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INSIDER: Ain't life a blag with take-home test drives

Date: 22 September 2008

The Insider is a fleet manager with years of invaluable experience

This week, Insider is wondering why car makers provide take-home test drives when all his drivers do is take the cars for a spin and then pick a different model.

A top-10 regular on the driver gripe chart is the frosty reception they receive at dealerships when they turn up for a test drive.

Once they've admitted they're not spending their own money, the salesman instantly drops the pretence of bonhomie and stalks off with a parting mumble about booking it through head office.

This isn't new. And, to be honest, it isn't exactly mystifying either, a point I put to any salesman in this firm who collars me for a moan on the subject. Would they really carry on pursuing a sale so enthusiastically if their commission was no longer on the table? (Actually, being salesmen, they tell me of course they would. It's almost convincing).

It's the car company that's to blame, not the salesman. Some have addressed the issue with dedicated business centres in the bigger dealerships, while the smarter (and deeper pocketed) firms offer take-home test drives, which are periodically popular with my drivers, as long as there's a delivery/pick-up service.

The Vauxhall/Saab three-day test is pretty good, but there are glitches. The delivery time of between 9am-5pm has stymied many a daily schedule, and the drivers know there's no way the firm is paying GM's £150 failed delivery fine. They don't always get the exact model they want, either, occasionally lumbering them with a thirsty petrol that's not on our list, but one we end up paying the fuel for anyway. That's not what either the finance or CSR department want to hear.

The long-running 24/48-hour Renault Laguna test, which ends 30 September I see, was blighted by the fact that Renault opened it up to the general public, despite everyone having to enter a company name into the booking form (from what I hear anything worked. Even 'Unemployed').

That ensured the model choice was a lottery. And because it was operated by Avis, it meant you might get a different car altogether. I heard of two people whose promised Laguna turned out to be a Ford Mondeo and a Honda Accord respectively, which undermines the value of a test-drive loan somewhat. However, the Avis connection did mean you always got a car and when you asked for it, too, thanks to their more precise delivery times.

Does it work? Not spectacularly well here, it has to be said. Only one or two have ever translated their test-drives into a tick next to the car in the choice list; most take-home testers revel in their blag and their tester knowledge for a couple of days before panning the car and choosing something else.

This is either because they enjoy the fleeting power of being able to condemn a car with first-hand knowledge, or because car makers only throw test-drive cash at cars that aren't that sellable to begin with. Personally, I wish they'd trust my judgement, assume everything on my list is up to the job, and stop wasting quite so much time fretting about their next car.