Car Dealers Aren’t Great At Explaining New Safety Features To Buyers, Claims New Study

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If you’re buying a new car, you expect the salesperson will hit you with all the impressive-sounding lingo and tech phrases that could possibly apply to a vehicle. However, a new report suggests that when it comes to informing car-buyers about new vehicle safety technologies, dealership sales staff might not have all the information. 

A report [PDF] released yesterday by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab revealed that the dealership employees researchers talked to were woefully unprepared to educate prospective buyers about safety technology and automated driver assistance programs like crash avoidance, lane keeping, adaptive cruise control, and blind spot monitoring.

The MIT researchers visited 18 Boston-area dealerships — categorized as luxury, mass-market, and “safety-focused” — in the spring of 2016 to determine just how much the sales associates knew about the systems and how that knowledge could influence customers’ buying decisions.

The researchers asked the first salesperson they encountered about six different technologies — adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, and lane keeping assist.

According to the report, just six of the 17 sales associates at the visited dealerships were able to give “thorough” explanations of the features they were selling.

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Seven salespeople gave “satisfactory” explanations, and four gave “poor” explanations. Additionally, the report found that two salespeople gave explicitly incorrect safety-critical information regarding at least one system.

Bryan Reimer, an author on the report, tells Consumerist that the research team was surprised by the range of information provided to the prospective buyers.

“Really there’s a wide range across dealership visited when it comes to the ability to sell the technologies,” Reimer says. “From Subaru, who is doing a wonderful job of providing customers reasonable information, to the mass-market brands that aren’t cohesively doing so.”

In all, the report found that mass-market brands included in the report — Ford and Chevrolet — fell into the “poor” category.

In one case, a Ford salesperson provided incorrect information to the researcher, claiming that the vehicle’s pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection would prevent collisions at all speeds and did not provide any information on capability limits.

However, the user manual indicated the systems will not detect pedestrians when traveling above 50-mph, will not detect cyclists, pedestrians, or animals at night, or operate reliably in cold, snowy, icy rainy, or foggy weather.

At Chevrolet, a salesperson brought up automatic park assist, and incorrectly stated a driver did not need to operate the brake when using the system.

Despite the poor rating from that particular salesperson, another did give a “thorough” explanation of the systems but only because he had undergone a training curriculum similar to that of safety-branded dealerships. However, it was unclear where and how he received this training when no other mass-market salespeople had, the report states.

On the other end of the spectrum, the report found that Subaru and BMW provided prospective buyers with more comprehensive information about the safety technology included in their vehicles.

For example, sales staff at Subaru dealers were well-trained and had print and digital content to drive consumer engagements.

BMW employed a system similar to that of Apple — with “geniuses” available to present technology education to salespeople, who can then pass it along to customers.

While the study is small, the researchers say that its findings suggest future research should focus on the state of vehicle technology.

“As technology continues to increase, consumers’ need for education and understanding at the point of sale is critical,” Reimer tells Consumerist.

After all, what good is safety technology, if you don’t know how to use it?

[via Wired]