Car Buyer Journey: Definition, Stages & Examples

Did you know that the current car buyer journey can have up to 900 interactions with the consumer on digital channels? Major changes in technology and easy access to information have transformed the way customers buy cars. 

For many years, the notion of the purchase journey was similar to a funnel with different stages. In the case of the car-buying journey, this implied the existence of a static consideration stage, where progress by stage is inevitable, where the customer has an active role that culminates in the decision for a single option that meets their needs.

In this article we will review what exactly is the car buyer journey, the three main phases that condition the development of the car buying trip, and some examples of the customer journey focused on a car purchase. 

What is the Car Buyer Journey?

The Car Buyer Journey (CBJ)  is the process a consumer goes through that involves the purchase of a car from a customer experience standpoint. 

In other words, an Automotive brand looks very closely at the customer journey to identify and analyze how the interactions with their brand in each of their touchpoints condition the experience of a consumer.  

The ultimate goal of having a car buyer journey in place is to identify what are the most important touchpoints in their journey and how they can be improved to increase sales and customer loyalty. 

Keep in mind that the CBJ should not be defined as a linear sequence of actions, but rather as a set of dynamic stages that condition the way a customer finally acquires a car and the post-sales customer experience. 

3 stages that condition the Car Buyer Journey

While a CBJ can be as diverse as the number of cars on the market, we have identified three major phases that determine the course the customer can take and directly affect their perception of the brand: Key actions that trigger the CBJ, the research and consideration of car alternatives, and the visit to the dealership.

  1.  Key actions that trigger the Car Buyer Journey

The reasons why a customer embarks on a car buying journey determine the length and urgency of the journey and have implications for how the customer begins their research and inquiry process.

Some main reasons or triggers for the CBJ are:

  • Lifestyle change: A new family member, moving to a new place, job promotion.
  • Car service: Getting to 100,000 KM, end of warranty. 
  • Car breaks for good: Their car stops working or an accident makes the consumer need to purchase a new one.
  • Routine Renovation: Vehicle change every 2 or 3 years.
  • Just because: No specific need, just a pure wish to acquire a new car.

Do you want a head start on building your customer journey? Here you will find a completely free template:

Customer Journey Canvas


Another thing to keep in mind is what type of customer the automotive brand is trying to sell to: an experienced or pioneer car buyer customer.

Both types of clients share the goal of finding the right car, the difference between them lies in the purchasing style:

Experienced customers: They are usually regular car buyers and/or may have a special taste for them, which makes them be at the forefront of what the market can offer them. This type of client has a clear idea of what they want. 

Because of it, they have a pre-selection of cars that fit their needs and have enough knowledge to trust themselves during the process. 

This type of client requires a limited investigation of the models of their interest, due to their previous experience with this type of purchase. 

In order for brands to reach (and retain) this type of customer, they must take engagement and customer delight actions that ensure that this type of customer will not migrate to a competing brand.

Pioneer clients: This type of client relies heavily on their research throughout the entire journey. They need help to learn and discover all the aspects contained in the purchase of a car. This is the type of customer that presents the best opportunity to be attracted to a specific brand or model.

While this type of customer may have a list of items that are a requirement for their next car, they are less likely to have a specific car in mind or have previous experience with any other vehicle. While this type of customer may be a first-time or infrequent buyer, seasoned customers can become early adopters due to a change in style or stage in their life.

The ability of companies to understand the differences between both types of customers and their reasons for starting their purchase journey is the key to being able to manage the specific journey of each one.

If you are on you’re way to start building your car buyer journey, you might find it useful to review the 10 best customer journey mapping tools.

1. The research and consideration of alternatives

When purchasing a car, buyers begin their initial search process with a sense of optimism, as they are wrapped up in the excitement of finding the perfect car for them.

Customers start reviewing different sources to build a list of options that fit their requirements. Initially, they start looking at the cars around them, then proceed to do an internet scan and chat with their circle of friends to get their thoughts on the vehicles they are starting to consider. Some consumers even rent the car of their interest to test it before making any final decisions. 

Based on the learning acquired from these sources, the customer builds their criteria and decides whether to continue on the CBJ of that automotive brand or go back to square one and run another car research. 

Research processes are not limited to just the initial phase of the CBJ, as customers can remove or add options at any time. So it’s no surprise that customers add an option at checkout. This situation usually occurs at the dealership, when emotions are running high and you are faced with a good offer from the sales executive.

It must be taken into account that even if the client does not opt ​​for one of the cars on their initial list, their consideration process does not lose its validity since it constitutes learning that the person can use in future car purchasing decisions.

If you like reading about the car buyer journey, you might find it interesting to learn about User Journey Map.

2. The visit to the dealership

When customers feel confident and have exhausted their search options, they feel ready to take the next step and visit a dealer.

While customer research is critically important, the dealer visit remains a key part of the car-buying journey; and the experience that customers have in that interaction plays a vital role in their decision.

According to a study, on average a customer visits two dealerships. Opting to visit a specific showroom can be a key predictor that the customer has serious purchase intent. However, there are informative type visits, whose purpose is to provide the client with more tools to make an informed decision.

Early customers tend to avoid dealer visits due to mistrust of their knowledge and/or fear of being misled by sales executives. And while a purchase can happen spontaneously during an informational visit, customers generally tend to walk into the dealership only when they trust your judgment and consider walking away with a new car on that visit. Dealership Marketing also plays an important role to engage with more customers and increase sales. 

Once customers have the confidence to visit a dealership, their next steps become even more critical. Customers will look to dealer ratings and reviews to find information about the quality of service and staff attention. Customers want to feel comfortable about entering into a negotiation with a specific dealer, and they need to be assured that their interests will be taken care of even after the sale.

The most important emotion during the car-buying journey is confidence. This is the key to a negotiation concluding in an actual purchase. Customers should be assured that they are choosing the right car and that their dealer is trustworthy enough not to cause them discomfort during the process and avoid any friction.

At QuestionPro we have developed a whole system designed specifically for this type of need. If you are interested in learning more about our platform to measure customer satisfaction and evaluate each touchpoint in your customer journey, we invite you to review our page to clarify all your questions.

QuestionPro AutoX

Example of a Car Buyer Journey

People who are dedicated to the automotive sector know that the average time from when a person starts looking for a new car to buying it is one month. In this period, a series of micro-moments take place, such as when the buyer wonders which car will be the safest? Or which one are we going to enter the whole family better? Or which one has the lowest monthly payment? 

These moments begin in most cases with an internet search and we can differentiate them using the stages of the Buyer Journey; that is, Awareness, Consideration, and Decision. 

Now, do you know exactly what happens in that month? What kind of micro-moments make a buyer decide on one car or another? Let’s look at the following example. 

Sarah’s Car Buyer Journey

 Sarah has taken three months to make the decision. During that time, she has made 900 digital interactions where she has premeditatedly searched for information related to car leasing and buying one. 71% of digital interactions are with mobile devices.

Interactions that range from searches, visits, videos, clicks on Google, on YouTube, visits to car brands, dealerships and car tests sites.

These are the micro-moments she has lived: 

1. Which car is the best?

 Six out of ten buyers start their journey not knowing which car to buy. In this case, Sarah began her search by focusing on family and safe cars, which led her to consider a few makes and models. She also considered the option to bet on emobility and purchase an electric car, but when she researched the prices decided to remove that option from her list. 

Sarah’s internet searches: “best minivan” “best car for families with car seats and dog”

2. Is it the right one for me?

 When the buyer begins to value and weigh more practical considerations (such as the size of the trunk, the airbags, and the seats…), he begins to determine a checklist of what he must have. In Sarah’s case, we see that she has room for three strollers.

Sarah’s internet searches: “how many seats in brand B model” “compare brand B models” “Brand B pictures” 

3. Can I afford it?

 As the buyer goes through the different stages of the Buyer’s Journey, she begins to consider the price of the car. Sarah, for example, begins to explore how to pay for it, including maximum points in her budget such as less than $30,000, comparing the pros and cons of leasing vs. buying a car, and how much they will give her for her current car to lower the total price.

Sarah’s internet searches: “brand A price” “best car lease deals” “get out of Current Brand lease early”. 

If you like reading about the car buyer journey, you might find it interesting to learn about what a car rental survey is.

4. Where should I buy it?

Although the process of buying cars has gone online, the stage where we have to visit the dealership is still vital for the buyer. In fact, the most used keyword is “car dealer near where I am”, it has increased compared to last year. But what’s even more interesting is that Sarah gets to explore in detail the availability or special offers.

Sarah’s internet searches: “car buying” “best car dealerships near ann arbor” 

5. I’m gonna get the deal

 Although many of you think that this moment is taken and happens at the dealership, Sarah has spent time looking for offers both offline and online. He has searched all leases, as well as has been informed and documented in depth. You have surely crossed or made a dynamic table to compare the prices you would pay for each make and model, comparing the purchase and leasing of the main suppliers.

Sarah’s internet search: “what’s a good lease money factor” “what do you pay for Brand D make/model lease”

If you like reading about the car buyer journey, you might find it interesting learning about Customer Journey vs Customer Experience.

Sarah’s Car Buyer Journey Conclusion

In the end, in the case that we have seen of Sarah, the car that she was looking for is an SUV that will fit into her search criteria, which in her words was “My most important criteria is the number of seats and the cargo space that it has so that Let’s get the whole family in with all our stuff.

While Sarah is just one person, she is one of many shoppers who are looking for answers to their questions and micro-moments. Each of its 139 Google searches and hundreds of interactions represents a series of opportunities for any customer experience professional.

As a possible starting point for your brand, we recommend that you start thinking about how you are meeting potential customers on their Buyer’s Journey.

Ask yourself if your brand is present, today, with the purchase process practically in its entirety in the online world, and if it also arrives through mobile devices. It is critical that you are where and when people are looking. Also, ask yourself if your CX plan is looking at answering the questions that people like Sarah have.


While the car buying journey has changed, customer experience professionals can still identify the behaviors and stages that turn a purchase intent into a decision. 

It must be taken into account that in this type of customer journey map there is an emotional component that should not be ignored. 

When customers’ emotions are involved in a car purchase, and also support their decision in an exhaustive investigation, it triggers a CBJ that finally leads to the resolution of their purpose.

How QuestionPro AutoX can improve the Car Buyer Journey

With QuestionPro Autox you will be able to collect all the necessary data of your car buyer journey’s key touchpoints to evaluate the strong and weak points of your business, you will also be able to visualize them in an engaging way and take action on it.

We invite you to schedule a meeting with one of our experts and start offering experiences that impact the perception of your potential clients.