Is testing cars tiresome? Actually…

We drive and review a lot of press cars each year, but some manufacturers are still getting it wrong

By Shahzad Sheikh

Testing press cars

I’ve just worked it out. Since the beginning of this year – i.e. in just the first nine months of 2014 – I have tested, reviewed and in most cases photographed around 50 cars. Whilst most people believe we have a dream job, and admittedly I must confess that I do love it, the fact is that I’m rather exhausted!

Read our reviews here

The vast majority of our time is not actually spent behind the wheel however. Frankly 90% of our time is sitting at a laptop (my reoccurring backache due to bad posture and RSI symptoms can testify to that).

Having driven a car, there is the laborious process of researching the facts, analysing the car, actually writing the review and then publishing it. And I’m not even going to touch on the hours it takes to photograph a car, sift through the images and edit and clean them up. But you know, if a job’s worth doing…

Hopefully you’re starting to get some idea of our workload. Now factor in that in some cases we have to collect the car, return the car, clean the car, fuel the car… the ‘fun’ part of our job verges on becoming the tedious part of our job.

As a jury member of MEMA – Middle East Motor Awards (read more here) – the situation has been compounded by the duties to test the nominated cars in time for the voting deadline in early November. Admittedly the nominations were finalised very late this year, but as a result manufacturers and dealers have been trying to cram test drives into the last few months.

Why the desperation? Because some (though not all) of the manufacturers and dealers have realised that a judge must have driven a car in order to vote on it, but if something like less than 70% of the judges vote for a car, it automatically gets excluded from the awards anyway. And they’ll miss out on any chance they might have had to add a fresh gong to the cabinet in the foyer.

Testing press cars

So you’d think they’d be lining up cars outside my home and hurling keys at me. Not quite, I’m still having to go back and forth across town to collect and return them, often just two days later (which is barely enough time to get to know a car properly in my opinion). Sorry to sound churlish, but all of this is costing me time, money and energy.

Many of you will be thinking at this point: ‘blimey, if he doesn’t want to do, let me have the cars, I’ll drive them and knock out a few words. What an ungrateful sod. Some people just don’t know when they have a good thing going!’ And your sentiment would not be unjustified, but do realise, dear reader, that we’re trying to do things properly here, by bringing you solid information and carefully considered and judged opinions.

Plus, by testing cars we effectively give exposure to, and provoke discussion and debate about, manufacturer’s products. And if we have a decent-sized audience, which we do, that’s a great deal of valuable exposure we’re giving them for free.

And keep in mind, whilst it’s our duty to you our reader to bring you reviews whenever we can, it’s still our prerogative to do them at our own pace. But the urgency right now, is purely for the benefit of manufactures and dealers due to MEMA.

So why then have we been messed around with dates and times (sometimes at the last minute), lost a small fortune in fuel and taxi costs, been offered cars with insufficient insurance coverage, cars with other people’s junk in them, had to chase PRs for prices and specs, and even had to turn down a test car stickered up like a billboard in Vegas?

To be fair these complaints don’t apply to all the manufacturers and dealers, some have very savvy PRs that get it spot on. Others are nearly there while a few do take the time to seek feedback from the likes of myself, to enable them to provide a better service to make our job and lives a little easier – which in turn means we can provide better content for you!

But some of that feedback is lost and not heard by others. So here below, more for the industry’s benefit than yours, is a bulleted list of how to get it right when it comes to test cars, based on my substantial experience operating both here and previously in the UK.

Testing press cars

Cars should:     

  • always be delivered and collected at previously agreed locations, dates and times.
  • be fully comprehensively insured for road use.
  • be loaned for a duration of at least five days.
  • be checked thoroughly between loans, particularly for tyre wear, tyre pressures, brakes, fluid levels, rattles and squeaks – because we have to tell it how we find it.
  • be clean inside and out, there should be no personal items left in the car, and don’t leave display numbers plates (or in one case, even weights) in the boot either.
  • not feature advertising stickers or any branding over and above the standard badging on the car (looks terrible in pictures!)
  • be fuelled, not immediately due for a service, and ready to drive safely.
  • be delivered with
    • press information, including press kit and (preferably locally shot) images
    • specifications (including engine sizes, power and torque, and performance data such as 0-100, top speeds and fuel consumption)
    • prices for that model range
    • specific spec sheet for the actual test car, including a list of standard equipment and extras fitted, with prices given for the options

2 responses to “Is testing cars tiresome? Actually…”

  1. Georgia Lewis says:

    Yep, it’s one of those jobs that sounds like endless fun (and obviously it can be a lot of fun – I will never forget the Day of the Veyron…) but there is also much idiocy to deal with. And actual work. Just because you like cars, that doesn’t automatically mean you are going to be a good car reviewer.

    There’s the joy of PRs treating car specs and prices like classified information, deadlines, writer’s block, fear of cliches, fear of being too Clarkson for your own good and writing nine pars before the car is mentioned, PRs getting upset because you didn’t like the car, I could go on…

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