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Published: Wednesday, 11/16/2011

More buyers skip test drive of new vehicle


In an era of buying flat-screen televisions from Amazon.com without seeing the picture quality and ordering shoes through Zappos.com without trying them on, some car buyers are purchasing vehicles without taking a test drive.

“We found the number of people who skipped the test drive more than doubled since 2007,” said John Sternal, a spokesman for LeaseTrader.com, an online lease transfer service.

He speculated that the trend may have to do with the type of transaction the Web site is brokering. “I think a lot of people feel the shorter-term commitment that comes with assuming the remainder of someone else’s lease kind of limits the downside risk,” he said.

Oren Weintraub, founder of car-buying consultancy Authority Auto and a former sales manager at a large southern California Ford dealership, said of no-test-drive customers, “Generally these are people who know what they want, whether it’s because they’re very brand-loyal or they’ve fallen in love with the styling of a particular model.

“Same goes for buyers who are strictly interested in getting the best deal and those with limited choices like a big family that needs a nine-passenger vehicle with four-wheel drive.”

Charles Van Stone, a retired human resources executive who drives a 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS, is among those whose attraction to a specific model makes a test drive redundant.

“I never test-drive a car, but I do subscribe to five different car magazines,” said Mr. Van Stone of Sheperdstown, W.Va. “So by the time I’ve read all these different opinions and finally sit behind the wheel, I have every reason to believe it’s going to be exactly what I wanted.”

George Peterson, president of AutoPacific, an industry consulting firm, said improvements in the quality of new vehicles likely play a role.

He also said new technology enables a buyer to do an online examination of virtually every aspect of a new model.

“There’s more information online than ever before, from written reviews and videos to newer features that allow you to see 360-degree views of the car you’re considering, right down to the color and options you want.”

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