Survey says car buyers are taking fewer and shorter test drives

aaron turpen

Manufacturers are likely to begin taking notice as a new survey from shows that car buyers are basing their buying decisions on information gleaned before going in to look at the car and on the car’s “wow factor” when they take a test drive. The AutoTrader survey showed that car buyers are not only going out on fewer test drives before making a decision, but they’re taking shorter drives as well.  This means they are comparing fewer cars and spending far less time getting to know them before signing on the dotted line.

The survey shows that 44 percent of shoppers believe they only need to test drive a vehicle once before making a decision to buy and 49 percent said they require thirty minutes or less to “thoroughly” test that vehicle. Most (about two-thirds) take another person with them, but this trend is greatest among female buyers while males are significantly more likely to test drive alone (about 44 percent go solo).

In many ways, we automotive journalists are professional test drivers. Our job, at least as far as the CarNewsCafe team sees it, is to evaluate a vehicle in an objective manner, starting from the outside all the way to getting in and driving it. Whether driving the car for fifteen minutes at a short automotive event or taking it as a loaner for a week, we put a lot of effort into getting to know the car as well as possible in the time we have.

Personally, I find that a half hour test drive is enough to get a general opinion on a vehicle and an hour is enough to know enough about its general “feel” to form a good opinion, but overall, anything less than thirty minutes is a waste of effort as that’s barely enough time to become familiar with the seat, let alone all the other things that go into a car for the long-term.

Here is an example. Recently, I drove the Nissan Altima 3.5 SL. During a week with that car, my family took a short road trip and I made several passes along the roads we drive on every day out here in Wyoming. We installed car seats, filled the trunk with strollers and diaper bags, and even changed a diaper on the deck lid. All things we would be doing everyday were we to own that car. Obviously, if you’ve read the review, I was impressed.

When buying a car, consumers should do much the same. Take an hour or so to test drive the car. Use it the way you would normally use it, everyday. Put car seats in, connect your phone, park it at the grocery store and work, etc. How does it perform in the traffic you’re in everyday? It’s worth a day off or a vacation day to purposefully get stuck in traffic in your test drive so you can see what it will be like every day on your commute.  Spend the time to get used to the vehicle as if you already owned it. If the salesperson or dealership doesn’t like you doing this, go somewhere else.

The test drive process is generally the last thing a car buyer will do before sitting down and making one of the biggest financial decisions of his or her life for the next several years.  With the average car buyer owning their vehicles for over ten years and the average car loan being 5 years or longer, those payments and that vehicle will be a significant portion of your life for quite a while. What’s more, backing out of a bad decision is nearly impossible without heavy financial loss.

So take your time. Think it out. Check all of the options. Be confident that you know for sure that this is the car for you.

Aaron Turpen
An automotive enthusiast for most of his adult life, Aaron has worked in and around the industry in many ways. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press (RMAP), the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA), the Texas Auto Writers Association (TAWA), and freelances as a writer and journalist around the Web and in print. You can find his portfolio at