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Why the test drive is still so important

September 13, 2022

Aside from a home, the largest purchase for the majority of Americans is their vehicle. It gets us where we need and want to go just about every day of our lives. How many hours have we spent driving somewhere with someone we care about to do something we will remember? 

Online Vehicle Research

Information on vehicles is at our fingertips, and it is almost impossible to distinguish between what’s important and what is not. Variables exist all around us in vehicles. Size, shape, performance, utility, capacity, color, interior space, brand, history, warranty, and price come at us like a flash flood. We don’t want to make the wrong decision. Not to mention everyone is an expert and wants us to listen to them on whether or not what we are looking at is the best option.

Spending an entire day driving around shopping for a car  has been taken over by hours upon hours of research on sites like Edmunds, Consumer Reports, Kelley Blue Book, Carfax, and marketplaces like Autotrader, Cargurus, KSL, Craigslist and Truecar. The average consumer now spends 6 hours researching a car online before even making contact with a dealership. While it’s a boon to have all of this information at our fingertips, there is still the issue of needing an expert who can help us separate the noise from the facts. Dealerships evolved with this behavior as well and have offered flexible terms, 7-day return policies, and overnight test drives. 

Carvana, Vroom, Echopark, and others have pushed a different experience. Give a customer an incredible virtual user experience, coupled with an aggressive return policy, and let them buy a car without seeing it. Try and capture the online attention, and if you can keep the customer looking at your site for a majority of those six hours, you have a fairly decent chance to sell them something. 

It was an incredible breakthrough as these companies have gained traction and sold hundreds of thousands of used cars. But at the same time, there are still variables that cannot be predicted. As you research and read through their reviews and get into the comments, patterns emerge. The customer loves the speed of the transaction, the transparency of the process, and the ease of the information about the car in a clever designed website. But after the purchase, the car is delivered, usually 3 weeks later, and there are surprises. 

Photos and videos can only show so much. Carvana, specifically, has tried to remedy this with details of blemishes and a grading system that tries to explain how a car’s scratch or dent isn’t that bad. But even with clever words, as hard as they try, they can’t seem to explain away all of the variables that can be seen, heard, and felt during a test drive. 

We have five senses that help us understand our environment. A virtual website can only appeal to our sight, and it doesn’t do that very well. Smell, touch, taste, and hearing are left out of this online car purchase experience. Sure that car looks nice, then you buy it, and when it shows up, how does it smell? Smell is a finicky thing. From my experience, selling and buying cars for fifteen years, everyone smells something different. Smoke smell from tobacco is one that translates to a negative on just about everyone test driving a car, but there is more than smoking. I remember appraising trade-ins from customers that had everything from mildew to even rodents that had burrowed into the ventilation system of a vehicle. When you turned on the air conditioning or heater, the fans sprayed a smell that still gives me nightmares! Having the opportunity to test drive the car before you purchase is paramount to avoiding these situations.

Why The Virtual Test Drive Isn't Ideal

Virtual test drives allow you to listen to the sound of an engine. But the microphones used for these videos are rudimentary at best. With thousands of moving parts, rotating, flexing, and firing all around us, the variables of sounds that a car makes cannot be heard clearly in a virtual test drive. Small clicks, squeaks, and slaps of different mechanical components can signal real problems coming with any purchase of a vehicle you are considering. Once again, a physical test drive can protect us from a decision that we will pay for later. 

Touch is important as well. When we drive, we feel the car. We can feel it move, shake, rattle, and roll. Vibrations from a cupped tire or a wheel bearing can’t be seen or felt in a virtual test drive. I have driven many cars that didn’t have a scratch, but when I hit a bump in a parking lot, it felt like the wheels were going to fall off because of a sway bar link or a control arm that had gone bad. 

Interior fit matters as well. Our car should be something that we look forward to getting into because we spend so much time in it. Proper fit of seats and ergonomics are so important when choosing a car. I was once excited to drive a Dodge Viper for the first time. Beautiful car, smooth lines, not to mention a huge engine that I wanted to test. Well, I’m six foot three and fitting into that seat was a total nightmare. It was uncomfortable, rattled like crazy, and the interior engine noise was deafening. I found it hard to even get my elbow in the right place so that I could properly shift gears. My wrist hurt after driving it for 10 minutes because of the angle and the length of my arms and corresponding position of the shifter. Needless to say, I’m so glad I test drove it first and didn’t just buy it! 

Virtual shopping is great, but physical inspection is so important when looking to purchase a car. Sight matters as well. So many small scratches are hard to be seen with the pictures posted on a vehicle marketplace website. Vehicles come with a clear coat paint protection. This is an additional layer of paint that gives the vehicle that shine. Small scratches can penetrate this layer of clear coat, and you can only tell and see these blemishes when you inspect the vehicle in person. Wear and tear on the interior as well is common. A picture of a leather seat doesn’t reveal the feel of the leather when you look at it in person. The cracks starting to form and the wear that usually is on the driver seat is something that can cost you sooner than later when it rips. These annoying repairs can turn a great deal into a nightmare quickly. 

Everyone wants a “good deal.” This is why we do so much research. It’s a blessing to have so many choices with prices so we can compare and virtually shop. But we cannot quantify and automate all the variables, especially when it comes to buying a used car. So as much as we want to buy something online, and not talk to a salesperson at all, the test drive is a crucial component to the purchase process. 

Zapmoto Allows You To Test Drive From Home

Zapmoto can make sure you have the opportunity to drive the car quickly and conveniently, where you are. We bring local vehicle inventory to your doorstep so you can test drive in a no pressure environment. Touch it, smell it, see it, drive it, hear it before you consider keeping a car in your driveway for years to come. Flexibility and saving time are some of the most important parts of why a customer buys what they buy and when. You have your food delivered, why not your car? 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought a pair of shoes without trying them on, and after the excitement of the package on my driveway wears off. I try them on, then when they don’t fit, my day is ruined. Not to mention I have to deal with an inconvenient return process resulting in a pile of random stuff in the corner of the garage or in my office, waiting for me to actually return them. I have 10 shirts in my closet right now with tags still on them. They don’t fit and I didn’t follow the fine print like I should have to return them in time. So they sit, collecting dust and taking up space in my closet. It does give my wife something to tease me about! 

Our vehicles shouldn’t be this way. We shouldn’t buy anything this large unless we test drive it. It’s not a tee shirt. This could be the biggest purchase we will make in our lives! We can’t risk it! 30-day return policies and fancy return forms with lots of fine print let us know that we have the option to return a car, but do we ever read that? Do we understand what they are saying? The uncertainty of the return process is not worth the risk and vehicle purchase statistics echo this. Nordstrom made the return policy famous. But car dealerships, no matter how big or small cannot replicate this.  

It’s amazing how far we have come in such a short time in shopping for cars. No more newspapers. No more plaid leisure suit salesmen with a gold chain, a bad joke, and a rolex. That was a simpler time for sure. Today, simplicity has also yielded a complex process that can be hard to navigate with all the “experts” and all the information out there. What we can’t compromise on is driving a car before we buy it.

So the test drive is here to stay. It’s one of the most crucial steps to buying a car. Use Zapmoto to test drive your next car – you won’t regret it!