the car for yourself and learning how it feels and how it will suit your needs."
Or, in other words, test-driving a car isn't available as an app.