Car Buying

Car Shopping: The Latest Trends You'll Want to Know About

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author photo by Lindsay Martell July 2016

When my husband and I were in the market for a new car 3 years ago, we were bleary-eyed new parents. We needed sleep -- and for someone to help steer us through the seemingly endless maze of makes, models, styles and sizes.

Car shopping, while not quite as rejuvenating as slick pair of heels or as immediately glee-inducing as a hip new smartphone, can make us both starry-eyed and invigorated. While shoppers sift through scores of options, many questions and concerns dot their minds, along with a mental list of those sweet add-ons: Bluetooth? Navigation? Parking assistance? It's a lot to digest.

As for the trends to make the process a little easier? It comes down to deals, details and (extended test) drives.

Buh-Bye 3-Year Leases

One of the biggest changes car shoppers can look forward to is the expiration of 3-year leases, which means shoppers may be able to score a great deal on a certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicle over the next 3 years. Consumers interested in purchasing a CPO vehicle -- usually off-lease cars, trucks and SUVs that are 3 to 4 years old -- will have a much wider selection to choose from as those vehicles come off lease in 2016-2018, according to the latest analysis by J.D. Power. What happens when a glut of pre-owned cars hit the car lot? Used-vehicle prices may be slashed to levels not seen since 2010.

Vehicles that are off lease offer tons of benefits for buyers. Many often have low mileage, are in good condition and have been properly maintained.

Many qualify for automaker's CPO programs and have the extra benefit of a detailed inspection and additional 1-year warranty.

According to J.D. Power, during the next 2 years the off-lease vehicle segments to hit the used-vehicle market with the greatest number of units will be: compact car, midsize car, compact SUV and midsize SUV categories.

Scrolling for Details

Another trend hitting the lot? Potential buyers using their mobile devices to research while shopping on a car lot. It's called "showrooming," and it's similar to checking out merchandise at a brick-and-mortar store like Target, only to end up buying the item on Amazon. According to a study by Placed, 63 percent of car shoppers now use their smartphones to do research and make decisions while at automotive dealerships. It's a trend that's gaining traction, and research shows it dramatically affects dealerships and vehicle availability. Buyers can now view pricing details and inventory availability without leaving their couch, as well as come across mobile advertisements persuading shoppers to visit competing dealerships

It's no surprise, then, that a whopping 81 percent of car shoppers use smartphones to do research, but the study also found that mobile auto shoppers were 72 percent more likely to check out other dealerships than car buyers who did not use a mobile device. What exactly are those consumers researching? Not just price. The most popular searches included calculating price and payment information, confirming vehicle availability and comparing local competitors. When looking at car buyers who checked out vehicles at more than one dealership, 52 percent did so because of information researched on a smartphone.

The Long, Good Drive

Another trend is extended test drives -- basically, a test drive that can extend overnight, with a specific limit on mileage. Every dealership is different, with its own set of rules about how long a test drive can be. The more serious you are about a car, the better your chances of taking it out for a longer test drive. Experts suggest being up front with salespeople (don't be dodgy about life details such as place of employment), and be serious about the car you want to take off the lot. If a salesperson isn't comfortable, you won't be taking a solo test drive -- period.

A confession: My husband and I didn't do a ton of research before we bought our car. We were still overwhelmed with our daughter's babyhood, but we found the car of our dreams (a sporty crossover SUV) in a single afternoon without haggling or headaches. An anomaly? Perhaps. In 2015, Autotrader did a study that showed only 17 out of 4,002 people prefer the current car-buying process and the rest want significant changes, particularly in the test drive, deal structuring and financing paperwork.

Perhaps these trends in car shopping will make the ride a little more fun.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Car Shopping: The Latest Trends You'll Want to Know About - Autotrader