Don’t test drive a new car before buying it

Why should you?  They want you to do it, which is already reason to be suspicious.

It makes you all the more emotionally committed to buying a car whose immediate feel you enjoy.  You might save a few hundred dollars on the bargaining by refusing to take that step of commitment.

Furthermore you might expect that every plausible new car can in fact survive a test drive from a potential customer.  Let others test drive it for you.

And let’s say you didn’t so much like the test drive.  Is that a bad sign or a good sign about the car?  Does your dislike very well predict you will dislike it a month from now?  I doubt that.  In fact if you are somewhat typical and others dislike the test drive too, that might mean the car is all the more a bargain.  And you are letting a mere mediocre test drive persuade you away from exploiting that bargain.

I readily admit this advice does not apply to very tall people and other outliers.

Question: to how many other spheres of life might this reasoning apply?


> Question: to how many other spheres of life might this reasoning apply?

Right. I didn't think this was really about cars while reading.

It might be borrowed from Dan Gilbert, who suggests just asking people how happy they are with X, rather than stressing out about it. Should I retire to Oregon? Ask retired people in Oregon.

The case for test driving exists when you have particular preferances that might differ from the market as a whole.

For example, European drivers sometimes mock Americans for liking things soft and mushy. That is, power-steering that requires no force, near-universal automatic transmission etc. Whether that national stereotype really hold true, the fact is that the handlings of different cars pander to different sensibilities. If you know your preference, then you should test-drive.

It's not necessary to test drive to find out whether a car has power steering or stick shift.

Most cars have power steering. Their feel still varies a lot.

You are right about the gearbox.

And there are major differences in gearboxes, not merely automatic or manual. The inputs (clutch, shifter, paddles, etc) will feel different from model to model.

In the old days this meant you should prefer Road and Track reviews over those from Car and Driver. The first is more performance oriented the second is more comfort oriented.

I subscribed to Autoweek which was a whole other level. That was when I had the 928S, and not the Prius.

I am really talking about different kinds of comfort.

A car with stiff-seeming power steering might be complete dog in terms of the real responsiveness of its steering. But I would still prefer it to a car with equally bad performance and a soft feel.

This is 'the Consumer Reports' problem.

Rock Paper Scissors. Depends on your preferences.

Only, with a car, there are more than three qualities to be optimized.

Yes, that's the reason to test cars. Sometimes cars that look good on paper might feel awful to you.

For instance, I remember driving a 2002 maxima. Huge engine, sporty sedan, right? Well, it might have been fast on a straight line, but I felt completely detached from the act of driving. A car that could go fast, technically, but felt like a couch. That's what the owner wanted, but me? It felt awful.

There's also negatives that one has to feel to realize their size. People think they are OK with stiff suspensions, but then you sit them in a Lotus Elise, and they suddenly change their mind.

I think the logical behavior is not to avoid test drives, but to never test drive only one car!

"Question: to how many other spheres of life might this reasoning apply? "

Not sure whether that is a retorical or leading question, in context.

Or you mean "apply, besides partners and marriage"?

Ding ding ding! The correct Straussian reading of this post is "you should wait until marriage to have sex with your partner!"

Perhaps it is no so unreasonable on its face--afterall, you probably should t marry someone just because the sex is great, it's probbaly worth paying attention to some other aspects of the relationship. Of course in human relations were are often specifically interested in test driving the car and not buying it.

I don't follow. Are there lots of "Motor Trends" and "J.D. Powers" of relationships that try out all the eligible men or women so you don't have to? If there are would you want the person after they've been, um, "evaluated"?

"...would you want the person after they’ve been, um, “evaluated”?"

Rode hard and put away wet! (High five!)

Perhaps a better analogy would be matchmaker arranged marriages - let a professional make the selection for you, on dispassionate and objective grounds :) As I recall, historically this actually works out pretty well in practice.

Arranged marriage success seems pretty dependant on cultural restrictions around divorce.

Well, that's premised on the idea that, like with cars, you can read a review about the...performance of your future spouse in the bedroom. We're not there yet on a review economy.

Well, if and only if a large number of people whose opinions you trust have told you she's good in bed.

More practically, dating and quickly proposing to widows whose husbands died of causes not related to depression or murder seems indicated. Or going to weddings and making the bride a better offer.

It isn't necessarily true that they want you to. I think they just know it is standard.

For example - in my experience BMW will not let you test drive an M-class car. They know they can sell all the ones they make anyway, and they'll tell you "People who buy M-cars don't want to see miles on them from other people's test drives."

Buying my current car, it was actually quite hard to get them to let me test drive it. Two dealers flat out refused, the third got the sale after finally letting me drive it...

You actually can test drive BMW M or Porsche but you better look like you can afford it because too many people want to test drive them just for fun (bank statement can help there).

The easiest way is to already own another car in their range.

Huh? I've never test-driven an M car, but I've test driven multiple BMWs and Porsches. They made a photocopy of my licence and gave me the keys.

Do you look particularly young? The first time I did this I was in my mid-20s, but I look a little older.

On a related point, it seems like a lot of people go with the salesperson on the test drive. In my experience, this only happens about half the time.

I am early thirties but regularly guessed at early to mid twenties.

I also make much more than people think (I could have easily paid cash for a Porsche if I had thought the car was worth the price...).

I'll make a simple suggestion: sport an attitude. Act like "of course they'll give me the car and let me do whatever I want." And they probably will.

People who live in neighborhoods near car dealers are constantly complaining about the test drivers speeding through local residential streets and running stop signs. Living near a car dealer is a curse. And none of that activity can be good for the cars themselves.

of course they don't really want you to! what a risk.

...a risk already sold to their insurance company.

For pretty much all cars with cost above their utility (e.g. a new BMW 3-series when a new Camry is available - or even a 3-year-old Taurus with 30k miles on it) its an aspirational lifestyle sale. Getting you to imagine yourself in the car - and then not being able to imagine yourself without it - is key to closing the sale.

Never mind "very tall" - there are lots of people who are uncomfortable in lots of cars. Too tall, too short, too wide, can't see over something, etc.

Also, for things like euro-vans (tall) and pickup trucks, a test drive on the freeway is required to know how bad the noise and the like really are.

If I dislike it, it is NOT a bargain. As for "let others test drive it for you" - uh, sure. Does that apply to spouses, jobs, and such as well?

I have dropped far more cars from consideration after test drives than I have become committed to, and I imagine the same is true of others as well.

Agree. Most of us are outliers in some way.

Plus you'd feel really stupid if you didn't test drive a car and it turned out you didn't like something obvious.

Agree on this; the critical thing is to test drive with the firm commitment that you will A) not buy this car today (perhaps not even from this dealership) and B) will test drive other cars (that you will also not buy on the day of the test).
Then, after driving 3-4 new models and comparing them to the current car, you'll have satisfied the 'car feel' aspect of the purchase - which generally shows if something is a deal breaker, rather than 'gee, that one just drove so much better than the rest' (which seems like it would be rare)

Your analysis assumes the buyer is prone to creating emotional attachments to cars. Rather than tackle that attachment head on, you suggest a technique for simply delaying the attachment so you can save a few hundred bucks. A better strategy is to treat a car with as much emotion as you would a water heater or a hammer. Then you can safely test drive it for how the cabin and controls feel to you and you can save tens of thousands by not getting sucked into ego driven purchases.

Do carpenters test drive hammers? For casual hammer users a test drive seems unnecessary. I think most tradespeople have abandoned a tool because after some time the feel, of the hammer say, did not agree with them. Tradesmen also seem very brand loyal.

Should professional drivers be more or less inclined to test drive?

But different car reviews can give wildly different opinions. Whose do you trust? Who can you believe? Or could it be that different cars simply suit different people?

Hammers are basically trivial in cost. A better question: how many tradespeople buy capital equipment like front-end loaders? Almost all but the largest just rent them when needed.

Yes. When they borrow them from friends on a job. Seen many hammers sold this way.

My sentiments exactly. Also: Where is the evidence for the suggestion that not taking a test drive will save hundreds of dollars?

This is easier said than done. I am a consistent used car buyer, but there have been more than two times when I went into dealers to "check things out" and came thisclose to buying a car I didn't need, only to be dragged out by my wife.

We're humans, not econs.

I can't tell if you are you joking or not. Maybe you shouldn't ever drive the car.

Test drives have determined what car I don't want several times.

But did you make a good decision?

Yes. I was wondering why this question was so simple.

Apparently its about marriage. Makes more sense now.

'Don’t test drive a new car before buying it Why should you?'

And anyone who cannot immediately answer that question is probably dumb enough to think 'It makes you all the more emotionally committed to buying a car whose immediate feel you enjoy.' Because let us be honest - don't look at a car, as that will also 'make you are the more emotionally committed to buying a car' whose immediate color/form you enjoy. Buying a car without ever seeing it would likely be the most rational choice in this 'wirklichkeitsfremd' (yep, the Germans have a word for this) framing.

'Let others test drive it for you.'

Why should I care about what someone else thinks when what I am looking for is what suits me, and not someone else?

'Does your dislike very well predict you will dislike it a month from now?'

If, to use a concrete example, the problem is in how the windows do not provide an adequate view while driving, yes, I am very confident that this dislike will remain unchanged during the entire existence of that particular car.

'Question: to how many other spheres of life might this reasoning apply?'

Flawed reasoning seems to always be applied, regardless of sphere. Though admittedly, economists are notably better at it than most.

One should not develop emotional attachments to contrarian thought.

Very well put. This just seems like a silly attempt to be contrarian. I think people are far more likely to develop emotional attachments to the "idea" of a car that a test drive will disabuse them of. I was just talking to a tour driver in Italy who used to work for a "tour by Ferrari" operation where you could drive a Ferrari for a few days around Italy (and this guy drove a separate car following with the luggage). He said one renter found it too difficult and stressful to drive, so he had the tour driver drive the Ferrari and the renter ended up driving the other car. I've only actually been in a Ferrari once, and it wasn't very comfortable to ride around town in - but when I drive one in my mind, it's a lot of fun to drive...

Tyler, have you ever used one of those public bathrooms with toilets that flush themselves? Would you want one in your house?

I like cars that are the opposite of what car critics and amateur enthusiasts like: I like a quiet interior with a soft suspension, a living room on wheels. It's hard to tell from negative reviews if a car would give me what I want or if the car is just all-around bad.

It does not seem like you have read many car reviews, other than in glossy magazines. The glossy magazine car reviews are for fantasy, not actual car-buying advice.

Head rests that stick too far forward... a deal breaker for me. Even if the car was free.

Zacharkow, D.: New Car Headrests (Head Restraints) Designed Too Far Forward: Hidden Costs are Neck/Back Pain and Distracted Driving. 2013.

This is of course entirely wrong. You should do your research, and then, when you are pretty close to buying, test drive the car!

You want the attachment! What is the value of attachment? A better bargaining position? A little analysis on will suggest that, in the worst case, we're talking about ~$1K give or take. Surely, surely! having a better, closer attachment to your car is worth that.

And of course, if joy and love doesn't convince you, do it for certitude and peace - what would you pay to avoid the unlikely confused alarm of getting into your new car and hating it!

Test drive at least 3 cars. Do so in the middle of your research. Buy one week later at the earliest.

The risk is not the $1K you mention; it is in spending an extra $10,000 on baubles contained in an inferior car. (Also, try to avoid cars with "evil" in their name, as in "Deville.")

"Test drive at least 3 cars. Do so in the middle of your research. Buy one week later at the earliest."

That's good advice. I would amend it to say "Test drive at least 3 different models of cars."

Yes - three. For my retirement car in 2005 I drove Camry, Accord and Subaru, based on Consumers Reports data and my ownership history. Went with Camry for the ride. In 20 years, maybe there'll be a good hybrid. When traveling, play the "car game" at rental agencies like Enterprise, which lets you pick from the vehicles on the lot. The day at DFW that a BMW was only $10 more a day I needed a van to haul grandkids. Given that a vehicle is constantly depreciating in value and has the risk of being high maintenance if one seeks to beat that fact, function should win. Of course, that doesn't get the looks - Uptown or Neighborhood Funk.

Thanks, that is what I meant.

Never take a tour of a house or apartment before you buy or lease it; in fact, stay away from the neighborhood, preferably the city.

Do not take a job that is offered to you. That's what they want you to do, after all. Take someone else's job, instead; be firm on this point.

Just don't spend a friggin' fortune on your car, unless you are an idiot, or make money by appearing to be rich enough to act like one.

You must not drive a lot. There are innumerable things about a car that can't be discovered without a test drive.

Test drive it at one dealer than buy from another.

haha I love the evolution of the pop psychology protips. ... and in another color.

This may apply to used cars. Once you find the right model from that year with nice may get attached. It's normal, there's only one. Maybe two but in green and thousand Km away. Test driving shows interest and the seller may increase the price.

This idea works for spouses too. Don't waste time on endlessly dating or seeking a soul-mate. Instead, outsource to someone else to find you a spouse, within basic parameters of age, job or looks. Pick a date and get married.

A lot of countries have arranged marriages like this and they work.

Actually, unlike the car example which is silly, there's a great many reasons why arranged relationships aren't such a bad idea. At the very least, they're not any worse than letting sixteen-year-olds pick out a partner from whoever is available at high school.

16 year old ... do you live in Kentucky?

Not sure I'd want to outsource the "test drive" though.

I was in the market recently for a small CUV. I was almost certain which model I wanted - on paper it had everything I wanted. But five minutes behind the wheel and I knew this was a vehicle I could never live with. The seats hurt my back,. the headrest was too far forward, the center console was too low for me to comfortably rest my elbow on.

My second choice on paper turned out to be not bad, but not what I hoped. I could have lived with it.

I went through two more vehicles before landing on my last choice because I disliked the look so much. But when I test drove it, it felt perfect. Lots of power, responsive, really comfortable, good sight lines from my preferred seating position, etc.

I would have made a horrible choice had I not test driven the first car and just bought it. I likely would have had to sell it soon for a big loss. If I had purchased the second one I probably would have been happy enough with it, but I would never have known that there was a much better vehicle out there for me.

I honestly believe this must be a joke post. I think the value of the test-drive is self-evident to pretty much everyone reading this thread.

But did you have to drive the car to find this out or just sit in it?

For the first one, just sitting in it made me go, 'uh oh', But driving it cemented the feeling.

The second car had to be driven to find out what I didn't like about it.

The worst disappointment I ever had on a test drive was in Jeep Liberty. I thought I'd love it, and it felt okay just sitting in it. But I didn't get more than a mile down the road before I just hated the thing. Noisy, bunny-hopping over bumps, lousy manual transmission, rattles, you name it. Awful vehicle for me.

Test drives are even more important for used cars. It's the only way you're going to know if the differential is tight, if the steering system is in alignment, if there are rattles anywhere, if the brakes are worn, if the transmission shifts correctly, etc. I would never,ever buy a used car without first test driving it to make sure its apparent quality is high enough for me to invest in the next step - paying an independent mechanic for a full inspection.

This is awful advice. You need to at least have test driven the year make and model of the car you're considering, to make sure you're comfortable driving it. (Bring your kids and make sure they're comfortable, too.) You really ought to test drive the specfic car you're considering, too, especially if it's used--you can notice stuff that doesn't look/sound/feel right.

I see the point here--you want to avoid being skewed by emotional connection or a feeling of obligation to the car salesman. But this also deprives you of useful information.

Yes, the opinion of children is paramount in the purchase of an automobile.

He referred to the comfort of children. Very important actually. You want them comfortable so they will go to sleep on long trips!

Agreed. My wife and I brought car seats and tested loading the kids in and out of various vehicles. (4 young kids). We completely ruled out SUV's (which we were leaning towards on paper). A single person can't get 4 young kids into or out of car seats in any reasonable amount of time working around a swing door. Suddenly the sliding doors of a mini-Van made a whole lot more sense. Then we quickly ruled out any van where the middle seats didn't fold flat. You can't easily set a 3 year old into a third row car seat with the middle row in the way.

And finally, I had a strong bias against mini-vans, from driving some in the mid-1990's. Their handling and power was so bad as to make me feel they were dangerous to drive. By the second test drive I realized my priors were out of date and the power and handling had drastically improved over the two decade span.

Frankly, the information from the hands on test drive was fundamental to the purchase. There are some things you don't completely understand until you try it yourself.

I don't own a mini-van but I realize that my priors from the mid-90s are probably out-of-date as well and am no longer opposed to owning one.

The Honda Odyssey should be declared "Official Vehicle of Adulthood."

I'd make some improvements, and the quality is not what it's cracked up to be, but it's a really functional car. A very good approximation of a roomier Accord in feel.

Spouses, careers, clothing and apparently blog posts.

Also: do not date before marrying.

You need to distinguish between (1) checking out the car in a showroom, which is essential for anyone, and (2) actually test-driving it, which is of questionable value for A-to-B type people (but obviously still valuable for driving enthusiasts).

I disagree. Even a non-enthusiast may find something that they just can't live with. Last year I was considering a car which seemed on paper and from reading reviews like just the car for me. It looked nice, was the right size in & out, handy AWD, sitting in it felt perfect, everything I could detect in the showroom was just fine and dandy.

Out on the road I was annoyed with it in the first 2 miles. The power steering was overboosted but what really annoyed me was a weird delay in the response taking off from a stop sign or light. I'm not talking about trying to do a rabbit-launch, it was just this weird extended "who? me? you want to go?" delay due to some bad transmission design or perhaps electronic throttle control.

If I had bought that car I would have been unhappy every day I drove it.

This reasoning is an outlier.

Test drive? Are you kidding me? Nowhere near enough time. I take cars overnight and bring them back the next day.

small print clauses in standard form contracts

Take the test drive. But then go home. And if you ultimately decide you want to buy, don't back to the dealer until it's time to drop off the check and pick up the car. Do all negotiating by phone (or even better, by email). No emotional manipulation and no surprises.

In the past I have often taken test drives at one dealer, then gone to buy the car I prefer at a completely different dealer. Seems to work fairly well.

I'm sure that works, too, but it seems unnecessary. And I couldn't, in good conscience, go into a dealer and ask for a test drive knowing that there was no chance I'd buy the car from them even if it turned out that was the model I wanted.

This company says you shouldn't test drive a used car either.

That's fine, providing the inspection is rigorous.
I looked at a car once that was allegedly inspected by a neutral expert third party.
On quick inspection (actually a sniff) I found it had a catastrophic fuel leak.

Any inspection also needs to be backed up by a full warranty (I think Beepi do) or it's worthless.

Here's better advice: Take advantage of every opportunity to accrue information that will inform a buying decision. As for the concern of being emotionally swayed and manipulated one needs to be mindful of being played. My approach is to resolve never to make a buying decision, or to modify a buying decision, without "sleeping on it". At least this is what I tell the salespeople and I have found it to be an effective way to guard against making uninformed decisions that I may later regret.

How about books? Instead of skimming a few pages, just decide before opening one to either read it or not.

Some of you are quite fussy, it seems.

Write a clever silly click bait post, get a clever silly click bait response.

you should admit that there is a contingent who will come to any MR post to share their precious opinion. trolling is completely unnecessary.

People who deserve to be lowered in status: Those who test drive cars.

I just can't decide the viewpoint it is coming from. I don't test drive the car I intend to buy, I test drive many cars to see which one I intend to buy. This could relate to the amount of time spent using the tool and level of proficiency with a tool. I know I dislike road noise and wind noise on the highway, that's something I check for that is poorly quantified in a review. The ergonomics of a car or any tool is also poorly quantified relative to an individual in a review and if it is something you'll use a lot or represents a large cost more concern might be necessary. The thing about any sort of sample, a food sample, a date, a test drive, is that it is seldom designed to give you a representation of how your normal interaction is with the object, they're designed to create an emotional response, including a sense of obligation, the question is can the individual differentiate that emotional response from a rational preference? That's research I haven't read.

I'd file it under: Economists Don't Get Out Much.

A car is a single item in an economic production model, except that it isn't. Many of us have specific needs or requirements. Not only tall, but I have big feet, surprising how many vehicles are designed for average feet. It is an expensive purchase, there are substantial differences between models and manufacturers.

This could be it, the misapplication of population statistical methods to individuals. On the other hand for many things that Tyler writes about it might be good advice to just buy off a list of rankings. (Universities)

In other words duh. People test drive cars for the same reason they try on clothes, to see if it fits well. You can't tell that online.

"Some of you are quite fussy, it seems."

LOL, Tyler think about what you wrote.

Would you hire a grad student to work with you that you had never met or directly communicated with in any way? Strictly off of the resumes? And could you sell the idea to the rest of the faculty?

Actually most interviews are useless according to Google's head of hr.

Thank you for this comment. I knew I spent a lot more time buying than other people, but couldn't really imagine any other correct way. By imagining "what if I weren't fussy", maybe I can break out of the analysis paralysis.

Yeah, and I wonder how many of these "fussy" people ever bought a car that they test drove and didn't like. Or how many of them understood your advice.

to how many other spheres of life might this reasoning appply?

denying onesself free "samples" of food/libations when one is shopping for such consumables

I enjoy car shopping -- well, less now that there's kids involve -- so I typically test drive a dozen or so and am not worried about "emotional commitment." But Tyler's advice seems really terrible to me. I always take a notebook and test-driving I notice stuff like, wow, the visibility sucks in this thing, or, the controls are in terrible places, or, the seat feels like torture. It's true I'm also tall. My first car was a Prelude I loved to death and, man, that decision was made entirely during the test drive; I hadn't thought to buy it, but it just felt so _planted_ on the road.

I dunno, I think Professor Cowen is bombing on this one.

Clothing accessories such as bow-ties, fedoras, suspenders. Politicians. Cellphones. Golf course memberships.

On a scale as large as an automobile purchase the only thing I can think of is an personal investment strategy (for any goal other than retirement)

Nobody is "normally" shaped and I have test-driven cars that just "didn't fit" (I'm a nearly normal 5'10, 150 lbs man). The lumbar support was weird or the steering wheel was too close/too far, or the pedals just seemed to be in the wrong place, or the stereo controls were too low. Unless you drive the car and futz around with it a little you don't know these things. Not that any of these are automatic disqualifiers but it's certainly more important to me than the color.

Anyways, the last 2 cars I have bought I got the price guaranteed before even walking in the door by emailing a bunch of dealers and getting a firm quote on a particular VIN (and now I think sites like Edmunds and Truecar will do that for you). And no, they didn't try to change the price after the test drive. I would say that is better car buying advice than "don't test drive"

This is insane. This is information that is cheap and easy to obtain. Test drive 4-5 cars in one day, and you have a lot of information. Not necessarily "This is the car for me!" so much as "I really didn't like this!" from a couple of contenders.

I'd say it is a joke for sure, except that in a week or two we will read a NYT opinion piece where he says it all again but in a more serious tone.

Test drives are when the salesman tries to sell you after-market stuff, like LoJack. In addition to trying to get you to think of it as yours (pre-ownership endowment effect?), the after-market stuff is high margin.

I once tried to buy a car without test driving it, but the salesman insisted. It was a low-end VW Jetta, and the acceleration was terrible. I told the salesman that the car "sucked". He told me I needed to get used to the accelerator pedal.

I bought the car anyway, and was very happy with it. Didn't buy LoJack. Car was totaled (with me in it) when I was hit from behind while stopped by a drunk driver traveling at 60 mph or so. Crumple zones absorbed the impact. I had a concussion, but that was it. A hearty thank you to the trial lawyers for incentivizing the modern car engineer.

Might hold true if 1) the number of people looking at the car is high, 2) your preferences are described by the middle of the distribution. The wider idea is just describing life scenarios which you think might fit to a bell curve.

I don't think this is entirely good advice, but everyone seems to think there's zero logic in the argument. There is. Yes, you should see if the car is comfortable. However, I think the test drive is a lot less useful than (almost) everyone believes.

Can your test drive tell you about the gas mileage on your daily commute?
Can your test drive tell you about the car's reliability?
Can your test drive tell you about how the car handles in emergency maneuvers?
Can your test drive tell you about how the car handles in snow?

Those type of questions matter a lot more than many things you'll learn about on the test drive, which can bias your views against those more important questions. Moreover, you are probably an amature test driver whereas the people at Consumer Reports (and other publications) are professional test drivers. CR has a host of different staff members all drive the car in many different conditions for weeks, aggregate their experiences, and put out a good review (including a video) that catches many things you'll miss on your test drive -- not to mention that they do the basic sniff test with scientific precision. If you really are a professional test driver, power to you. However, I see the Dunning–Kruger effect writ large.

In short, there's a reason so many people end up buying shitty cars: we're all less thorough testers than we believe.

"Can your test drive tell you about how the car handles in emergency maneuvers?"

The salesman riding with me seemed surprised when I suddenly braked for an emergency stop. Doesn't everyone test that?

Props to you for testing the braking distance, but it's not hard to find information about a car's braking distance on dry pavement. Did you try a slalom-like avoidance maneuver? How fast did you push the car around a curve? Did you try your braking test on a wet/snowy road? Do you really think you know a car from having slammed on the brakes?

I guess I should put it this way: at best, your handling tests during the test drive are reinventing the wheel by reproducing professional tests. At worst, you're doing an inferior test and thinking that it's a good test (i.e. Dunning-Kruger effect).

"Can your test drive tell you about the gas mileage on your daily commute? Can your test drive tell you about the car’s reliability? Can your test drive tell you about how the car handles in emergency maneuvers? Can your test drive tell you about how the car handles in snow? Ect."

Well, no -- but why would you bother test-driving a car if you hadn't already determined it would be OK on gas-mileage, reliability, etc? Are there people out there who buy cars impulsively, based on emotional reactions to a test-drive and do no research other than asking their neighbor and brother-in-law? Sure, but I guarantee you they're not MR readers (I'm not sure much use in providing advice to a self-selected audience who won't need it).

"why would you bother test-driving a car if you hadn’t already determined it would be OK on gas-mileage, reliability, etc?"

I wouldn't, but that question is off topic. The topic is: what's the benefit of a test drive for a new car,* and will its emotional impact do more harm than good on average?

Like you said, almost all the information you need isn't available from a test drive (or is available without a test drive). Tyler's point is that people will have an emotional reaction to a test drive (even supposedly stoic MR readers), which can hurt the good research they've done. So, make your case for test drives. All you've really said is that MR readers won't buy things impulsively.

*besides verifying that you fit inside and nothing is obviously broken

This is brilliant. Thank you.

I just read the comments and am shocked by the uniformly negative response. I have owned 3 cars in my life. Two I have inherited. One, we purchased in a hurry after a car was totalled in a wreck - total process took one weekend. I have had great experiences will all three cars. Has no one read the Paradox of Choice?

this kind of thing shows up in research because of statistical methods. Uninformed people make bad choices, not just randomly bad, but they often make bad choices diametrically opposed to good ones because they are using uninformed criteria, not just no criteria. Those people can be helped by "trusting the algorithm." The people who have some information are better than algorithms but are rare enough (for whatever reason) that they don't show up en mass in studies.

I should add that "those people can be helped" .. on average.. individually a lot of them are probably worse off for "trusting the algorithm" particularly when it is trying to flush the toilet for them. we all know when we want the toilet to flush.

My experience of test driving cars is that having the use of them for about a week is best. For people I recommend several years.

To the extent that a car is a commodity, or you have experience with a particular brand, a test drive is largely optional. For example, Hondas are all the same, all competent and well put together. I've never driven a Camry, but I would expect it's pretty good to go. Same is true of BMW's, at least the regular series versions. Very predictable, well made, well thought out (except the idiotic I-Drive).

But in some cases, you'd wished you'd test drove a car before puchasing. I rented a Camaro, and the rear suspension was right off a covered wagon. Going over a speed bump, I was literally pitched into the roof of the car. And the visibility is terrible, and the interior, junky. I love the muscle car look, but I would not purchase the car.

Buying a car is the third most important decision you make (house, education, car--unless you have surgery, in which case it's the fourth). You may own a car for a decade or more, and spend literally thousands of hours in it. A ten minute test drive is probably not an unreasonable investment to insure that you don't discover any features or flaws which would be a 'deal killer' from an ownership perspective.

One of my favorite things about work travel is getting to drive different cars for 3-5 days.

To the other spheres of life question, I would think hiring would be the obvious analogy. Stick to reviewing resumes and, perhaps, references--if they can be established as objective. A one-on-one interview is qualitatively different from actually working, and is just as (or more?) likely to introduce new biases as it is to resolve pre-existing ones.

BTW, this is the best advice in the whole post, "They want you to do it, which is already reason to be suspicious."

Same goes with hiring. The people who work the hardest to get an interview are the ones who think (often correctly) they have non-work related advantages that don't come through on a resume.

You test drive a car for the same reason you try on clothing: you want to see if it's comfortable for you.

Whatever advantage the sales staff obtains from the test drive is easily nullified by insisting you want 24 hours to decide. At a minimum, your demand for 24 hours will almost always elicit a "What would it take to get you buy it now?", thus strengthening your negotiating position.

buying craft beer. i often find samples to be misleading. unique tasting beers stand out on first sip and then midway through, you realize why the beer is unique -- because you can't stand drinking the whole thing. i say just pick the beer type you want (lager, ipa, etc) and go with the bartenders rec.

i also think a similar idea applies to ice cream and frozen yoghurt. just pick a flavor and live with the decision.

"They want you to do it"? Are there also natural cures, weight-loss cures, and debt cures THEY don't want me to know about?

Car salesmen HATE him

I can't imagine a world were less information is better than more. I keep cars for 10 to 15 years, and use them, on average two hours per day, and sometimes 14 hours at a stretch. I want to make sure the seat is comfortable, the controls are ergonomic for me, the visibilty's good, the handling feels "right", I like the pickup, etc. The only thing I'm more particular about is a bed.

Absolutely salesmen try to use the test drive to hook you. But the answer is to be aware, and don't be hooked. It gives you other things to complain about, and negotiate with. (I used this tactic recently.)

I must say that this was a pretty self-centered post - you don't see the value, so there must be no value?

It's a trick question. The correct answer is to buy used with a warranty. New cars are almost never worth the depreciation cost.

Agree. I recently talked with two people who owned a model I was interested in buying new. The dealer was trying to get rid of his 2015 stock and was offering a good price. I took it for a test drive. The car had no power and pulled to one side.

So based on not test driving, I would have purchased the car. Test driving brought me back to my senses, and I'm looking for a good used car.

If you are buying a car with broadly similar parameters to cars you've previously owned I get this sort of analysis. The risk of mis valuing feature A or B is low. If you are changing types of car - going from compact to a mid size, going from low hp to high, going from non luxury interior to luxury - I don't know how you would reasonably evaluate if the new features are worth the cost from your perspective. Once you are committed to a set of features and you know what those features are like, it is probably from that point somewhat detrimental to drive models in that feature set. That said, if you have the idea that you are buying one of 3 finalists, if you pre commit to test driving all 3 you should in theory save yourself from the immediacy of driver commitment.

The underlying fallacy of the post's suggestion is that eliminating a noisy, biased source of information leads to a less noisy, less biased set of information. That is only true given assumptions about the noise and bias of the remaining inputs.

It also presents a false dichotomy between ignoring and using the information. There are ways to use information that control for its bias.

It also ignores political considerations (The husband who says "What were you thinking? You didn't even drive it first!?!?!?")

If you can rent the model of car you're considering buying for a week, you'll learn a lot about whether you'd like the car.

There's not a single thing mentioned on here that isn't discussed in car reviews somewhere that I know of. Seat comfort for drivers of various sizes? Check. Noise? Check. Child seats? Check. Suspension? Check. Ease of controls? Check. Maybe you guys are just reading the wrong reviews, or you're not reading that many reviews.

"Would you like to taste the wine?"


One other reason why this post is misguided is that buying a car is a minefield and there is a lot of interesting economics that we could be talking about. Focusing on the 'emotional investment' of a test drive is focusing on one of the smaller mistakes a buyer can make - if it's a mistake at all.

How about talking about extended warranties, and what an awful deal they are? Or the "I have to get approval from my manager" gambit? Or the useless add-ons they try to sneak past you in the contracts, such as VIN etching, undercoating, fabric protection, yada yada.

How about talking about the behavioral economics behind the standard trick of selling you based on monthly cost vs the total cost of ownership? Or the gauntlet you are forced to run during final sale ("Next, the manager would like to shake your hand. Then we have just one more little form for you to sign for our service manager. After that, our financial representative would like you to fill out the financial paperwork. Then we'll get you back here for one more round of signings...) At each step of the way another sales pitch comes at you - with the most time-consuming, expensive ones coming near the end when you're tired, already made the purchase and just want to get the hell out of there and will agree to anything if they'll just go away and let you out.

These are the kinds of tricks that REALLY separate the mark from his money. The test drive is just good sense, so long as you are careful to leave your attachments at the door.

Seems uncontroversial. The product becomes optimised for the test, which might end up being unrepresentative of real use.

TVs have over saturated colours. Taste tests favour sugary treats. Marriage and pretty faces. Students and SAT scores. List goes on.

Basically most tests are overly precise, which can be exploited by seller to get better price. Better to rely on minimal checks, a lower price, and take your chances.

I think you are avoiding a tiny amount of sales pressure by giving up on a lot of valuable information.

Seat comfort, height of ceiling, visibility, instrument layout, responsiveness given your driving style -- these are hard to pick out on paper and can completely change the decision to buy.

Walking away from a car you've test driven is very easy, however.

Depends on how informed the test driver is. If the test driver can't tell the difference between a good and a bad car, and is using the test drive to affirm a pre-existing decision, then the test drive is a terrible idea. If the driver is a savvy car consumer who can tell the difference between a bad car with a good brand, and a good car with a bad brand - then the test drive is very informative.

AKA "don't ask a homeless man for financial advice". Seems obvious, but this advice is not always heeded.

whatabout our homes ? Surely the most important purchase we will ever make.. id like to test a place to live for at least a night or two.

I know its not realistic , but there must be a way to experience what it must be like to wake up and go to sleep in your new home before committing ..

had i known i was going to have noisy neighbours or a barking dog , or that the sun wasn't going to stream in for more than 6months of the year , i might have reconsidered..

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