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What Informs Vehicle Purchase Decisions? Test Drives Top the List

Consumers need information to help drive their vehicle purchase decisions. Enprecis decided to find out what the top sources of information are for car buyers in the U.S.

What information has the most influence on automobile purchase decisions? Within the automotive industry, the data points provided by rating systems such as Consumer Reports or J.D. Power & Associates automotive rankings are commonly perceived to have a significant impact on car buyers’ decisions. To test this theory, Enprecis polled more than 1500 car buyers regarding the top three sources of information that have the greatest impact on their vehicle purchasing decisions.

Car Purchase Informers

The results were clear: 31% of respondents selected test drives as having the greatest influence on the car buying journey. Consumer Reports ratings (20%) and recommendations from friends or family (18%) were the other choices ranked at the top, followed by information from Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds (10% ranked as first choice). The top three factors (test drives, Consumer Reports, and recommendations) all appeared consistently, regardless of ranking order (test drives ranked 23% of the time, Consumer Reports 20%, and recommendations 20%).

This reliance on first-hand experience and personal recommendations emphasizes that the car buying experience is a highly individual process. Buyers want to experience vehicles themselves, in person, before buying. Buyers also require psychological reassurance from trusted, impartial sources in order to feel comfortable buying a car. Consumers want to know they've made the right choice, and may not always trust industry or dealer resources to inform their decision.

Perhaps reflecting the importance of independent thinking to car buyers, dealership and manufacturer resources ranked low in the survey, with only 5% of respondents ranking dealership information at the top of their list and just 4% picking the manufacturer website as their top source of information. Dealerships are valuable to consumers primarily for offering a firsthand experience of the vehicle in the form of a test drive. Even theoretically impartial resources such as automotive magazines and blogs do not rank highly among consumers, as just 4% of respondents reported trusting these resources above all others.

List of car purchase influencers

Beyond the information resources we polled, price or value was the leading “other” influencer cited by respondents. The importance of price to consumers reflects stringent economic realities. Gas and mileage also appeared frequently, demonstrating a concern with ongoing costs of ownership. Consumers also cited other traditional purchasing factors such as style and brand experience, but these items seem to be taking a backseat to budgetary considerations.

Because purchasing a car is such a major decision, buyers want to consult trusted resources and experience vehicles firsthand prior to making an economic commitment. There are many existing sources of information in the industry, but their relatively low importance to the consumers in our poll suggests a need to develop more trusted resources and create a more direct rapport with consumers in order to affect purchasing decisions.

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