That's been changing, gradually, this year with expanded captive finance options and lending terms that are loosening somewhat.
And it's getting better yet. According to the latest quarterly analysis from Experian Automotive, as lenders continued to loosen their loan criteria, the share of new-vehicle loans going to so-called "credit-challenged" vehicle shoppers grew by 12.7 percent in the third quarter of the year.
That includes a significant boost to loans for subprime shoppers (those with credit scores between 550 and 619) as well as nonprime customers (620 to 679).
But it's not as risky as it sounds; Experian says that consumers are doing a better job paying back their loans. Both 30-day and 60-day delinquencies have dropped significantly this past quarter, and lenders can breath a sigh of relief that the total dollar volume at risk of default in auto loans fell by $6.4 billion during the period.
That said, 63 percent of loans are still going to those with prime credit scores (680 or higher); that's only a bit better than last year when the market hit 66 percent prime.
Overall in the third quarter, however, the average credit scores for both new and used buyers were down from the same period last year; average loan amounts were up, however. The average new vehicle loan, Experian says, is $25,273, while buyers finance $16,706 for used cars, on average.