Do Car Dealers Run a Credit Check Before a Test Drive?

Dustin Hawley | Sep 07, 2022

Buying a car can be stressful, and you will encounter obstacles that impact your final purchase. Credit checks are among the peskier of these. Some car dealers like to look at your credit history before even allowing you to test drive their cars. While such a request can seem somewhat invasive if you are simply browsing, there are specific reasons why they do this. 

Do Car Dealers Run a Credit Check Before a Test Drive

Today we are going to have a look at those reasons. We will explain why dealers do credit checks, how they may or may not affect your credit score, and give practical advice about avoiding this issue entirely. 

Why Do Dealers Do Credit Checks?

Let’s start with the question in the title before we get to why: Do car dealers run a credit check before a test drive? The short answer is yes; some of them do. If you’re looking to buy, you’ll browse online for the vehicle of your choice, decide to try it out, come to the car showroom, and then get stopped by a salesperson who insists on running a check.

Why is this done? Car salespeople run credit checks to estimate your buying ability and reliability as a potential customer. Having a good credit history indicates to the salesperson that you’re serious about making commitments and truly have the means to buy your car.

Usually, dealers do this when you show interest in a more expensive car or model. No one likes tire kickers, and they want to be sure you are committed to the purchase. While there is a significant difference between buying a Toyota Corolla and Lamborghini Aventador, some sales representatives or dealers will use this approach no matter the situation. Before running a credit check, though, dealership employees will always ask you to sign a paper and permit them to assess your credit score - this means you always have the opportunity to opt out. 

What Is A Credit Score? How Do Credit Checks Affect Me?

Even the cheapest car is a relatively significant investment. It is logical for salespeople to assume that you will get a car loan from the bank to finance your vehicle - that’s what most people do. This is where your credit score comes into play. Your credit score is an evaluation of credit risk used to predict your ability to pay back the debt. Independent agencies will take your credit history and other information, convert it into a formula and calculate a numeric value. They will then proceed to grade it according to a standard scale.

In this case, “grading” is synonymous with “trustworthiness” as it determines your personal ability to pay back on time. The lower you are graded, the less your chances of getting a loan with a reasonable interest rate and the higher the risk for the car dealer.

But would someone checking your credit too often negatively affect the score? Yes, but also no. There are two types of credit checks: hard pull and soft pull. The first refers to checks where you specifically request a bank loan to buy a car and fill out an application for the dealer, while the latter involves you doing it personally. Soft pulls will never affect your credit score. On the other hand, hard pulls may impact your credit by around 5 to 15 points, but this drop will only be a temporary fluctuation.

How Do I Deal With Requests For Credit Checks?

As you continue to browse the market for your dream car, credit check requests will come up at different stages in the buying process. Dealers each have unique customer processes in place and want to be sure that you are trustworthy and worth investing their time, even when it comes to a test drive. Soft pulls they do will not adversely impact your credit score and should never lead to a categorical “no” on your bank loan request.

However, you want to avoid as much unnecessary hassle as possible. If you are just looking for a suitable vehicle and are not ready to purchase it, be very prudent. 

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