How To Take a One-Year Test Drive, And Why You Should
Car-shopping experts agree that a test drive is essential to making the right choice of vehicle. “You should never, ever, EVER buy a car without test driving it at least once,” advises MotorTrend. “The test drive is one of the most important aspects of choosing a car,” recommends Edmunds.com. These strong suggestions to spend time behind the wheel before signing on the dotted line make a ton of sense. Unfortunately, the guidance from experts about how to take a meaningful test drive is impractical if not misleading.
For most car shoppers, a test drive is completed in about 20 minutes on the unfamiliar roads adjacent to a car dealership. The sales agent is usually in the front seat making small talk about the model’s attractive features. A thousand thoughts are going through your mind about whether the car is a smart choice, and if the price is fair. It’s a nerve-wracking and artificial situation that bears little to no relation to your day-to-day driving experience.
Car-shopping gurus are aware of this problem, so they make suggestions that are smart but not easy to implement:
Schedule your test drive in advance so that it takes place on local roads highways that are familiar to you
Include routes with different road surfaces and sharp turns to get a sense of handling and cabin noise
Drive the exact, specific vehicle you have in mind even if it requires the dealership to move cars around or make other special efforts
These bullet points make sense. However, in many cases, the dealership is not located where you do most of your driving. So you are already distracted by traffic and turns. Also, there’s scant opportunity to test the features that make all the difference for a comfortable ride. Does the AC to quickly cool down the cabin on a hot day? Can you easily access the headlights just as dusk falls? How do you get the windshield wipers to swipe at the right rate during a light rainfall? These questions remain unanswered during a 20-minute test drive.
It could take days if not weeks for you to discover a flaw in the seat-adjustment controls or a blind spot obscuring a vehicle approaching in an adjacent lane. Car-shopping experts advise parents to bring a child seat with them for the test drive. Sounds good but will you really do that?
How easy or annoying is it to pair your smartphone using Bluetooth? How comfortable is the driver seating position when the backseat is filled with passengers? The cargo space looks decent when it’s empty but quickly diminishes when you load up your luggage for a weekend road trip.
Even if you bring the kid’s car seat with you for the test drive, are you going to bring spare passengers and camping gear with you as well?
Let’s face it. You need to live with a car, use the navigation and infotainment, and drive it for at least weeks if not months before you know if it meets your needs or to discover what bugs the hell out of you. Even the simplest things, such as how easy it is to get in and out, whether or not the seats are comfortable, and how easy it is to reach critical button and controls, will only reveal themselves over time.
You might not notice a scratch or experience a deep pothole until weeks after taking ownership. The intangible feeling of how your car looks in your driveway and the reaction it garners from your friends—you know, all the things that make a vehicle either a joy to own or a slight embarrassment—take time to ascertain.
As USA Today pointed out, “A slight discomfort or annoyance will feel much worse after eight hours of driving.” Try as you might, you won’t know much about a vehicle even after a two-hour test drive with a sales guy or gal riding shotgun.
The Solution: The No-Commitment, Indefinite Test Drive
When you consider the shortcomings of a test-drive evaluation—and the associated risks of buying a costly but depreciating asset—it’s no wonder that the auto industry is being upended with new approaches to car ownership.
Thankfully, innovative companies in the mobility space are slowly but surely creating new ways for you to get around without owning a car. The long list of alternatives includes ride-haling, car-sharing, and rent-by-the-mile bicycles and scooters. While these choices can be attractive, many of us still need or want immediate access to a vehicle.
Enter the all-inclusive monthly car subscription from services like Canvas.
With a subscription, you can put nearly any size and type of vehicle in your driveway without any of the risks related to a five-year loan or lease. The monthly car subscription includes insurance, maintenance, roadside assistance, and registration.
Here’s the kicker: You can swap vehicles as often as you like. In effect, a car subscription is an ongoing, indefinite test drive. And it occurs in the course of your normal, daily life and in the real context of your transportation lifestyle. If you discover that the trunk doesn’t fit all your stuff, swap the car for a bigger model. There’s no penalty. If the infotainment system keeps dropping the Bluetooth connection to your phone, try another model with smarter connectivity.
On the other hand, if you fall in love with the car provided by your subscription service, keep the vehicle as long as you want. Regardless, you will have learned what you like.
In nearly all circumstances, an all-in-one subscription service is more cost effective and reliable than getting saddled with a vehicle for years, buying insurance separately, worrying about big repairs down the road, and having to deal with selling the car (usually at a substantial loss) when it’s time for your next ride.
A car subscription means experiencing a vehicle with all its pros and cons for as long as you like. It removes the risk and the guesswork—and makes the traditional test drive as obsolete as a horse and buggy.