Car Buyers Flunking Their Test Drives, Stats Show — Here’s How To Do It Right

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With this year’s auto show schedule winding down after a wildly successful year that saw hundreds of thousands of attendees pass through the turnstiles of myriad exhibition halls to “kick the tires” on the latest models, it seems a cursory examination is all a growing number new-car buyers need to make what  is typically among the costliest purchases of their lives.

According to a recent survey of 2,000 consumers conducted by the research company DMEautomotive, 16 percent of car buyers eschewed a test drive altogether, with 33 percent taking out only a single model out once for a quick spin before signing the paperwork. A separate study conducted by 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.

Clearly many consumers have their sights narrowly focused before they ever set foot on a dealer’s showroom, thanks largely to the wealth of information available to them on the Internet. “Four in five people now use the Internet for car buying, visiting 10 auto websites in the process,” says Dr. Mary Sheridan, DMEa’s manager of research and analytics. “More people are stealthily comparison-shopping dealerships and inventory online, and then swooping in to buy when their minds are already made up.”

Still, 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. At that, the typical trial excursion is conducted in what can be a stress-filled environment, with a shopper suddenly thrust behind the wheel of an unfamiliar car or truck with a salesperson chattering away in the passenger’s seat.

So what’s the best way for a car shopper to make the most of his or her limited time behind the wheel?