Online Car Shopping: Connecting the Dot-Coms

Philip ReedJul 12, 2016
Online Car Shopping: Connecting the Dot-Coms

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You decide it’s time for a new car so, naturally, you jump on the internet and start surfing. Two hours later, your head is swimming, and you’re no closer to your destination. Why? You didn’t use our car-buying road map.

We’ve done the surfing and legwork for you by connecting the dots. We will remind you of the best new-car route and the sites to see along the way. We’re not saying these are the only sources of good information on the internet, but the following suggestions are our picks for reliable data and easy navigation.

This road map follows the car-buying steps outlined in , where you can find a more detailed explanation of each step.

Before you decide what car to buy, you need to know how you are going to finance it and what your should be. It’s a good idea to get pre-approved for a and run the numbers through an or a . The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a for tracking all auto loan costs.

Now that you know your price range, the fun begins: finding the best car to suit your needs. Most of the major car-buying sites have search to help you sort through a crowded field of choices. Use Edmunds’ to build a list of three to five target cars and click through the results to read by automotive experts and reviews by current owners.

For years, has collected repair data from owners, but a subscription fee is required to access all the information. Another source is , which also provides lists of its top picks. Kelley Blue Book has a great breakdown of all car-related expenses in its tool. To check out safety ratings, go to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s . And while you’re at it, find the fuel economy on .

is a great resource for new and used cars because you can filter your search to find exactly what you want. is a newer site with friendly navigation for new and used cars. Craigslist is good for low-end used cars, but beware of scammers. For used cars, has created a friendly shopping experience with no-haggle pricing. Its inventory can be searched in person or online. And you can always search the inventory of your local dealership’s website.

Pricing guides are an essential tool to show you the sticker and invoice prices and — most importantly — the current market value of the car you want to buy. There will be differences between guides, and some are made easier to read and understand by the use of graphs, charts or columns of figures. Recently, has grabbed attention by urging buyers to push for the lowest price — but it’s a good idea to check several pricing information sources.

If you are buying used, getting the is a quick way to see if the car’s past has any red flags. Dealers routinely provide these reports for free — if you ask. Many used car listing sites link to the car’s vehicle history report. If you are buying a used car from a private party, you will have to purchase your own report from either or .

Before you go to see a new or used car, you should contact the seller. Here’s how to handle this step whether you’re buying new or used.

The problem with new cars is you don’t get much time in the car and you get the hard sell when you return to the lot. Instead, call ahead and schedule a test-drive through the internet department. If you sound like a serious buyer, you might even convince them to bring the car to you for a test-drive. Carmakers are always experimenting with extended and remote test-drives, such as Buick’s program.

If you’re buying a , you can skip the pre-purchase inspection or order a .

Most people hate negotiating. But you can remove the stress by using the . Or let a locate your vehicle, make the deal and maybe even have it delivered to your home. If you handle this step yourself, remember: Before you say yes to a new car deal, ask for an out-the-door price and a breakdown of all fees.

Whether you’re on the car lot or buying from a private party, you have to handle the payment and paperwork correctly.

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