When negotiating for a vehicle, getting the lowest total price is most important, according to 70% of the respondents to the 2001 Consumer Reports Auto Buying Survey.

If finding the best price is key, however, Consumer Reports New Car Price Service was surprised that so few new-car buyers and leasers did comparison shopping — 36.5% of the respondents visited only one dealer before making their final selection. And 30% did not negotiate.

Next time, the same respondents say, they would act differently: 41% would visit more dealers and elicit more bids; 29% would investigate car buying and leasing options through the Internet; 28% would learn more about option packages for the model that interests them; and 25% would compare more models before settling on the one they bought.

Other car-buying trends from the survey:

  • Convenient location (52%) and treatment by staff (50%), rather than price, were the main reasons most people selected a particular dealer when they finally bought or leased their vehicle.

  • The three most important factors for choosing a vehicle were: getting a reliable car (52%), appearance/styling (44%), and getting the best possible price (40%).

  • The most commonly sought information was price (71%), but buyers were more likely to seek it than were leasers (75% vs. 64%). Leasers were more likely than buyers to search for information on financing options (39% vs. 23%).

  • In negotiations, ensuring that the respondents would get the lowest total price for the vehicle was listed as most important by 70%, followed by getting an affordable monthly payment (26%), finding a deal that required no money down (6%), and getting the most favorable credit terms on a loan (4%). Buyers were more interested in getting the lowest total price for the vehicle (79%) than leasers (43%). Leasers were significantly more likely to consider the monthly payment figure (43%) than buyers (19%) as important.

  • Almost two-thirds (65%) characterized the experience of getting a car as fun or at least pleasant.

  • Only 1.5% had bought their vehicles online. However, an additional 3.6% had tried to buy online.

  • When Consumer Reports conducted the study last year, about 40% of respondents said they would use the Web to either buy or get a deal referral. This year, that figure was up to 64%.