Tips, Tricks & Trends

Want a Test Drive on Your Own Time? Here’s How

Researching your next vehicle isn’t enough on its own. Yes, knowing how safe the Hyundai Palisade is compared to the Ford Explorer, or what standard features come with the Honda Passport—these are all important. And every SUV buyer wants a reliable machine, made by Toyota or otherwise. But while listening and watching people review cars and SUVs may help spark interest, at some point, buyers will need to take a test drive.

Ford dealership and service center in Khimki, Moscow Region
MOSCOW REGION, RUSSIA – JULY 20, 2016: A client of Ford dealership and service center before a test drive. Artyom Geodakyan/TASS (Photo by Artyom GeodakyanTASS via Getty Images)

And that’s not always easy. Dealership hours and work schedules mean most potential customers have to sprint against the clock in the evening. Either that or come in on a weekend or take a day off. And even when you sit down with a salesperson, the test drive is usually no more than a big circle of a few blocks. There’s little that anyone can glean from such a short, controlled stretch of time. But there are some ways buyers can actually get to know their potential purchase, on their own time.

Extended test drives

It isn’t commonly-advertised, but some automakers do offer extended-length test drives. Cadillac and Buick, for example, will let you test drive a vehicle for up to 24 hours given proper scheduling. And in the UK at least, Lexus offers 48-hour test drives.

Even if a specific brand doesn’t offer an extended-length test drive program, that doesn’t mean a specific dealer doesn’t. Jalopnik recommends asking your local dealership if they offer or are willing to schedule an extended test drive. If that happens, a dealer will often sign out a rental agreement. In fact, Toyota offers exactly such a program—you can rent a Toyota for a day or even a long weekend.

There’s also a little bit of a loophole. Used car sites like Carvana often offer a money-back guarantee. Theoretically, if you’re deciding between a small handful of choices, you could buy one, test drive it for a few days, then return it for a refund.

But if none of these options work, there is an alternative: rental.

Turo (or other rental agency)

In addition to brand-specific rental programs like Toyota’s, it’s always possible to rent a vehicle you’re interested in from an agency like Hertz.

Although it will be more expensive than going on a dealership test drive, renting a car or SUV from an agency will allow you to go anywhere at whatever (legal) pace you want. When the test drive’s over, you just drop the keys off and you’re done. There’s no salesperson trying to get you to sign-off on additional paint protection or upsell you a bigger SUV. But, keep in mind that it isn’t always possible for an agency to bring you a specific car. And it may not have all the features you want to test out.

However, there is an alternative rental site: Turo. Doug Demuro of Autotrader has used it multiple times, as have I. Turo lets vehicle owners rent their wheels to other people, like Airbnb but with BMWs instead of bungalows. There’s both a site and an app that allows the renter to communicate with rentee. In addition, although Turo allows renters to purchase insurance coverage, Autotrader reports most individuals’ insurance will cover a Turo vehicle like any other rental.

Again, you will have to pay for the rental. However, Turo’s selection usually means you can pick out a rental specced exactly like your desired vehicle will be. Motor1 reported that Nissan is even partnering with Turo to provide test drives. In addition, the cars, trucks, and SUVs on Turo belong to someone. They’ve most likely been far less-abused than the average rental car.

Which one is best?

Both test drive methods have their pros and cons.

FRAMINGHAM, MA - MARCH 29: Keith Monnin, CEO of Bernardi Auto Group, looks over a dealership in Framingham, MA on Mar. 29, 2017. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FRAMINGHAM, MA – MARCH 29: Keith Monnin, CEO of Bernardi Auto Group, looks over a dealership in Framingham, MA on Mar. 29, 2017. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Renting from Turo or another agency costs more, but you can pick out and drive almost exactly what you want on your own schedule. Everyone’s time is precious, and trying to get out the door of a dealer in a timely manner can be difficult at the best of times. On the other hand, a dealer- or brand-specific extended test drive program lets you establish a relationship with the dealership. Which, depending on the frequency of emails and salesperson pushiness, may not always be desired right away.

If your budget allows, and you’re in the beginning stages of narrowing down your vehicle purchase options, I would recommend renting. It lets you test-drive something on your own terms, without outside, vested influence. But, if you’re on the fence between two or three specific vehicles, you’re at the point where a visit to the dealership is inevitable. At that point, a dealer-provided extended test drive makes more sense.