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Rethinking the Test-Drive Experience

Rethinking the Test-Drive Experience

Recently, a client asked us for a favour. He paid his UX/UI agency to recommend how he should improve their test-drive booking page and wanted our opinion on whether he should implement them. 

We have, and there was nothing wrong with what they suggested. The page layout changed for the better, the labels and tooltips too, and the form now had a nice, modern look and feel. 

Yet they've still polished a turd. 

The UX improved, but not the overall customer experience, which wasn't the UX agency's fault. 

So, what should a better test drive booking experience look like?

We decided to research it, and here's our summary.

The reasons for it

People want to experience cars for different reasons. 

It could be to check the build quality and materials, to see if that 1-litre petrol engine has enough power for their driveway, to evaluate cabin ergonomics, to test seat comfort, to assess if the EV is as quiet as everyone claims, to determine if their 6'3" height fits comfortably, or to verify if the boot, defined in litres, accommodates their pram and a shopping bag, among many other considerations.

Not all these reasons necessitate a test drive.

Not everyone wants it

Many people don't want a test drive at all. 

Some would feel obligated to the salesperson who made them coffee and spent 20 minutes with them on a test drive. Others are uncomfortable driving in a busy area in an unfamiliar car with a stranger beside them. And for some, it's simply too soon in their decision-making process; they might want to check a box off their validation list and continue exploring their options.

Not everyone needs it

Many feel they haven't completed their due diligence if they don't test drive a car. But does it truly benefit everyone?

The build quality and materials used are significant considerations for many when exploring new car brands entering the market. Yet, only a handful of individuals possess the engineering expertise to accurately assess it by merely looking at or driving a car. And no matter how friendly a dealership's staff may be, they are unlikely to highlight any defects.

In such cases, an independent review and video test drive might offer more insight than a personal test drive.

This applies equally to evaluating a car's dynamics, value, safety, and other similar factors.

And assessing whether the interior ergonomics are good, the infotainment screen is user-friendly, a tall driver can comfortably fit, or the boot is spacious enough for a pram doesn't necessarily require a test drive either. Inspecting a stationary car can tick the checkbox more effectively than a stressful test drive.

Who really needs the test drive, then?

It's for those who love driving and are good at it and those eager to assess a car's ride quality, parking ease, and road noise. Essentially, that's it.

Yet many more will take it even if they won't enjoy it or derive any benefit. This is because, traditionally, there were no alternatives, and most dealerships still operate under the belief that the only way to sell a car is to insist everyone takes it for a spin.

What exactly do people want to experience? 

People want to experience the specific car they have in mind, not just any car.

This means the car needs to be in the desired trim and engine — not the standard white or grey mid-spec model readily available at every dealership.

Driving a diesel instead of a petrol car might deter people from all engine types because they might perceive the model as noisy. 

Conversely, driving a petrol car instead of a torquey diesel could discourage those who need to tow a caravan. Similarly, mixing internal combustion engine cars with EVs or hybrids doesn't work either.

Experiencing a car in a lower trim will lead to immediate disappointment. Experiencing a higher trim will result in even greater disappointment later when the actual, lower-spec vehicle is purchased, delivered, and handed over.

For some buyers, colour is a deal-breaker too. If they're eager to see how that stunning red or metallic paint they've seen on the website looks under the sun, a white car simply won't do.

Experience it where exactly?

People want to experience a car, not learn what the nearest dealership has available for driving. 

This means that having to select a dealer first doesn't make sense. Of course, if you are a dealership, you won't be sending people to your competitors, but if you are a manufacturer, why ask people to select a dealership at all?

Show them where the petrol cars in the trim they are interested in are and let them choose whether to drive 50 miles there or settle for a diesel that's only 5 miles away instead.

But wait, why should they be driving anywhere in the first place? Why not deliver the right car to their workplace or home instead? The experience would be much better, and because of the endowment effect, the attachment to the car would go through the roof.

Yes, it might cost more, but not as much as losing the customer because you put them in the wrong car.

But that might not even be the case.

What if the right people wanted to buy a minivan or an SUV because they often travel with kids? Why not rent the car to them for a week's holiday at the cost and subtract the rental from the purchase price if they buy it? The week is enough for the whole family to fall in love with a new car so deeply they wouldn't ever want to hand the keys back!

Where should the experience happen?

People are interested in experiencing a car, not merely learning what's available for a test drive at the nearest dealership.

This implies that asking customers to select a dealer first doesn't align with their needs. Naturally, dealerships wouldn't direct potential buyers to their competitors, but for manufacturers, why force people to choose a dealership in the first place?

It would be more friendly to show customers where the cars they're specifically interested in are and let them decide whether to drive 50 miles to test-drive it or opt for another spec and engine just 5 miles away.

But here's a thought: why should potential buyers need to travel at all? Why not deliver the preferred car directly to their workplace or home? This approach would vastly improve the experience and significantly increase the buyer's attachment to the vehicle due to the endowment effect.

Yes, this might cost more, but wouldn't that be outweighed by the risk of losing a customer by placing them in the wrong car?

And it might even pay for itself.

Imagine the right customers looking to purchase a minivan or an SUV because they frequently travel with children. Why not offer the car for a week-long holiday rental at the cost and deduct the fee from the purchase price if they decide to buy it? A week is plenty of time for the entire family to fall in love with the car so profoundly that they wouldn't even dream of returning it!

The booking

The booking experience, to put it mildly, is far from ideal. When people can select an exact seat on a plane for their Caribbean holiday next year, along with the specific room they'll stay in, settling for "Please leave all your details here, and someone from somewhere will get back to you at some point" is underwhelming. That's not booking; that's a throwback to the 1960s, minus the paper form and prepaid envelope that would arrive by post.

In 2024, the expectation for a virtual experience includes immediate access to highly personalised content and service.

For a physical experience, customers should be able to select the car they want, decide how and where they wish to experience it and choose from a range of available dates and times.

Booking should be accessible via a website, chatbot, live chat, phone, or messaging app.

Before the day, marketing automation should detail the practicalities and, through engaging content, gradually build anticipation for what's to come. 

It should also prompt customers to register their driver's license and arrange insurance, so they just need to show their ID on the day.

And, of course, given that circumstances can change, cancelling or amending a booking should be straightforward.

After the experience, the system should ask for feedback and suggest a personalised next-best action.

The reality

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that the current experiences will improve anytime soon. The three most significant barriers appear to be:

  • The absence or unreliability of information regarding cars available for test drives at dealerships.

  • Challenges in integrating dealerships' DMSs/CRMs with manufacturers' websites.

  • The lack of a sophisticated yet user-friendly booking system that would make the process of booking, managing bookings, and follow-up communication a pleasant experience in itself.


None of these challenges are real show-stoppers. What is required is the right vision, translated into an outstanding customer experience, facilitated by the right technology, and supported by effective processes.

We can help you with any or all of these aspects, so if you're searching for a polished diamond (rather than its more common, smelly substitute), contact us!


Got questions or thoughts you'd like to share? We love a good conversation! Let's discuss your insights.

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