Is A Virtual Test Drive Enough?


Test driving a car is a critical step of buying a vehicle. You don’t want to buy a car before you drive it. So what about in cases where you buy the vehicle online? Is a virtual test drive adequate to tell how the vehicle drives? Some of you may not even realize virtual test drives are an option for you, they are but, but they might not be exactly what you think.

While virtual test drives give drivers great data and insight on a vehicle, you’ll still want to go through a thorough test drive before you buy and check the vehicle over thoroughly using our test drive checklist.

Can A Virtual Test Drive Take The Place Of An In Person Test Drive

The answer is no. A virtual test drive is not enough to base a decision of purchasing a car.

A virtual test drive should be a supplement in the buying process if that sort of technology interests you. From home, you can quickly do a virtual test drive of many different vehicles to get a baseline of what makes and models you are interested in. In this sense, virtual test drives are an excellent resource! It is the most efficient way to get information on multiple cars without actually leaving the house. However, in person test drives are not something that should be done away with probably ever.

The only exception here is if the car is returnable for a certain period of time after purchase, like if you buy the car from an online service that allows you to keep the car for a month before the car can no longer be returned.

Virtual Test Drives Have Become More Relevant

Test drives done virtually are not exactly new. Many companies have been offering this feature for years, however it is easy to understand that they have become much more relevant in the recent health crisis

With 2020 behind us and a good chunk of the population vaccinated, we can look back on how the Coronavirus pandemic affected the way that we do business.

The car market struggled last year. Many people were staying home from work and having necessities delivered to their houses instead of venturing out to get them, which drastically decreased the need for a vehicle. Driving overall decreased dramatically, especially in the first few months of the pandemic when individuals were being more cautious.

People were also avoiding gathering in public places to make purchases, like car dealerships.

Consumers did not want to be trapped in an airtight vehicle with their salesperson on a test drive. My household bought two vehicles during the quarantine, one from a dealership and another from a third party seller. Dealerships had shifted their test drive policies to allow customers to drive the cars alone which many of us didn’t know was happening. The third party seller wanted to be present and didn’t hand over their keys to a complete stranger which is understandable.

So what about those of us who are interested in virtual reality? We’re living in the future where technology like this not only exists, but is incredibly realistic.

What Is A Virtual Test Drive?

A virtual test drive is exactly what it sounds like, a virtual experience where the consumer gets a drivers seat view of riding in the car. Most of these “test drives” are just videos of the vehicle that allow you to explore the car and its features and then ride along for a drive. You won’t be able to control acceleration or braking so don’t expect the newest need for speed game.

 Among brands in the industry, BMW, Audi, Porsche, KIA, Volkswagen, Lexus, Chevrolet, and Honda have all begun using virtual reality and augmented reality experiences in the marketing of their vehicles.

How Does A Virtual Test Drive Work

If you go to the car brand’s website you are interested in, you should be able to find their digital library of test drives. You can also type in a car make and model followed by “test drive” in a search engine and find videos that you are looking for.

Again this is just a video of the vehicle with probably some sales and mechanical specs. They’ll tell you about the vehicle and then put it through a drive that you get to sit in on. You’re not in control for most of these test drives (though car manufacturers should really get on making this a virtual reality feature).

Here is an example of a virtual test drive of a BMW X3 being driven Mars to give you some perspective on why you shouldn’t use these virtual test drives in loo of an actual test drive. They are still pretty cool though!

Where A Virtual Test Drive Falls Short

With a virtual test drive there are a few key features that are lacking.

  • Inability to feel the vehicle moving under you
  • You can’t test features on the actual vehicle you are interested in

You want to drive the actual vehicle that you are interested in to make sure it works properly! This is a feature that is definitely lacking with a virtual test drive. When you consider purchasing a car you want to test out all of the features. Not only do you want to feel how the car takes turns and be able to hear any unusual noises the car might be making, but you want to be able to check the lights, look under the car for perforations or rust etc.

Is A Virtual Test Drive Enough?

While virtual test drives are a unique and informative experience, they are not a sufficient replacement to actually driving a vehicle. A virtual test drive will mimic the overall effect of the make and model of the car you are interested in, but every car is different and you can’t actually feel the car in a virtual test drive.

Virtual test drives should be considered a step in the process that gives you more information on whether or not you are interested in the car, but they are not a substitute to actually driving the car yourself.

Test driving a car is a step that should never be skipped for any vehicle unless you happen to be buying a car using an online source that allows you to keep the car for up to 30 days before you are stuck with it. If you can keep a car overnight, you should! Any time you are buying a car and you are given the opportunity to do an extended test drive it is a great idea to jump on that.

The Moral Of The Story: Make Sure You Test Drive Before You Buy!

Check out this check list of things you should inspect during a test drive

Test Drive Checklist

  • How does the car start?
  • Does the air conditioning work?
  • Does the heat work?
  • Do the windshield wipers both work?
  • Test all windows and door locks including back door latches on SUVs.
  • Test all signals and lights including: brake lights, turn signals, emergency lights, headlights, tail lights, internal lights, brights and fog lights
  • Do the brakes work well?
  • Test the vehicle stop and go
  • Test the vehicle on turns you take sharply (but safely)
  • Feel out how much give the suspension has
  • Test the cruise control
  • Get the car over 65 miles per hour and see how it drives and listen for odd noises and shaking

When you are looking over the vehicle you’ll also want to take a peek at the brake pads and tires to see how much life is left in them. Adjust the price you are willing to pay for the car accordingly. Next you’re going to want to have the entire vehicle evaluated by a mechanic. 

We hope this helps answer your questions about virtual test drives and you feel more prepared on your search for buying the right vehicle for you.

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