Car Knowledge & Buying Confidence in America

June 11, 2024

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When you walk into a car dealership, you want to feel confident, knowledgeable, and fully prepared to make one of the most significant purchases of your life. But unfortunately, this scenario isn’t the reality for everyone. Our latest study about automotive literacy uncovers how different genders and generations feel about and manage car buying, financing, and maintenance. 

Our survey of 1,001 Americans reveals striking disparities in confidence levels, support systems, and knowledge. These insights offer a look at the unique challenges faced by men and women across various age groups and provide a clearer understanding of what it’s like to be a car owner in America.

Key Takeaways

  • 20% of women felt very confident in the car-buying process compared to 36% of men.
  • Dealership sales staff are least likely to patronize Gen Z (14%).
  • Nearly half of Americans (48%) can’t change a tire.
  • Over half of Gen Z (55%) didn’t buy their first car on their own.
  • 35% of Gen Z and 17% of millennials don’t pay for their own car insurance.

The Car Buying Experience

Since buying a car can be a significant financial and emotional investment, it’s important to understand the process. This section of our study explores what car buying is like for different genders and generations, with insights into their confidence levels and top challenges.

Infographic showing car buying experiences among gender and generations

Hidden fees during car purchases were reported by 35% of women and 40% of men. Gen X respondents were most likely to have felt overlooked by sales staff, with 26% indicating they were ignored at dealerships. Meanwhile, Gen Z buyers were most likely to feel pressured to upgrade their car choice, with 27% experiencing this push from sales representatives.

Confidence levels in navigating the car-buying process were notably low, with only 20% of women feeling very confident, compared to 36% of men. Among specific generations, baby boomers felt the most confident, while Gen Z was the least. However, Gen Z was also the least likely to say they’ve been patronized by sales staff, with only 14% reporting such experiences.

Support during the car buying process also varied. Over half of the women surveyed (57%) have brought a male partner to assist with their car purchase. Of Gen Z, 54% brought their dad, while only 29% brought their mom. These findings underline the diverse challenges and support dynamics that different demographics face when purchasing a vehicle.

Financing Challenges

Financing a car presents various challenges and levels of confidence across different generations and genders. We asked respondents about their experiences with and perceptions of car loans and insurance.

Infographic showing car financing habits

Infographic exploring car insurance and car loan literacy

Different genders and generations had varying experiences with buying their first car. Women (19%) were also more likely than men (14%) to have bought a new first car. And while 56% of baby boomers bought their first car on their own, only 43% of Gen Z said the same. Over half of Gen Z (55%) didn’t buy their first car.

Another 35% of Gen Z said they currently don’t pay for their own car insurance. Although many Gen Zers are still under 18 (the age at which they can qualify for car insurance), our respondents were all 18 or older. Some millennials (17%) said they don’t pay for their car insurance either. Parents can keep their adult children on their policy as long as they like.

Confidence in car insurance knowledge also varied across generations, with baby boomers nearly 56% more likely to feel confident about it than Gen Z (86% vs. 55%, respectively). 

When it comes to financing, 53% of people have taken out a car loan to afford their current vehicle. This process also reveals a gender disparity in confidence levels; just 60% of women felt confident about understanding the car loan process compared to 72% of men.

Car Maintenance Knowledge

Finding a good mechanic is half the battle; experiences with these professionals vary widely across generations and genders. And while car maintenance is an essential part of vehicle ownership, some Americans are more knowledgeable about it than others. Let’s see how these differences play out and what insights these findings can provide about Americans’ car maintenance practices.

Infographic showing mechanic experiences

Over half of women (51%) have brought a male counterpart to the mechanic with them. Among the younger generations, 54% of Gen Z and 33% of millennials have brought a parent along for support. Still, 21% of millennials — and the same number of Gen Xers — have noted major discrepancies between the initial estimate and the final repair cost. These were the generations most likely to have had this experience.

Infographic showing car maintenance knowledge amongst generation and gender.

Knowledge of basic car maintenance tasks also varied across genders and age groups. While 83% of men said they knew how to check their tire pressure, only 70% of women reported the same. Similarly, 60% of millennials said they can jump-start a car, compared to 47% of Gen Z. Despite these skills, nearly half of Americans (48%) admitted they can’t change a tire.

Disparities in Automotive Confidence

This exploration into America’s automotive literacy and experiences has revealed significant disparities in confidence, knowledge, and support systems across genders and generations. While baby boomers tend to exhibit higher confidence in their automotive knowledge, younger generations, particularly Gen Z, often rely on parental support and express lower confidence levels. Gender disparities also persist, with men generally feeling more assured in their car-related knowledge and processes. Understanding these differences can help shape more effective strategies for improving automotive literacy nationwide.


We surveyed 1,001 Americans who lease or own a car to explore their automotive literacy and experiences. Of the respondents, 53% were women, 46% were men, and 1% were non-binary. The generational breakdown was 13% Gen Z, 51% millennials, 26% Gen X, and 11% baby boomers (percentages were rounded).

About JW Surety Bonds

JW Surety Bonds is a leading provider of surety bond solutions for businesses and individuals across industries. We offer a range of surety bonds, including those tailored for the automotive industry, such as auto dealer bonds and vehicle title bonds. Our excellent customer service and user-friendly online platform help clients secure the bonds they need quickly and efficiently, ensuring compliance with state and federal regulations.

Fair Use Statement

These insights are available for noncommercial sharing with a citation link to this page.

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