McLean, Va.— Although the American auto industry is experiencing some economic uncertainty, customers continue to positively rate their car-buying experience. Auto dealers are serving as the industry's "shock absorbers" to maintain balance in a turbulent marketplace, according to Automotive Retailing Today (ART), a coalition of all major automobile manufacturers and dealer organizations.

"Unlike economic and market turmoil in other industries where the customer has unwillingly suffered, auto dealers appear to have cushioned the customer from the effects of a shifting marketplace," said ART chairman Carter Myers. "This study confirms that dealers continue to meet consumer demands and maintain high levels of customer satisfaction."

The new research, commissioned by ART and conducted by Harris Interactive between July and August 2006, surveyed 932 new car buyers, 108 shoppers, 694 non-shoppers and 101 professionals involved in automotive media.

Findings include:

-91 percent of new car purchasers were satisfied (extremely, very or somewhat) with their purchase experience

-Minority vs. non-minority overall shopping experiences remain positive (85 percent versus 84 percent)

-Improved satisfaction with financing, particularly among minorities

-Women rate the purchase experience highly (87 percent extremely, very, or somewhat positive experience / 92 percent extremely, very, or somewhat satisfied with their overall experience) and exhibit confidence in buying vehicles

-Shopping multiple dealerships is a function of seeking the best price (46 percent) or obtaining a specific vehicle (66 percent)

The study proves that it is a misconception that most women bring their spouses or partners to showrooms out of apprehension or lack of confidence. Rather, women bring their spouses or partners to shop with them because it is a family investment requiring serious deliberation.

The most-cited reasons why the women who said they brought a man with them did so focus on lifestyle:

-Man was their spouse/significant other (39 percent);

-Man was more knowledgeable (15 percent);

-We share the decision-making (13 percent); and

-We shop/do things together (8 percent).

Less than 1-in-10 women who brought a man with them said they did so out of discomfort with the dealership process.

Since ART began its biennial Attitudes and Perceptions surveys in 1998, customers have consistently demonstrated satisfaction with their purchase experience. Ninety-one percent of new car purchasers are satisfied (extremely, very or somewhat) with their dealership, while 84 percent of new car purchasers report a positive experience overall.

"While the satisfaction levels are high, dealers are not resting on their laurels," notes Myers. "We still strive to improve. One of the keys to this is recruiting highly-qualified employees to improve our professionalism. The other is the need for the customer to be well educated before visiting the dealership. An educated consumer makes the transaction efficient and smooth for all parties."

Areas of continued concentration within the industry include:

-Attracting quality employees (there are currently approx. 105,000 available jobs in the auto retailing industry)

-Focusing on improved training and professionalism;

-Building communications with customers by streamlining transactions, providing more information on websites, education campaigns, etc.

-Increasing transaction transparency.

The Internet continues to aid consumers in the decision-making process and has become a major tool for consumers. Half (51 percent) of new car buyers have researched online and the number of consumers who check prices online continues to increase. A majority among those under 45 years old (63 percent) use the Internet to gather vehicle purchase information.

The perception gap between customer experiences and the media perceptions of customer experiences is closing, yet it remains large. There is a 35 percentage point gap between the positive experience (extremely, very, somewhat positive) the media perceives of the consumers' shopping (49 percent) versus what the consumer reports (84 percent). The media's personal satisfaction with their experience in purchasing a new vehicle tracks the general population (91 percent extremely, very, somewhat satisfied), although more than half (55 percent) of journalists believe their experience is unique.

Separate from the survey findings, there are many excellent resources that already exist for consumers looking to buy a car. The following checklist is what dealers suggest to make the car buying experience pay-off.