THESE DAYS, THE BEST way to purchase a new car might be to skip the dealership and head online.
While the advantages might not seem obvious at first, auto experts agree that shoppers can save time and money by going online. Perhaps more important, the entire process is a lot more pleasant: No more wrestling with tough sales teams.
You can purchase new and used cars online. People who've purchased new models say it's remarkably easy. Most sites will forward your request for a free quote to a dealership's Internet sales department. These people make their commissions based on volume rather than price. They understand the importance of offering a fair price to move the sales process along quickly.
While a dealer may laugh if you offer $500 over invoice price, if you go to the dealer s Web site you may have better luck getting the deal you want.
Those looking to purchase a new car online typically field multiple offers at a time a detail not lost on the dealerships. They know that if they want your business, they'll have to offer you a competitive price. Of course, there's always the opportunity to try to haggle it down even more.
In addition to the sales price, you can work out all the smaller details online as well, including aftermarket products (like rust proofing and extended warranties) and financing. (Auto experts always recommend lining up your financing with an independent lender. Read our story for tips on how to do this.) By arranging everything upfront, you can all but avoid the finance-and-insurance manager.
These are the best salespeople in the business, and can squeeze an extra couple of hundred dollars out of almost anyone.
There are also plenty of sites that deal with used cars, which we'll detail below. Ready to give online car buying a spin? Here's how to do it right.
Start Off the Old-Fashioned Way
As glorious as the Internet is, there are some things it can't offer, like a first-hand experience of how a particular model handles. So as soon as you know which model and features you're interested in, go down to your local dealer and kick the tires. Take the car out for a test drive and make sure you love it.
The Price Is Right
Once you've read all the reviews and taken your future car out for a test drive, it's time to research prices. On sites such as Edmunds.com and CarsDirect.com, you can compare the sticker price with the invoice price, and also see if the manufacturer is offering any incentives. Edmunds.com also provides users with the True Market Value of every vehicle on the market. This is an average price for what other consumers in your area are paying. You shouldn't have to pay more than this. If buying a used car, the industry standard for pricing is Kelley Blue Book.
What It Does
|MyRide.com||Coaches its dealer network to offer the best price out of the gate. Searches its database to find the best deals on used cars in your area. Boasts approximately 400,000 used vehicles on its site and allows you to search an additional 3.5 million used vehicles from across the web.|
|AutoTrader.com||This automotive marketplace allows you to see actual prices and inventory for both new and used cars in your zip code. Boasts three million new and used vehicles.|
|CarsDirect.com||You never have to haggle or step foot in the dealership again. This web site offers a low price guarantee and many of its partner dealerships will even deliver the car or truck to your door.|
|eBay Motors||Largest online automotive marketplace. Claims an automobile sells every minute on its web site. The majority of the vehicles are used.|
|Edmunds.com||Provides consumers with the True Market Value of every vehicle on the market. This is the average price consumers in your area are paying for a specific vehicle. The web site's Local Car Dealer tool puts you in touch with the Internet managers at local dealerships, which tend to offer lower prices than the salespeople you'll find on the showroom floor.|
The Best Sites for New Cars
Each site works a little differently. If you use Edmunds.com or MyRide.com, local dealers will e-mail you free price quotes. There's no obligation to buy, and consumers should feel free to ask for a lower price. It's going to be tough to get a car for under invoice unless it's last year's model and the dealership needs to unload it to make room for newer vehicles.
CarsDirect.com acts more like a broker. It has relationships with dealerships that agree to charge the web site's low-price guarantee. (If you find a lower price within three days of the sales transaction, CarsDirect will match it.) Even though your purchase is made through a dealer, the entire transaction feels like it's conducted through CarsDirect.com. Most of the company's partner dealerships will even deliver the car to your front door.
If you want to see cars that are actually sitting on lots, go to AutoTrader.com. Here, dealerships list their inventories. This is helpful if you're looking for a quick sale, or if you want to see which vehicles are overstocked in your area (potentially giving you an advantage during negotiations). Just keep in mind that AutoTrader.com only matches buyers with sellers. It's up to you to secure a good price.
If you're feeling a bit sporting, you could always roll the dice and try bidding on a car using eBay Motors. For the savvy, good deals abound. EBay claims to be the largest online automotive marketplace, with one vehicle selling every minute. Just be careful not to get caught-up in the bidding process and wind up overpaying for a car.
The Best Sites for Used Cars
All of the aforementioned sites sell used cars, both from individuals and from dealers, with the exception of MyRide.com, which lists price quotes for used vehicles sold in dealerships. AutoTrader.com and eBay, however, excel in this arena, say experts.
The advantage of looking online vs., say, the local newspaper, is that you get to search and compare prices for thousands of cars in your area and can scan multiple pictures that help give a sense of the car's overall condition. And buyers tend to get better prices when they use the Internet to purchase a vehicle than they'd get from a dealer's lot.
Experts recommend limiting your search to vehicles within 20 or 30 miles of your home. This way you can easily test-drive them and get them inspected by a mechanic you trust. It's also crucial that you ask to see service records, and run a vehicle history report from Carfax or Experian. A vehicle history report will tell you if the car has been salvaged, flooded or in an accident.
Also, be sure to ask for the vehicle identification number if the owner won t hand it over, walk away. Chances are he or she has something to hide, such as so-called title washing. This is the practice of taking a flood or salvage vehicle across state lines and getting a new title for it.
Finally, don't fixate on getting the absolute lowest price possible. It s not worth your time to fight over $50. If you shop online know you can quickly come up with a price that will knock the socks off half the people walking the lots.