WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. — After remaining stable during the last four years, the percentage of used-vehicle buyers who use the Internet in their shopping process has increased to 68 percent in 2010 — a five percentage point increase from 2009, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

In addition, the use of classified ads on the Internet as a method for finding the used vehicle ultimately purchased continues to outpace driving to dealer lots. More than one-third (36%) of used-vehicle buyers in 2010 indicate using Internet classified ads, while only one-fourth (26%) say they found the vehicle they bought by driving to dealer lots. 

The following are other Internet usage trends that have emerged this year:

• Use of online classified ads as a method to shop for used vehicles has steadily increased, from 29 percent in 2003, to 41 percent in 2006 and 51 percent in 2010.

• After Internet usage, driving by dealer lots is the second most popular method for finding the vehicle ultimately purchased. However, the gap in popularity between the two methods has widened substantially from 2009.

Many used-vehicle buyers cite affordability — particularly of higher-end models — and the ability to obtain additional features and options as primary reasons to purchase used rather than new vehicles. These benefits are even more evident with certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicles.

“In light of the struggling economy, more than one-half of used-vehicle buyers believed they could get the quality of a new vehicle in a used one, and for less money,” said Arianne Walker, director of automotive research at J.D. Power and Associates. “This is especially true among buyers of certified pre-owned vehicles. A greater proportion of used-vehicle buyers than ever before — more than two-thirds — indicate they intend to purchase a CPO vehicle at the outset of the shopping process.”

Among used-vehicle shoppers who use the Internet during the shopping process, independent automotive Websites receive greater visitation than dealer sites. In addition, two-thirds of these shoppers perceive independent sites to be the most useful type of site during the shopping process.

Among independent sites, used-vehicle shoppers rely on different types of sites for various kinds of information. For example, shoppers are most likely to turn to sites such as Autotrader.com, eBay Motors and CarMax.com for providing inventory information, while many shoppers perceive Kelley Blue Book to be particularly useful for price comparisons. Shoppers indicate they find Edmunds.com to be particularly useful for vehicle reviews.

Visitation of dealership sites continues to increase, with 81 percent of Internet shoppers in 2010 indicating they visited a dealership site — up three percentage points from 2009.

“The growth of dealership site visitation, combined with a decline in visits to dealer lots, indicate that dependence on dealers is still strong for buyers, but the preferred method of contact during the shopping process is shifting online,” said Walker.

The 2010 Used Vehicle Market Report is based on the self-reported shopping habits of 10,705 used-vehicle buyers. The study was fielded from June to August 2010.