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  • Bill Antonitis

How to Do Drive Homework

Do Your Homework!

I am a teacher by day, and I have certainly uttered the phrase, "do your homework" more times than I can count.  But unlike much of what you had to do in school, drive homework can be fun.  On the podcast, the guys often assign it after each debate, urging correspondents to try different rides to see which suit them best.  What enthusiast wouldn't want an excuse to check out their favorite cars, hopefully with the chance to bring one home?  Getting behind the wheel; however, can be tricky.  Here are some practical tips on how to complete your drive homework.

Try a Dealer

You want 'em, they got 'em.

My own car debate was actually featured on the podcast a few years ago, as I struggled to find the right vehicle for my family to enjoy together.  It was fun and helpful to get some good advice from Todd and Paul.  Even better was the reminder to drive different cars for research purposes.  I had already been doing so, but I redoubled my efforts after hearing their recommendations.  I mainly started at dealerships, since I was in the market for a new vehicle.  This may be intimidating for some, but here are some tips I learned so I could drive some cars I possibly wanted to purchase--and some I definitely didn't.

1. Tell the Truth

Consumer advocates, automotive forums, and your Uncle Pete will advise you to play your cards close to your chest when entering a dealership.  They'll remind you never to reveal your true buying intentions or what you plan to pay.  I disagree.  Salespeople are no longer "out to get you"; the Internet has made car buying too transparent for them to rip you off.  When I was planning to buy a car, I told them I was doing my initial research, I had a trade, that I was in no rush to make a purchase, and that I wasn't sure what my budget would be--that I was taking my time to find the right vehicle.  Being honest from the start sets a good tone for the initial meeting and for those to follow.  Your salesperson will be much more inclined to help you out if you explain your situation thoroughly.  This will make it easier to do your drive homework.  The salespeople will be happy to let you test drive the exact models you want because you are starting the relationship with trust.  It's pretty unlikely a salesperson will let you take a new Camaro 2SS for the day if they don't trust you--something my five-year-old and I enjoyed thanks to an excellent Chevy associate.  I am actually still in touch with some salespeople on a social basis, and they still let me test cars even though I made a purchase elsewhere. (We are always shopping, right?)

Note the khakis.

2. Dress the Part

At many dealerships, the staff dresses to impress.  They attire themselves professionally, and you should too.  If you stumble into a dealership unshaven and sporting stained sweatpants, your chance of taking a spin in that Porsche Panamera are slim to none.  I often visit right after work, wearing a shirt and tie, so I look the part.  It helps to have some gray in your hair as well--especially when visiting a dealership specializing in luxury cars.  The staff will take you more seriously and allow you to get into their best vehicles.

3. Keep Your Cool

Anyone who successfully sells for a living has a high emotional intelligence quotient (EQ).  Buying a car is the second most expensive thing most people will purchase next to their homes.  Smart salespeople capitalize on this, knowing that if they can make you feel a certain way, they can inject some urgency into your decision making and close the sale.  Don't get sucked into this.  If you follow tips #1 and #2, most of the "pushy" practices we have come to expect will be eliminated.  If you drive a car and like it, and the associate gets excited as well, just politely remind them that you are not buying a car until you try many others.  Out of the dozens of test drives I've taken, only one time was I pressured in the slightest.  I politely declined the manager's offer, and I walked out.      

4. Have Fun!

Most salespeople deal in appliances.  They pedal Priuses (Prii, per Toyota, actually) to people who only drive out of necessity.  Watch them light up when you say you want to rumble out in a Tundra TRD Pro.  Instead of sitting in the showroom, twiddling their thumbs, most dealership employees will jump at the chance to joyride with you.  I drove a Mustang GT with one associate who took me out to his favorite drag-racing spot.  I took a Honda Ridgeline off-roading with another salesperson.  I drove an 86 with a guy for a while before he had me drop him off; then, he let me go solo in search of twisties.  Just don't forget to remind them that you're doing research and that you "don't normally drive like this".  Bonus tip: always offer to pay for gas.

Rent It

Two buckets!

Turo, Driveshare, Enterprise.  There are many ways to rent test vehicles without dealing with dealers.  Sure, this can get expensive, but it's one of the best ways to do drive homework without being distracted.  Consider treating yourself for a special occasion, sharing the cost with a fellow enthusiast, or simply that renting will keep the miles off your own car when taking a road trip.  Remember that renting to complete drive homework is technically a form of investment; you're improving your automotive knowledge to help ensure you don't make the wrong purchase, a potentially costly mistake.  Following the above dealer tips will also help you make the most of this experience.  Don't forget that courtesy goes a long way.  Take Turo for example.  Renters rate drivers as well, so don't drive the wheels off.  Ask the owner lots of questions about his or her expectations for you.  And keep it clean!  For example, after enjoying an Audi RS3 for a few days, I washed and detailed the car before returning it to the owner.  He was pleasantly surprised with my work and thrilled that I peeled the gum out of the back seat that his kid had left.  A wealthy enthusiast working in the medical field, he allows me to drive other cars in his collection any time.  He even waives my extra miles!

Ask a Friend

Thanks, buddy!

If you have a friend with a cool car, getting them to let you drive it is by far the best way to do drive homework.  My neighbor has an RX8 that he lets me drive occasionally.  It's awesome, and we have a perfect arrangement: he gets to deal with the car's quirky maintenance regimen, and I get to hoon it.  Before I bought a Wrangler, another friend let me take his out topless, and I found out about the "Jeep Thing".  The benefits of having generous car friends obviously extend beyond test driving their vehicles, so don't forget reciprocate after you finally decide on your new ride.  Knowing an owner of a vehicle you might want also teaches you about what its like to live with.  Is it in the shop all the time?  Or does it reliably provide a great experience?  Take notes so you will know what you're getting into.

Class Dismissed

You are officially out of excuses not to do your drive homework.  Trying new cars can be a lot of fun, but remember that you're not playing GTA.  You can't just hop into whatever whip you want.  Forming great relationships is key to completing your assignments.  Best of all, you get to learn more about your favorite vehicles while enjoying great relationships.  So go do your drive homework, and remember there's really no way to blame your dog if you don't.

Bill hosts a blog and YouTube channel that lead him to think more deeply about what it means to drive. The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.


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