Women And Car Buying: How Not To Hate the Car Buying Process

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You’d think the days of the man of the house heading down to the dealership to pick up the family’s new car were over. But a five-minute conversation about the subject of women buying cars reveals rampant examples of tone-deafness regarding female car shoppers, from auto manufacturers and car dealerships.

Women make their own decisions about what kinds of cars they want to buy, and they don’t need a man to hold their hands through the process. But even in an enlightened 2016, with a woman running for president, women still face some very outdated attitudes when they walk into a dealership.

In their car shopping experience, women can be treated like delicate flowers, completely out of their element, and in need of a tutorial on where the vanity mirror is, instead of on the advanced safety features the car is equipped with. Condescending attitudes, and a clear misunderstanding of what women want in a car — and from the car-buying process — make women want to turn around and walk right back out the door.

Automakers are working hard to change dealerships and turn them into more welcoming places for women. They understand women play a huge part in today’s car-buying decisions and want them to feel comfortable in the showroom.

Car manufacturers usually understand that women don’t want to be treated like they’re lacking the power of abstract thought. But at the retail level, women feel as if most of the people they talk to got all their training from this 1960 Chevrolet Corvair training film: “She still has a natural instinct to want to depend on a man.”

These stereotypes still exist despite the fact that women buy billions worth of cars every year, and rock the economy holding some of the most influential positions in business.

Female Buying Power

The AAA Foundation recently released their latest American Driving Survey with interesting data about women’s driving habits. According to this study, 89.5 percent of men and 85.8 percent of women ages 16 and up have a driver’s license. Those close numbers prove there’s a lot of female buying power.

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Women drive fewer miles than men, but they make more individual trips every day and are 24 percent more likely to have one or more passengers in their vehicles. Men might drive more miles, but with their trips often being solo, their priorities are different when it comes time to buy a new car.


If it seems like SUVs are everywhere, it’s with good reason. Although sedans still reign supreme, SUVs come in second and are more popular with women. Women drive 23.5 percent of their miles in SUVs while the number falls to 17.9 percent for men. The Hyundai Tuscon, for example, skews much higher with female buyers than other products in the Hyundai product line. “While women drive slightly more miles in their cars and SUVs, it is clear that men disproportionally drive their pick-up trucks more every year,” said Jurek Grabowski, Director of Research, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Women are a unique market, and automakers don’t want to miss out.

The story is similar at Ford:  54 percent of Ford Escapes are delivered to female buyers. “The women’s audience is no longer niche. Vehicle sales to female buyers are growing at a rate three times that of male buyers in the U.S. and the volume of women buying new cars outpaces the national growth rate,” said Lisa Teed, manager, US Marketing Strategy, Ford Motor Company. “Ford is the top-selling domestic brand, and we are continuously working to heighten the overall sales and service experience for all customers, including women.”

2017 Ford Escape

What does this mean for women? It means there are dealerships where you can walk in and feel comfortable, not like a fish out of water. Lexus has what they call the Lexus Difference. It’s a program designed to educate dealers on how to better meet the needs of specific buyers, including women. There’s special training, a Lexus Wear clothing line that lets associates dress more fashionably, and amenities like Kiehl products in the restrooms.

It’s a start,  but if your employees are still in “little lady” mode, all the fancy soap in the world doesn’t change it.

Clothing and nice soaps might sound like an odd place to focus, but the idea is to make the dealership a place where women are comfortable and welcome. Lexus estimates that women influence 80 percent of car-buying decisions so if women don’t like being in their dealerships, then that’s a problem.

Where Are the Women in Automotive Retail?

Take a look at Barbara Goodman’s background: She graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst with a Bachelor of Science, and attended Cambridge College where she earned a Masters in Counseling and Psychology. She worked for Marriott as a director of catering, and for the Brain Tumor Society as an events coordinator.

It’s an unlikely resume for a car salesperson, but since 2013, that’s how Barbara Goodman has been making her living, with Volvo of Wellesley. “I never thought I would be selling cars,” she says. “To me, the profession dominated by men was not always trustworthy. I believed salesmen would take advantage of people, especially women.”

Barbara is a rare commodity, though. She’s in an industry that is completely dominated by men, at every level.


To say the automotive business is dominated by men is an understatement, and it’s from the top down. Mary Barra became the first and only woman in history to helm a major automotive manufacturer when she took the job as GM’s CEO in 2014. The picture in retailing isn’t much better. In Ward’s MegaDealer 100 list, just five dealerships have women in dealer principal roles.

On the sales floor and in the boardrooms, the numbers are bleak. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women hold just 21.6 percent of all the jobs at any automotive dealership, including clerical and administrative positions. Just 13.4 percent of all sales positions are held by women. In 2010, CNW Market Research polled women to find out their gender preference for their next automotive salesperson; 47.3 percent of women said they’d be happier if they sat across the table from a woman.

It’s not like women can’t sell big ticket items. Take a look at RealTrends.com’s list of the top 1000 real estate sales professionals. Of the top 100, 43 percent are women, ranging between $111 million and $437 million in sales in 2015.

For Barbara Goodman, selling cars is a matter of understanding who the customer is and treating them with the respect that they deserve, regardless of their gender. “The first question should never be, ‘What color do you want?'” she says. “Never ask a woman when her husband will be coming in.” Yes, partners in relationships — both male and female — discuss expensive purchases with each other, she says. “However, it is unlikely a salesperson would ask a man when his wife will be in to finish the deal.”

If it’s your first time or your 20th time buying a car, you only do this infrequently. Here’s how to get yourself prepped to work with a dealership:

Getting Comfortable With a Dealership

Depending on where you live in the United States, there are plenty of dealerships around, and plenty of salespeople in them. Find one that works for you.


If you walk into any dealership and don’t feel comfortable, then walk out. There are dealers that want your business, work hard to create welcoming showrooms, and treat women with respect. If you don’t like how you’re being treated, then ask for a different salesperson or head to another dealership. Don’t be afraid to let them know exactly why you walked out either. You’re in charge of this process.

This is also a great time to ask your friends and family about their car-buying experiences. If a particular dealership is frequently mentioned as being bad, then avoid it. If you find your friends raving about their experiences at a dealership or with a salesperson, then it’s worth taking the time to check them out for yourself. Use the experiences of your friends to your advantage when it comes time to buy a new car.

Do Research Online

These days you don’t need to walk into a showroom and grab a brochure to learn about a car. All that information is readily available online so you can do research from the comfort of your living room.

“Do as much research as possible before going to the dealership,” says Barbara Goodman. “There is a lot of information online today that anyone can look up what people are paying for cars today. Consumers can research what kind of car and packages they want.’


She cautions to use that power in a positive way, though. “Consumers who are pleasant and polite could get a better deal than a consumer who is demanding, [argumentative] and rude. The latter is what some people perceive they have to be to deal with car salespeople.” She has more information for consumers on her blog.

Looking for a new or used car? Check out BestRide’s listing search here.

It’s a quick and easy way to figure out whether you need that SUV or if a sedan, minivan, or sports car is the right choice for you. Researching online also means that you can see what different companies offer without having to drive all over town.

Once you figure out which style of vehicle you want, look carefully at comparable vehicles from other automakers. You’ll find similar vehicles with different features that can result in very different prices. Determine which features are important to you and let that guide your decision.

Get Preapproved For Financing

Unless you’re ready to pay cash, the car isn’t the only thing you’re buying when you enter a dealership. Next to negotiating a good trade-in value, the most important transaction you’ll make is on the cost of financing.

You can wait until you’re at the dealership and rely on them for financing, but you can eliminate the stress of that decision by doing it ahead of time with different lenders. The bank or credit union where you already do business is a good place to start and often offers better financing terms for its existing customers. You might also find opening a new account or moving existing accounts to a new bank is worth the trouble if it lets you take advantage of an exceptional loan rate.

With a preapproval in hand, you’ll know the loan terms, and this puts you in a much better position to negotiate. Since you know exactly how much car you can buy, and the finance rate that you’re approved for, you won’t find yourself guessing at either the price of the car, or the cost of financing.

Take Your Time

It’s exciting buying a car, but it’s a huge purchase that you need to make with careful consideration. Don’t get caught up in the moment and buy that new vehicle unless you’re absolutely sure it’s what you want and that the price fits your budget.

Don’t fall for it if they tell you the car you’re looking at is so popular it might not be there tomorrow. If you come back later and the car you wanted is gone, trust us, they’re going to help you find another vehicle rather than send you home empty-handed.

You Get To Decide Where You Spend Your Money

Women and men don’t shop the same way, they don’t favor the same types of vehicles, and they don’t have the same driving habits, but buying a car is buying a car. Everyone has to figure out how much they can afford, which car to buy, and where to shop. Everyone also deserves to feel comfortable with the process and be treated with respect.


Don’t do business with a dealership or salesperson who doesn’t make you feel comfortable. Walk away from the deal if it doesn’t feel right. There are great dealerships and great salespeople out there who will be more than happy to treat you well and help you find the perfect vehicle for your needs.

Looking for a new or used car? Check out BestRide’s listing search here.

Nicole Wakelin

Nicole Wakelin