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TheCarTest is an online platform offering car buyers an extended test driving period

Many who have purchased a pair of hip skinny jeans or a band t-shirt online before will know the frustration that comes with realising the apparel doesn’t fit, serving as a grim reminder that you can’t tell people that you’re ‘extra small’ anymore.

Thanks to the nature of the online space, committing money to online goods can become a gamble, particularly when dealing with electronics, or at the most expensive end, cars.

Looking to fill gaps in the digital automotive space, Australian startups like ApprovalBuddy have emerged to help provide a seamless end-to-end online car buying process.

Similar to CarSales, ApprovalBuddy guides users through buying cars online, although the startup goes a step further by delivering cars to customers with a huge bow on the bonnet.

TheCarTest is a Melbourne-based startup taking a different turn in the digital automotive space (pun intended), offering a platform where users can sign up for a week-long test drive of a car they’re interested in.

The startup wants to fulfill the traditional consumer desire to try something before buying it and modernise the way test driving works by taking much of the process online.

Through the platform’s partnerships with car dealers, users are able to sign up to drive a car they’re interesting in buying, testing it between a three to seven day period.

After filling out a set of digital forms akin to the online car rental process, TheCarTest will then pick up the car from a dealer and deliver it straight to the customer’s door, at the time of their choosing.

Christian Schaefer, the startup’s founder, said the process trumps the traditional car testing process offered by dealers since customers can drive without the typical limitations set by a dealer, which often restrict drivers to roads in the suburb where the dealership sits.

To cover the process of trying a car out efficiently and know what you want, it’s next to impossible, since you don’t get a real chance to drive it where you want,” he said.

With TheCarTest located in Melbourne, at the moment only customers living within a certain radius of the city can test a car using the service. However, there are no strict geographical limits imposed on where the customers can drive.

“Compared to test driving with a dealer, we have no pressure, no expectation and no bias towards the experience. You can test a car properly by actually applying it to your everyday life and trips,” said Schaefer.

Schaefer described the current test driving experience offered by dealers as “frustrating”, adding that in the digital landscape, customers should be able to set up and execute test drives from their own home.

With nearly 10 years of experience working within the digital automotive sector, having worked for CarSales and cofounding Melbourne startup Carhood, Schaefer had noticed the “underlying” issue customers experienced when buying cars, where they would struggle to find a vehicle that was the perfect fit.

“Even if you do the research properly, there’s still at least 12 to 15 vehicles across different brands and models that would suit your budget and interest,” said Schaefer.

“Australia’s new car sales industry generates roughly $120 billion a year. That’s about 1.17 million new cars served to our population, so a lot of people are buying new cars with over 60 different brands to choose from.”

The entrepreneur explained that with current test drive models, customers don’t have the freedom or time required to try all the vehicles they might be interested in. With online car sales, the problem becomes even more expansive.

“In Australia, buying new cars online isn’t really that popular. People want to know what they’re buying and know that they’ve looked at the marketplace and grabbed the best deals,” Schaefer said.

Using TheCarTest platform, currently in beta, users can either call or fill out an online form to book a car test, specifying their address for drop-off, preferred time and contact details.

Currently, the business has dealers representing brands such as Volvo, Suzuki, MG Motors and Isuzu on board, but is working to increase its offering.

A user then signs documents with “fairly standard” rental terms, checking if a user holds their full licence. The cost to test a car under $40,000 comes at $50 per day; between that number and $80,000 is $75 a day, and vehicles up to $120,000 cost $100 a day.

After a car is delivered and test driven, the startup picks up the car and returns it to a dealer.

Before this, customers have the option to buy the vehicle for a discounted rate set by the dealer and if so, they receive a Visa cash card equal to the amount they spent across the test drive period.

Describing the beta platform as still a little “clunky”, Schaefer said TheCarTest is looking to shift its offering towards an app that will streamline the process of finding a car and test driving it.

Describing it “Tinder for new car buyers”, Schaefer said users will be able select their budget and car type, before being able to swipe through a series of cars that can be selected for a test drive by swiping right.

“You then get a shortlist, and we’ll basically allocate you a car concierge specialist, who will schedule in a test drive around your availability,” said Schaefer.

With the app currently in development, the business, which is currently supported by Schaefer and a “silent investor”, is looking to raise $260,000 to boost its growth.

Image: Christian Schaefer (Centre). Source: Supplied.