Roadshow

Should you buy the actual cars auto journalists have tested?

Press cars are made available to buy, but they may not be the smartest choice.

CNET

One of our viewers emailed us and said his friend bought a 2016 Chevrolet Volt Premier that Carfax showed was a former press car. He wondered if press vehicles are of better build quality compared to normal models.

Cars in the press fleet are supposed to be the same as the ones you can buy, not better built or checked. We and the rest of the automotive press would be sorely angry at a carmaker sending us doctored cars that don't represent what's on the dealer lot. The repercussions for the brand would be significant.

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We do see special prep done on high-end exotic cars offered to the press but that's a different market, as much luxury goods as vehicles. And, being hand-made, no two are entirely alike anyway.

As for buying a press car, I'll be honest: We hammer them. We have seven days to put it through everything you'll do in seven years. And most car reviewers think every car is a performance car and drive it accordingly. I've had over 1,100 of them in my hands over the years and can tell you we get those great action photos and video by driving with, shall we say, vigor. That's a lot of hard driving in a car's first year, or less, and I'd be concerned about it not receiving a proper break-in period, having higher than normal interior wear (we jam all kinds of cameras and gear in them) and suffering from generally higher wear and tear compared to other cars of similar mileage. That said, press cars retire young, and the balance of a factory warranty will cover a lot of sins. 

Also bear in mind that press cars are often early production vehicles, potentially missing some engineering changes done later in the model year as problems arise. 

Instead of a specific vehicle, I would seek out an ordinary off-lease car under a Certified Pre-owned (CPO) program. It will have had a normal service life, had the bugs complained about and fixed by the original lessee, and be under extended CPO warranty coverage. Twice checked, lower price, longer warranty. That's where the smart money goes.