5 Tips for Buying a Car Online
Tips that will help you when Buying a Car Online
If you have shopped for a car recently, chances are, you have wondered if there’s a way to bypass the traditional car dealership. Some car manufacturers are making it easy to avoid the high pressure sales tactics of a showroom floor, in the hopes of attracting new customers, while other services tout the ease and convenience of shopping for a car the same way you’d shop for dog food online. We are not talking about buying from a conglomerate site like eBay Motors, which is mostly individuals selling cars the same way they sell anything else on eBay. We mean using the internet to shop for and buy a car and how that’s different from the traditional dealership experience. But how can you feel OK buying a car you haven’t test-driven? What about buying a car sight unseen? Is it risky? We have got all the answers and some great tips for buying a car on the internet. Some will apply whether you are buying from an online car vendor, or using the online services of a regular car dealership or service.
Research Is Still Key
This step is still where you have to start (meaning it’s no different from if you’d planned to buy or lease a car from a dealership). Before you really start daydreaming about having a shiny new car in the driveway, it’s important to determine the kind of vehicle you need and can afford, especially if you’re on a tight budget. Research will help keep your expectations in check with reality, and from there, you can start to narrow down the cars on the market that meet your goals and fit your price range. Car manufacturers want you to fall in love with their latest model and decide you must have it, but a five-figure impulse buy just isn’t a good idea.
Decide Whether to Work With a Dealership
You may have been drawn to the idea of buying a car online thanks to sites like TrueCar or Carvana, which can help you buy new or used cars over a computer without personally interacting with a dealership salesperson. These sites can offer a variety of vehicles from different manufacturers and at different price points. However, if you’ve done your research and narrowed down your list to one or two possibilities, it might be easiest or cheapest to stick with the traditional dealership. Simply track down the contact information for the internet sales department (most dealerships have one), and fire off an email to them asking for quotes on the vehicles you’re interested in.
This is also when your research will come in handy. For example, if the car you want is at the end of its model year and the dealership has a lot in stock, you’re in better shape than if you’re heading into summer and you want the hot new sports car that just came out. In any case, you’re not bound to a purchase regardless of the dealership’s response, and you have the option of comparing quotes from multiple dealerships, so it can’t hurt to ask.
Consider the Test Drive
If you’re planning to buy your car online for the main purpose of avoiding a dealership, keep in mind that it’ll be a challenge to get a test drive unless you’re willing to be flexible. If you’re working with a dealership’s internet salesperson, you can schedule a test drive of the vehicle you want (or one like it) but it’ll be hard to avoid engaging with dealership staff while you’re there.
If you’re going with a third-party service and a test drive is important to you, bear in mind that not all online car services can accommodate test drives. In the case of a new car, you can still drive one at a local dealership, but it won’t be the car you’re buying and it’s probably the exact kind of hassle you’re shopping online to avoid. And in the case of a used car you can’t see or drive, you’ll be taking some serious chances.
Get a Vehicle History Report, But Don’t Pay for It
CARFAX is the standard for used vehicle history reports. The service provides a detailed report of how many owners a car has had (though this can also include sales or transfers between different dealerships) and how many accidents a car has been in. Just be aware a CARFAX isn’t always accurate or complete due to clerical and insurance errors.
Most dealerships will provide CARFAX reports for used cars to demonstrate transparency about the car’s condition, so you don’t usually need to buy one yourself. A good CARFAX report isn’t necessarily an all-clear to buy a car, and a less-than-stellar report doesn’t always mean the car will have problems. But if the dealership is unwilling to provide a copy of the report, that’s almost always a bad sign.
Have Used Cars Independently Inspected
This step is especially important if you’re buying a used car online long-distance, from a dealership or from a private seller. Tom McParland, a car-buying consultant and Jalopnik columnist, has advised that even a car advertised as “certified preowned” can have problems, so if you don’t have the mechanical knowledge to inspect a car yourself or you aren’t close by, it’s worthwhile to arrange to have the car looked over by an independent mechanic for extra peace of mind. If the seller doesn’t want to bother taking the car to a shop, there are services that will go to the car’s location for an inspection.