Many high-earners are now being declined by mainstream lenders - often due to just minor blemishes on their credit files.
Chester-based sub-prime finance provider The Funding Corporation is reporting a sharp rise in the number of people who are "salary rich, but credit poor".
But this sector no longer comprises just low earners with poor repayment histories, according to the company's Norman Beaumont, sales and marketing director of ACF Car Finance, the group's car sales division:
"We have plenty of applicants from professional backgrounds who have been stunned to learn that a bank or finance house has refused them a loan," he said.
"The cause might have been just a few missed payments on a credit card some years ago, but today that can be enough for some lenders to turn down their application.
"Being a high earner is no barrier to someone being classified as high risk," said Beaumont.
Professionals and senior managers with incomes well above the national average are among those now having to cast their net more widely for car loans.
In many cases, he says, the family's main car is supplied via the business - so the person's credit history isn't revealed until they come to buy a second vehicle.
It's then they receive the surprise news, sometimes from a prime dealership, that their application for car finance has been refused.
"Every day we are talking to people whose incomes, even after all outgoings have been deducted, could very easily accommodate a car loan," he said.
"A few years ago, a few blemishes on their credit file might have been ignored - but now, many mainstream lenders are looking only for spotless borrowing records.
"The lenders with which ACF Car Finance works, including its parent The Funding Corporation, still apply strict lending criteria, but also look more closely at the reasons for any past difficulties.
"In many cases, these often don't indicate a chronic repayment problem, but simply a blip which has since been remedied and is unlikely to reoccur."