Car Buying: What Women Want

GIRL TALK: What do women like Pam from 'The Office' want? Well, NBC paid for research to find out. (Photo: NBC/Universal).

Do women get short shrift when they enter that traditionally male bastion known as the auto dealership? You bet. Despite the fact that women buy 60 percent of all new cars and 53 percent of used cars (on which they spend $300 billion annually), a recent CarMax poll showed that a quarter were frustrated in their efforts to have “a quick, effortless transaction.”

Women influence over 80 percent of all automotive sales, according to CNW Marketing Research, so why don't they get more respect from dealers who go straight to the man when couples walk in the door? Here are some important tips for women to consider before you walk through those doors. Be armed with research, and know how much you want to pay ahead of time.

Janet Gallent is vice president of consumer insights and innovative research at NBC/Universal, and her company has also done some polling on what women want from carmakers and the dealers who serve them. “Women care about safety, aesthetics and functionality," she told me. "They’re more likely to travel with someone else in the car — especially kids — and that’s one reason safety is important to them.”

Unfortunately, some safety concern gets misdirected, because (according to my own non-scientific findings) women often cite that they feel safer when sitting “up high” in SUVs, but this top-heavy quality is what makes SUVs more prone to rollover — and thus less safe.

NBC compared its results to a 2000 survey its pollster, Gfk Roper, did for Virginia Slims (the cigarette brand that proclaimed, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”) Back then, 46 percent of women said they took their own car to be repaired, compared to 77 percent today. Some 76 percent now say they’re being taken seriously, compared to 49 percent in 2000. There’s a reason for the increased confidence: 46 percent of women are the primary breadwinners in their household, and more than half (53 percent) are responsible for “big ticket” buys like cars.

In a recent CarMax poll, 19 percent of women said they got shafted on a fair trade-in value; 15 percent said they their salesperson was shifty; 13 percent said pricing was unfair and they felt they didn’t get an honest finance rate.

NBC has good reason to do research like this: It has a stake in the effectiveness of its advertising, after all. If I was, say, Jeep, I would look at these results and maybe make my national advertising less macho. And unlike some of my gender, I don't buy a car because it extends any vital body part.

Gallent told me she lives outside New York City and drives a 10-year-old Nissan Altima. So if that one’s getting a bit long in the tooth, what would she consider for her next car? “A hybrid is very attractive to me,” she said. “I have a family and pick the girls up from school, so it would have to have four doors and be reliable.”

Ask a guy this question and you’re likely to hear him spew some horsepower figures about the new Bulgemobile he got out of Car and Driver.