When prospects are figuring out whether or not they want to purchase a car, nothing tells them as much as taking it for a spin. The test drive is a critical step in the buying process, serving as the pinnacle of the customer research journey. And the numbers don’t lie: 88 percent of car buyers say they wouldn’t purchase a vehicle without first getting it on the road.
However, as pivotal as trial runs can be for closing sales, they also leave your dealership vulnerable to certain risks. Vehicle damage, theft, and financial liability are unfortunate possibilities you must avoid at all costs.
Fortunately, there are steps dealers can take to mitigate the risks of test drives, including properly screening potential buyers and practicing effective key control. So before you hand over the keys, be sure to have these practices in place to handle test drives as safely and responsibly as possible.
Make a Preliminary Checklist
As a dealer, you naturally want to run a secure establishment without conveying a sense of distrust to your customers. There needs to be a balance between administering safe procedures and not over-complicating the customer experience. You may be tempted to prioritize convenience over following safety protocols, but those protocols are necessary to ensure nothing is left to chance when it comes to the safety of your inventory.
To prepare each prospect for a test drive, you should require them to present a valid driver’s license. It’s also a good idea to scan a copy for your own future reference. The license exchange is important for determining that the customer is legally authorized to drive, ensuring you’re putting qualified drivers behind the wheel.
Granted, the majority of people coming to your dealership are trustworthy and want to do business with you. But you also must remember not to take unnecessary risks if a prospective customer seems suspicious, either in conduct or in their driving ability. If you have doubts about their behavior, you can ask for their contact information and invite them to return at a later date. In the meantime, run a background check and ceck references before allowing them to test drive.
Practice Effective Key Control
To be prepared for the key exchange on your end, you can secure your inventory keys in a locked key management system. If any damage occurred to your vehicle during a prospect’s test drive, hopefully they would do the right thing and report it. But if they don’t, then you’ll know who was involved because you’ll have their paperwork filed and a key audit report will tell you when the key was accessed and for whom.
A modern scam called key swapping poses another test drive risk. A thief will test drive a car and give back a false set of keys to the salesperson, only to return after hours and take off with the vehicle. Key control systems that require you to attach keys to a tag with a metal ring will make it much harder for thieves to swap the original key for a counterfeit during a test drive.
Following every test drive, it’s crucial that the keys for the keys to be returned to your key management system. As you may know from experience, it’s very costly to replace vehicle keys, especially if this unnecessary replacement cost is a frequent occurrence. Having a regular protocol for key returns will allow you to properly store the keys and be ready for next steps, whether that’s finalizing the buying process or initiating the next test drive.
Build Trust With Potential Buyers
Allowing someone else to drive one of your dealership’s vehicles naturally requires trust. Most people coming to your dealership to look at vehicles will engage in honest business, but that doesn’t mean you should jump the gun on immediately letting them test drive without going through protocols. The risks of damage and theft are certainly valid concerns, and it’s ultimately up to you to take preemptive measures for the safety of your inventory and employees. Trust is a two-way street, so the more upfront you are, the more potential buyers will return the sentiment.
It’s always important to treat each prospective customer with respect and fairness, both for their own good and for the protection of your dealership. Make a conscious effort to avoid pressuring them into a hasty buying decision. This will keep customers relaxed and careful when they’re on their test drive, and improve their experience overall. Having a positive test-drive experience could also lead them to recommend your dealership to people they know.
By following regimented procedures, making every effort to manage keys responsibly, and building trust with customers, you can mitigate the risks involved with test drives.