Potential car buyers spend up to 12 months researching what to look for in a new car, including operating costs and resale values, before making their final purchase decision, new Australian research project finds.

The study, conducted by the Carsguide.com.au website, shows the information consumers gain in the period leading up to their purchase not only can have a big impact on the vehicle they buy but also on the dealership where they decide to make their purchase.

The research shows consumers begin to consider their needs long before they enter a dealership or start searching online car ads, says Carsguide.com.au Publisher Sue Klose.

“We’re interested in what pushes people over the edge, from considering a purchase to actually buying a specific car,” she says in a statement.

“What we’ve found is potential car buyers fall into a number of different groups, and the information they need to help them decide to buy one car over another varies according to who they are.”

Younger people are more interested in used cars, and for them, the reputation of the dealer is what matters, the research finds. They base their views on word-of-mouth (including online posts) and also perceptions of dealership size and scale.

Interest in new-car reviews grows as car buyers move into their 30s and 40s. Vehicle reviews have equal appeal for readers aged 18-54, but blogs and reviews written by readers and website users, as well as reader polls on car topics, hold more appeal for younger consumers.

Female readers show slightly more interest in how-to content vs. gadget-related information.

Klose will detail the research findings to the Australian Automobile Dealers Assn. national convention in September.

“There are ways for dealers to broaden their reach and to talk to these potential car buyers,” she says, “as long as they know where to find them and how to reach them.”