Some Unsolicited Car Shopping Advice

A recent AutomotiveNews report highlighted the results of a national survey that showed 21 percent of new car buyers don’t test drive the car they buy. Not only did they not test drive the specific vehicle that ended up in their driveway, they never even drove a dealer demonstrator. If not "sight unseen," they made their decision "performance unfelt."

The survey, conducted by IBM, also revealed that half of all car buyers drove only one model and then bought it. This prompts two questions.

First: What is IBM, a traditional provider of IT services, doing in the automotive field? And second: Is there a better approach that could be pursued by more than 70 percent of the car-buying public?

To answer the first question, it turns out that "Big Blue," as IBM is also known, works with automakers in the areas of marketing sales and service, manufacturing and supply chain management and product lifecycle management. So it makes sense for the company to do a survey of this type.

And there certainly is a better approach for those who either don’t test drive a vehicle or only try one model.

As someone who test drives at least 85 new vehicles a year, I can attest to the fact that there are really very few bad cars out there.  But there are more than 250 cars by last count, not counting different trim lines or trucks. They are different enough from each other to make some automobiles far better suited than others for specific buyers.

Take the issue of comfort. Each of us has different opinions as to what constitutes a desirable seat. Some people like soft cushioning, others prefer firm. Some cars feature aggressive side bolstering, which I like, but then again, I still fit in my old Army uniform. Others, who have grown out as they have grown up, find bolstering uncomfortable and confining. The only way to know is to try the car out before you buy.

 I prefer a firm, well-controlled ride. Others appreciate a suspension system that absorbs bumps better, even if that means less precise handling. While reviews can shed some light on these performance characteristics, the ultimate decision comes down to what you like. Again, the only way to do this is to try several different cars.

As for comfort, I always advise new car buyers to try at least three, and preferably five, models that fit their needs and budget. With so many models now on the market, there are probably 10 or more vehicles that could be viable candidates.

Several years ago, a person who always bought "Brand X" asked me for car buying advice. I gave her five models that I thought she might like to try. She started her search by visiting a "Brand X" dealer, where she bought her next car. She never tried the other four, until a trip to Denver, where she rented one of the cars on my list.

She loved this competing model.  To her, it was more comfortable, rode and handled better and offered a better view ahead than the car she had just purchased. Too bad she hadn’t tried it before making her decision.

The National Automobile Dealers Association says that the average new vehicle now costs just over $30,000. The IBM survey says that the average buyer spends fewer than five hours researching this purchase, despite the fact that the family will probably spend about 500 hours a year riding in this car. Twenty-four percent only researched the car that they eventually bought.

So, here is some unsolicited advice for new car shoppers. Make a list of several models and then go out and take some test drives. You never know what you might find.