Top 17 Sales Sources For Car Dealers In 2017

2,276 new and used car buyers surveyed at the dealership, and here are the results:

17) Internet Display Networks

Display Advertising

4 Deals
13 Assists

The Internet Display Network has been one of the biggest disappointments of the internet. Before it was diluted it was a great way to get your message across with it’s low price and geo-targeting capabilities. But then came the link bait sites and game apps that capitalized on this opportunity to make money.

Then came the term “Banner Blindness“, which I 100% agree with. I spend most of my free time on the internet, and I even now and I can’t remember the last display ad I noticed. The only ads I seem to notice is when I get retargeted, and that creeps people out.

I’ve seen the analytics for display campaigns from thousands of dealer’s in the past 10 years and it’s clearly awful. If you manage your placements vigorously, you may get a little something but that isn’t something automation can do.

One could argue it’s good for branding, but for car dealers there are plenty of other areas to spend that budget.

We’ll give more tidbits of information in these little boxes for each number. This source only brought in 4 deals so there’s not much to say.

16) Facebook Ads

Facebook Ads

11 Deals
6 Assists

The only thing I can say good about Facebook Ads is that it’s better than the other display network opportunities out there. At first I thought it would be better because Facebook knows everything about you. Your age, your sex, your marriage status, where you work etc…

Even if you don’t tell them too much, if you have the Facebook App installed on your phone they know where you go. They know where you sleep, they know who you talk to.

I’ve studied many campaigns by using proper UTM Parameters and looking at conversions. The best performing campaigns are the simple brand campaigns when you’re not trying to sell them anything. The harder you try and sell them something the harder you’ll fail. Facebook is a social networking website. People are there to see what their friends and family are doing. They aren’t searching for anything.

45% were preowned sales. 27% were female. 18% lived closer to another Toyota Dealer. 45% primarily used a mobile phone vehicle shopping online. None of them say they didn’t research online.

15) Pandora Internet Radio

Pandora Radio

12 Deals
7 Assists

I used to talk shop with one of South Florida’s best general managers in the car industry. About 4 years ago he was advertising on Pandora and he was killing it. He was an early adopter, and that’s why he’s always been successful.

The Pandora Party is over now. From what I’ve heard, it’s more expensive than regular radio now and it’s saturated with others. Of course, there could be some regions where it would perform better.

75% lived closer to another Toyota Dealer. 42% purchased a preowned vehicle. 42% called the dealership first.

14) Bing/Yahoo Search

Bing Yahoo

11 Deals
4 Assists

I constantly see vendors promoting Bing on LinkedIn saying they have a 30% search market share of search. The lowest I’ve seen of Google search share is 86%, and it can easily be confirmed by looking at your Google Analytics. This doesn’t mean the other 14% is Bing Yahoo though. Some of the rest is DuckDuckGo. Maybe Bing/Yahoo is worth a shot trying paid search? There’s only one way to find out.

18% were female. 64% spent 2-4 weeks shopping for a vehicle. 82% lived closer to another Toyota Dealership. 100% of them visited the dealer’s website.

13) Video Pre-Roll (YouTube & Facebook)

YouTube & Facebook

15 Deals
11 Assists

As an internet user, I despise video preroll. They only show when I’m trying to watch something else. It’s very intrusive. But that’s just me. Maybe everyone else loves being interrupted with a commercial when trying to watch a cute kitten video on YouYube?

I think the future of online video will be video landing pages. A nice landing page with a video that can be watched only by the visitor clicking play.

60% purchased or leased a new vehicle. 67% were men. 53% lived closer to another Toyota Dealer. 93% say Google is their favorite search engine. 33% called the dealership first, and 33% submitted a contact form on the dealer’s website.

12) Television Advertising


33 Deals
40 Assists

I rarely watch TV, and when I do I don’t watch commercials. As soon as a commercial comes on, I pick up my Ipad until the show comes back on. The future of TV advertising is in trouble mostly because of it’s cost.

79% of the TV Watchers purchased or leased a new vehicle. 50% Lived Closer To Another Toyota Dealership. Only 5% didn’t research online. 32% of them just showed up unannounced to the dealership when buying.

11) Newspaper


52 Deals
17 Assists

Just yesterday somebody asked where my old newspapers were because they need some for packing. It was then I realized it’s been years since I’ve bought a newspaper.

I still see many older people reading newspapers, and sometimes I wish I did have a good old fashioned newspaper to read. I spend so much time in front of a computer, Ipad or IPhone my eyes are getting bad. Whenever I visit my sister I always read her Sunday Paper, and I look through the “junk” stuffed in the middle.

In this case newspapers beat out TV ads, so there has to be something still there.

56% purchased a used vehicle. 70% were men. 25% of them didn’t research online. 63% of them visited the dealer’s website. 42% of them showed up unannounced.

10) AutoTrader


53 Deals
20 Assists

Founded in 1997, was the first portal site to target car dealers with boots on the ground. Being majority-owned subsidiary of Cox, they bought some notable businesses over the years. Vauto, Homenet Automotive, Vin Solutions, and Haystack are now all owned or affiliated with AutoTrader. There’s also an affiliation with now, so many people refer to them as the “evil empire”.

AutoTrader seems to be losing their touch. Maybe it’s the absence of Chip Perry? Shopping on can be very annoying as many ads are forced on you.

CarGurus, and TrueCar are all secure websites now with SSL. AutoTrader is still in the stone ages without SSL. Having a non-secure website isn’t that bad though. It’s not like they’re passing sensitive information to dealers, but it’s still something we all should switch to sooner than later.

Perhaps they should bring in some young blood to redesign In my opinion, there are too many ads. Our younger generation is growing up, and they don’t like being advertised to.

I have a car dealer in Portland that I do some work for and we wanted to learn about the people on the area. I installed a script on their website to identify the presence of ad blocking software used by the dealer’s website visitors.  26% of them have some type of AdBlocker installed. It’s a lot more than I thought. I have the same installed for a dealer in Los Angeles and it’s only 3.3% there.

Remember this is just one region in the US. I’ve seen AutoTrader dominate in other areas.

91% of them bought a used vehicle. 91% of them visited the dealer’s website. 38% called the dealership first.

9) True Car


54 Deals
21 Assists

Anyone in the car business knows TrueCar was off to a shaky start for the past few years. In December of 2015 former AutoTrader CEO Chip Perry took over as CEO of TrueCar. Since then the company has appeared to turn around for the good. I know many dealer’s don’t like “having to give cars away at invoice”, but there’s plenty of profits to be made in the back. I did a front and back gross profit by source study for a Dealership in Florida and TrueCar had one of the highest average back gross profits than any other vendor.

It’s also important to understand that TrueCar is the only portal site that sells new vehicles. The other’s primarily bring in used car buyers.

89% of them purchased a new vehicle. 30% of them took over two months to buy. 78% of them lived closer to another Toyota Dealership. 80% used a PC. 56% of them submitted a contact form.


56 Deals
19 Assists was launched in June of 1998. That’s pretty much when the internet started taking off because personal computers where now at a price where people could afford them. I remember my first PC in 1994 cost me almost $3,000.00. That was a lot back then.

In 2008 was powering Yahoo Autos and it was all downhill from there. Gannet Company owned a piece of with others, and in 2014 they bought everyone else out for 1.8 Billion Dollars (with a “B”).

From what I’ve observed, they seem to be beating up their rival competitor AutoTrader. This will vary regionally though.

23% of these customers bought new cars. 75% of them were men. 87% of them still visited the dealer’s website. 34% called the dealership first.

7) Car Gurus


63 Deals
18 Assists

I clearly remember when CarGurus started coming up in searches when I was in the SEO businesses back in 2005. I was the original founder of Showroom Logic, and we did SEO before we did paid search. My first thought was “Oh god, another car portal site”. They stood their ground and replaced EveryCarListed and LemonFree as the “third portal site”. I’m not surprised by them winning this portal battle. I’ve visited their Boston Headquarters on two occasions and I was very impressed with their organization and employees. They have a thorough understanding of the way people shop for vehicles online. They also know paid search and SEO very well.

It’s not surprising considering they were founded by Langley Steinert, who is the former co-founder of Expedia.

89% of these customers bought used cars. 36% of them called the dealership first.

6) Email Campaigns

Email Campaigns

79 Deals
138 Assists

Email sales can come from CRM emails or perhaps email campaigns using Mail Chimp or other sources. Either way I find it surprising that emails are this high on the list. I get annoyed when I get emails I don’t want, but everyone is different.

40% of these customers lived closer to another Toyota Dealership. Only 2% say they didn’t do any research online. 85% of them visited the dealer’s website.

5) Manufacturer’s Website

131 Deals
82 Assists

When it comes to people searching for cars, it’s not something they do overnight. People shop for weeks or months. If a consumer wants reviews and information for a particular make model they will not find it on a dealer website. The only thing they will find is a “vin explosion” of information with stock photos and a price. A dealer website is one of the last websites they will go to. In fact, in this case less than half of all of these car buyers visited this dealer’s website.

Manufacturer websites are very powerful, and brands like Toyota know how to advertise.

41% of them bought used cars. That says a lot for Toyota’s push for Certified Pre-owned. 73% did most of their research on a PC or Laptop (Only 11% Mobile).

4) Google Search (Organic & Paid)

Google Search

162 Deals
127 Assists

Google is the king of search with an average of 87% of the search market share. I’m still not a big fan of paid search though. I’ve observed dealers spending way too much on it over the years. I think it’s great for new, but not used. If you are using paid search for used, take a look at your analytics and conversions. They’re practically non-existent. Portal sites like AutoTrader, CarGurus and are where those visitors end up. Sure, they may click your ad but they bounce quick. The CPC’s are high as well.

I’m a huge fan of Google Organic though. Google is really good at knowing your location, so if you’re a Honda Dealer and someone searches for “Honda Dealership” in your area you will come up in the three pack (for free) with your 2 nearest competitors. It’s all about location.

36% of these customers spent over a month vehicle shopping. 95% of them looked at other websites besides the dealers.

3) Drive Byes

Driving By

182 Deals
97 Assists

More people will drive by a car dealership per hour than will visit their website in a week. Some people drive by every day going to work, then drive by it again coming home. These people see you over and over again, so when it’s time to purchase a new car you will be on the list.

85% of these customers still shopped online. 68% visited the dealer’s website.

2) Friend Referrals


409 Deals

105 Assists

Bird dogs or just friend referrals because you’re awesome, either way this is a great source.

38% of these friend referrals purchased a used vehicle. 46% of them just showed up to the dealership un-announced.

1)Previous Customers

Previous Customers

935 Deals
93 Assists

If you take care of your customers, they will come back. And if you have a strong BDC or Internet Sales Manager, they will ensure that. I see many dealers who seem to get it and hire good people to run their CRM, but I’ve also seen many that hire just about anybody and pay them low resulting in a large turnover. They’re willing to spend 10’s of thousands of dollars on advertising yet they’re sitting on a database of 30,000 names run by an amateur.

This particular dealership is a winner in this area, that is why they are one of the top franchises in the country. They have the right processes, the right employees and the right agency running their advertising.

74% of these previous customers bought new vehicles. 90% looked elsewhere before they came back.

There are a few source types that only assists can be measured:

  1. Live Chat Vendors: I feel you can never give live chat credit for a deal, but it can be an deal assist. Live Chat works with people that are already on your website, and they came from somewhere else. In all of these dealers, live chat helped sell 3.27% of the deals.