What Happens To Press Cars When The Press Is Done With Them?

Good day, people of Jalopnik, and welcome to your latest round of Letters to Doug, which involves a) you sending letters to Doug, and b) Doug listening to Jimmy Eat World. Occasionally, I also reply to one of your letters.

If you want to participate in Letters to Doug, you can! Just send me an e-mail at Letters2Doug@gmail.com, and I will consider it for publication. I will also consider forwarding it to my friends in a fit of laughter, in case you want to tell me something like the mechanic opened the hood to your first-generation Touareg and discovered a family of lemurs living in your windshield wiper reservoir.

This week’s letter comes to us from a reader I’ve named Omar, who writes:

Hello Doug, first and foremost, I’d like to say thank you for all those entertaining articles, videos, books, and the occasional comment on Jalopnik; keep up the good work!

My email to you today is regarding press vehicles and their eventual fate after all press members from various automotive magazines, websites, blogs, lemonade stands, etc... have driven them. What happens to these cars? Are they kept by their respective manufacturers or are they sold as demos thought dealerships?

I’ve always been curious about this, and if they’re in fact sold, perhaps I have stumbled upon a new way of getting these “nearly new” vehicles at a discount... maybe?

Thanks Doug!


What Omar is asking here is: what happens to press cars after the press has finished using them? This is an excellent question, because we already know what happens to press cars while the press is still using them: they are treated with utmost care and respect by a wide group of highly trained professionals known for their cautious, courteous approach to other peoples’ possessions.


Ha ha! What I mean, of course, is that the cars are ridden like Zenyatta on the back stretch at Belmont.

But there is one difference between a race horse and press cars: if you want to ride a race horse, you have to know what you’re doing. If you want to get a press car, you only have to know the name of the press car guy. You also have to run a blog that gets some number of visits per month. Based on some of the people I know who get press cars, I believe this number includes wives, mothers, dozens of rapid presses of the reload button, etc.

So the journalists treat press cars with utmost care and respect, and then the automaker takes eventually them back. Then what?

Well, Omar, your note couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time, because just this week it came out that some guy in the U.K. discovered that his own personal BMW M3 had been previously used to film an episode of Top Gear, which meant that it was subject to an enormous amount of utmost care and respect, if you understand what I’m saying. Naturally, this guy was having problems with the M3, which the dealership graciously bought back and inexplicably replaced with a BMW 330d.


And indeed, Omar, that’s the answer to your question: when a car leaves the press fleet, it almost certainly will eventually end up in the hands of a retail customer.


But, of course, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Are these cars safe to buy? Safe to own? Safe to drive? If you buy a former press car and you get a flat tire one day on the way to the grocery store, are you going to open up the spare tire well and discover that the tire is gone, and in its place is a hand-written business card from Trevor’s Car Blog and eBay Stuffed Animal Sales?

These are all excellent questions, and I have decided to provide my perspective on them as a) a former employee of the automotive industry, where I spent most of my time creating Excel spreadsheets and leaving my desk to get water in order to stave off boredom, and b) a current employee of the automotive press, where I spend most of my time sitting in my underwear and eating 3 Musketeers bars on the couch. And my perspective is:

1. No, you probably do not want a press car.

2. If you buy a former press car, it’s very unlikely that you will ever find out about it.


You see, here’s the problem: when an automaker sells a former company car to a dealership, it rarely discloses the actual purpose of that vehicle. And more importantly, when a dealer sells the car to a customer, it rarely discloses that vehicle’s previous use.

So what usually happens is this: first that the automaker loans out a press car, which the journalists use for a wide variety of “tests,” including Let’s see what happens when we hit that speed bump at 53 miles per hour! Then the automaker sells the car to a dealership, disclosing only that it was a “manufacturer vehicle.” Then the dealership sells the car to a customer, informing him that this particular car was driven by the CEO’s wife, who was a little old lady who loved the car so much that she only drove on grass, so she wouldn’t hurt the poor tires.


You might be that customer.

Fortunately for you, most cars that have been used as press cars rarely show signs of their abuse, largely because cars today are manufactured so well. Take a few high-speed turns in a Mercedes E63 AMG? It can handle that. Do a few high-speed acceleration runs in a BMW M3? It can handle that, too.


But I’d still do everything I possibly could to avoid buying a used press car, because there are dozens of ways journalists can abuse a car: on the race track, for instance. Or on the drag strip. Or on a late-night run for 3 Musketeers when the store is closing in ten minutes. Or at least, this is what I’ve heard.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars, which his mother says is “fairly decent.” He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer.

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I ran a 2012 BMW X5M press car in the One Lap of America Race. I put 10,000 miles on it, and did 9 track days in a week. I absolutely hammered the shit out of it. And at the end of the week, I loved the thing so much, I tried to buy it, and thought BMW might give me a good discount (because the odds of any journalist buying a press car are about zilch). I said I would do basically what Doug does, and make it a long-termer, but pay for the car. They wanted more than I was willing to pay, which is fine, and the car went to auction, where it sold for about $12k more than I was offering, and the person who now drives it probably has no idea of it’s past as my track toy.

... on the other hand, they also probably don’t know about the Turner Motorsports pro-tune I did on the car, and that it makes over 600 WHP. If you happen to own an unusually quick X5M in estoril blue with a white interior, the secret’s out.