Car shoppers are varied, as evidenced by a consumer panel discussion at a recent American Financial Services Assn. Vehicle-Finance Conference.

Nine panelists tell what they did to accomplish the same thing: buy a car. It’s a session of comparisons and contrasts.

Sitting in generational groups of three and identified only by first name, the participants represent Baby Boomers, born between the mid-1940s and mid-1960s; Generation X, born between the mid-1960s and mid-1980s; and Generation Y, a.k.a.the Millennials, who began entering the world in the mid-1980s.

It is tempting to singularly regard members of the same generation, but plenty of individual differences exist within.

“I was not focused on a particular car, I just needed one,” Latonya says. On the other hand, fellow Gen Xer Dallas considered several different brands in his willingness “to play the field.”

Latonya’s ultimate choice of vehicle occurred because of a chance sighting. “I was driving on the highway and saw a car, and thought, ‘That really looks cool.’”

She ended up buying the same model after first visiting a dealership website, then the store itself. She pumped herself up for the visit. “I woke up in the morning, had a Red Bull and Snickers bar and decided to do it. The dealership was having a big sale.”   

Contrary to claims that Generation Y can’t postpone immediate gratification, 20-something Matt says, “I took months researching vehicles online, everything from price range to model to color.”

Gen Yer Darren says he too relied heavily on the Internet to shop and research for “the first car I bought without my parents.”

Baby Boomer Roger also did heavy-lifting on the Internet during a protracted period of trying to decide what hybrid-electric vehicle to buy. “I even created a spreadsheet,” he says of his methodical approach.   

How to finance a car was a first concern for Dallas, the Gen Xer. It was the last order of business for Steve, a Boomer. “I wanted to pick out a car, and then figure out the financing,” he says. “I didn’t want to hear at the beginning, ‘What monthly payments are you looking for?’”

He believes he has matured into a discriminating consumer. “Before, I would rush in. Now, I do the research.”

Latonya opted to finance her car through the dealership. “I left it up to them,” she says. Fellow Generation Xer Marines says, “I did just the opposite. I called my credit union.”

Her latest car-buying experience was better than the previous one, she says. “I bought my last car 13 years ago. This time was so much better. I was blown away. I was dreading buying a car, so I did a lot online.”

Young Matt expresses a fear rooted in a common misconception regarding repeated credit-bureau checks during the car-shopping process. “I was worried about a lot of dealers blasting out my (loan application) because that would lower my credit rating,” he says.

In fact, credit scorers assume several credit-bureau checks may be made for a potential borrower during a certain period of car shopping. Credit scores aren’t hurt by that. They do go down if a person over an extended period constantly seeks credit. That’s a red flag.

Baby Boomer Nanette describes herself as a tough customer. She let the dealership know that from the start. “They were very accommodating,” she says. “The finance guy was great. He built a lot of trust.”

But her time in the finance and insurance office was not brief. “It took longer there than picking out and test driving the car,” she says, admitting she was partly responsible. “I wanted to read the purchase agreement line by line.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com