If your dealership or finance company has an online path for potential vehicle buyers to apply for credit, Cox Automotive said 96% of individuals surveyed are willing to do so.

However, the inaugural Cox Automotive Car Buyer Financing Journey Study also found that only 29% of buyers applied for financing online for their most recent vehicle purchase.

The new study published by Cox Automotive this week also highlighted five other notable findings. Cox Automotive has been researching the vehicle-buying process for 12 years and delved into the credit component this time since 85% of new models and 39% of used vehicles retailed in 2021 were financed, according to Experian data.

The study revealed that buyers who completed key financing steps online saved time and were more satisfied with their time at the dealership than buyers who completed the same steps in person.

The Cox Automotive Car Buyer Financing Journey Study is based on an online survey of 3,050 consumers who financed the purchase or lease of a new or used vehicle during the past 12 months. Analysts said 2,116 survey participants were involved in a new-model transaction, while the other 934 individuals involved in the study took delivery of a used vehicle.

To qualify, the respondents had to be at least 18 years old and had to use the internet during their shopping process. The survey was conducted from Oct. 7 to Nov. 16.

Cox Automotive highlighted that its study measured buyers’ satisfaction with the vehicle financing steps taken, including the finance company selection process and resources used to obtain vehicle financing.

In addition, the research uncovered what financing steps consumers take online versus in person and their comfort level and concerns with financing online.

Here are five other takeaways from the study:

1. Car buyers spend significant time on vehicle financing.

Cox Automotive said nearly all (87%) car buyers explored their financing options before visiting a dealership. The study showed more than a third of the time spent in the vehicle-shopping process is dedicated to financing activities.

Of the 12 hours and 19 minutes spent vehicle shopping, the study indicated 4 hours and 23 minutes are spent on researching financing options, securing financing and signing the contract.

2. Strong relationships matter.

The study showed that 70% of vehicle buyers considered two or more finance companies before choosing one and many had an established relationship with the provider they considered first.

Cox Automotive noted that buyers who were mostly digital — meaning they completed more than 51% of their car-buying journey steps completely online — have stronger loyalty to their finance company, resulting in more direct financing and higher contract satisfaction.

“I trust this lender” was the top reason mostly digital purchasers stated for selecting a particular finance company, according to the study.

3. Vehicle affordability is paramount.

According to the latest Cox Automotive/Moody’s Analytics Vehicle Affordability Index, the median weeks of income needed to purchase the average new vehicle in March was 42.9 weeks, and the estimated typical monthly payment increased to $691, a record high.

The study found that monthly payments and interest rates were considered the most helpful information, as 86% of buyers estimated their monthly payments and 76% compared interest rates.

4. Digitization positively impacts time spent and satisfaction.

Cox Automotive explained mostly digital buyers spent more time researching and securing their financing online and less time at the dealership.

Buyers who applied for financing online saved 30 minutes at the dealership, and those who signed paperwork online saved 38 minutes, according to Cox Automotive research.

Analysts added that both groups of mostly digital buyers indicated that they were more satisfied with the time they spent at the dealership.

5. Many buyers are open to buying a vehicle completely online.

More than three-quarters of the study respondents said that they were open to buying a car completely online, and 47% said they were open to buying a vehicle completely online from a finance company.

After rattling off those five points, Cox Automotive noted what it believed to be another interesting insight from this new study.

Analysts mentioned that although different generations are similar in their willingness to apply for financing online, their need for assistance from a dealer or finance company during the process varies.

While younger generations — Gen Z and millennials — are the most likely to apply for financing online, Cox Automotive discovered nearly half prefer assistance.

While they understand how digital lending works, analysts pointed out that younger buyers need a specialist to guide them and explain the stages of the transaction.

On the other hand, baby boomers are only slightly less likely to apply for financing online, and when they do, only 38% state that they prefer assistance, according to the study.

“Our industry is well past wondering if consumers will ever buy a car online,” said Andy Mayers, lender solutions strategist and associate vice president of operations at Cox Automotive. “This time has come, and the research indicates a solid growth trajectory.

“The auto financing industry needs to be prepared by implementing digital strategies that increase operational efficiency and enable consumers to find, finance and finalize their next vehicle purchase when, where, and however they prefer,” Mayers continued in a news release.