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Car shoppers follow a path throughout their buying journey, but consumer research shows that, alike most aspects of modern society, over time, this purchase journey evolves, looking distinctly different from the one that’s traditionally been taken. By keeping these pivots in trends to vehicle purchase behaviours top of mind, you can tailor your strategy to reach more consumers while they shop and provide an experience that better aligns to their expectation set.

AutoTrader’s most recent Vehicle Path to Purchase study uncovered that the top triggers for purchase consideration are a vehicle that’s getting too old or a desire to upgrade to something newer or nicer. Results also suggested consumers are open to holding on to their current vehicles slightly longer. Those who say they purchased because their previous car is getting too old, has declined as a used vehicle purchase trigger, while fewer are buying a new vehicle because they want to upgrade.

Infographic highlighting the triggers to purchase a vehicle

From the time the consumer embarks into the research stage of a vehicle to the point they finalize the purchase, this study found that majority complete their car buying journey within 3 months. The purchase duration tends to be shorter for used vehicle buyers, with 33% spending less than 1 month while only 23% of new car buyers indicated spending less than 1 month to complete their purchase journey.

Infographic featuring time from trigger to final purchase of a vehicle

By considering how car buyers manage their vehicle path to purchase, you can prioritize your dealership’s awareness and educational campaign efforts aligned to the inventory you have in stock. More specifically, examining the impact of channels leveraged to educate consumers on a specific vehicle make and model, social media is identified as a key platform. Second to social media are automotive marketplaces, which is where consumers conduct the bulk of their research, thus the channel plays a vital role in influencing purchase decisions.

Infographic featuring how buyers become aware of a car model to purchase

As we’ve seen time and time again, price is the top criteria considered by buyers of both used (77%) and new vehicles (65%). Other areas of consideration are the brand, specifically brand reputation, fuel economy and availability. For used buyers specifically, 59% say that mileage plays a role in their selection and 37% consider vehicle history. Used buyers tend to be more inclined to have the price drive their decision while new car buyers show more interest in the feature-based specifications of a vehicle to help make their decision. This comes as no surprise since they can customize their features when purchasing a new car. If you’re of the mindset that there’s an opportunity to improve your vehicle merchandising efforts to include these criteria, check out this article detailing best practices to consider.

Infographic featuring the criteria used to make a vehicle selection

Online marketplaces have remained the key touchpoint and resource – used by 78% of pre-owned vehicle buyers and 45% of new car buyers. Once they’ve browsed the inventory available on marketplaces, 80% of used buyers and 60% of new buyers find them to be influential on their final purchasing decision. Your listings must be punchy to grab a viewer’s attention, and then include detailed information to keep them engaged. Other vital online touchpoints include dealer websites and manufacturer websites, so it’s important to be visible and consistent across multiple platforms.

Infographic featuring information sources used in the purchase process

Buyers visit an online automotive marketplace multiple times in their purchase journey – on average, 15 times for used car buyers and 9.4 times for new. Consumers most routinely leverage online marketplaces to compare prices and features, monitor deals, and search for online reviews. The majority spend over an hour each time they frequent a marketplace, thus keeping them engaged and informed is vital. They continue to research vehicles through automotive marketplaces even after they’ve visited the dealership. Their path is not linear, making marketplaces that much more important across all stages of their purchase journey.

Infographic featuring visitation of online automotive marketplaces

Car shoppers cite a variety of challenges in finding a good deal and negotiating a fair price. New car buyers are most concerned with the vehicle’s availability and price, while used car shoppers prioritize knowledge of the vehicle’s history and condition.

Infographic featuring the most challenging parts of the purchase proces

When you connect with your buyers, your prowess with servicing the prospective car buyer represents everything to consumers. Although some respondents were fine with “the best price but a lackluster customer experience”, the majority of new and used car buyers prefer “a fair price and an amazing customer experience”. You can improve your customer service efforts from several angles, such as speedy lead response time, educated staff to reply to consumer inquires and transparent pricing to help build consumer trust.

Infographic featuring the preference for customer service vs. pricing

As we continue to research car buyer behaviours, we observe noticeable shifts combined with mainstays. Automotive marketplaces have continued to outrank other resources at each stage of the car buying journey, with price identified as a top decision factor for both used and new car shoppers. However, as we dive further into the research, there are differences in the desires and needs of used and new car buyers, thus the service and experience you provide must be precisely tailored to them. No matter where they are in their journey, paying attention to every step of a customer’s vehicle path to purchase is sure to pay dividends.

Key Takeaways

  • Majority are purchasing vehicles within 3 months. Used car buyers tend to purchase within a month, while new buyers are spending more time, 2 to 3 months.
  • Price is the top criteria used to make a vehicle selection; leverage your AutoTrader iQ badges to understand if you are pricing according to market value.
  • Price is also one of the most challenging aspects of the purchase process, with both new and used buyers concerned if they are getting a good deal; be transparent in your pricing to instill trust in buyers.
  • Online automotive marketplaces are a key touchpoint, used multiple times throughout the purchase process, even after the dealership visit; ensuring your inventory is present and well merchandised is vital to success.
  • A majority of buyers find the sources they use to research vehicles to be influential on their purchase.
  • Superior customer service and a fair price is more important to buyers than having the best price but a lackluster experience; ensure your staff is equipped to provide the best possible service experience to every prospective customer. Vehicle Path to Purchase Research


Click below to download the AutoTrader Vehicle Path to Purchase infographic.

Source: DIG Insights Vehicle Path to Purchase Research Study August 2022, n=1369.