Most people buy their music and books over the internet. You might even have bought your last vacation that way. So why do car buyers persist in visiting dealerships? Well there is one good reason, which we’ll come to in a moment, but overall, online car shopping is a much easier way of finding your next new or used car.
The Dealership Experience
Showing up at a car dealership is rarely satisfying. You walk in curious to see what’s new, and leave three hours later, poorer and with a serious case of buyer’s remorse. Don’t hold it against the salesman. He’s only trying to make a living. You should really blame yourself for being uneducated and not prepared.
Researching Your Next Car
Buying a car is no different to buying anything else. It’s up to you to decide what you want and then figure out where to buy it. Start by figuring out what you want, what will suit you best, and what you can comfortably afford. Only then do you look to see where you can get the best deal. The internet can and will provide you with a lot of tools.
- Manufacturer websites – Hardly unbiased of course, but they let you study trim and equipment levels, look at paint colors and wheel options, and will give you a price.
- Automotive magazines – Aimed at enthusiasts, these are sometimes a little dismissive of cars they consider “boring” but they will give you a sense of how a vehicle feels to drive.
- Independent automotive review sites – Organizations like Consumer Reports are pretty objective and pay attention to reliability and practicality along with a vehicles features and benefits..
- Government and Insurance Institute websites – Fueleconomy.gov, safercar.gov and the IIHS provide independent gas mileage and safety ratings for just about any vehicle on America’s roadways.
Benefits of Car Shopping Online
Online car shopping does three things for you:
- Gives you more choices – Track down the exact make, model, color and trim of vehicle you’re looking for and even select the options or packages you want from the comfort of you computer, smartphone, or mobile device..
- Saves you valuable time – Visiting a couple of dealerships can easily consume a whole day. Even then, you may not have seen the car you want, and you certainly won’t have had much time for price comparisons.
- Saves you more money – Online car shopping often yields a better deal. That’s because dealerships see internet sales as a high volume, low margin business. They know you’ve done your research so they don’t have to invest a lot of sales time and effort, and they won’t try to steer you to something more profitable.
The Online Car Buying Process
If you started out at a manufacturer website, most will offer to share your contact details with a dealership. Many independent automotive websites will do the same. (Most of these types of sites have contracts or collect a fee from the dealership for providing them with this information.)
If you ask for the introduction, someone from the dealership’s internet sales department will reach out to you, usually via email first and sometimes a phone call. Alternatively, you can contact nearby dealerships directly through their individual websites. When emailing the dealership, tell them exactly what you’re looking for and ask for a price. Visit my article on “How to Negotiate with a Car Dealership by Email” to see examples, or even use my car dealership email templates.
Don’t forget that you can also research dealerships, before you visit them, online. Read reviews to learn what other car buyers thought of them, but please keep in mind that not everyone is unbiased!
Don’t forget the test drive!
I would never tell you to buy a car without first “trying it on for size.” I mean, you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants before you tried them on, would you? You will still need to visit the dealership before finalizing the deal. You will want to sit in the car, see how it looks, feels, smells, and most importantly, how it drives. If you’re buying a used car. Check out my article “The Correct Way to Test Drive a Used Car” for tips and tricks on how to correctly test drive a preowned vehicle and make sure you don’t get stuck with somebody else’s problems.
As with doing your research, don’t just walk into a showroom and ask for a test drive. This is exactly what they are hoping you will do. They’re unlikely to have the exact car you want available and they’ll probably keep you waiting while they try to sell you a car you don’t really want. This is also the time they’ll use to give you their sales pitch!
Instead, use the massive power of the modern internet. After you’ve done your research online. Email them asking to schedule a test drive of a specific vehicle. Dealerships prefer this because it lets them use their time more efficiently.
After your test drive don’t start negotiating. Say you need to think about it and leave. Then, if you’re sure its the car for you, email to say you’re ready to buy. They may ask you to call in but many dealerships will bring the car and paperwork to your home or office.
Be a smart car shopper
Car shopping online is the smart thing to do. It’s easier than the old way of sorting through dozens of misleading newspaper ads or trudging round dealerships. And since dealerships look at online car deals as “high volume – low profit” transactions, you’ll probably get a better deal. Do yourself a favor and make online car shopping the way you buy your next car. For more hints and tips on navigating the new and used car buying process, spend some time browsing through the rest of my website? AutoCheatSheet.com.
Once you’re ready to start shopping for your next new or used car, take a look at either my, “New Car Buying Guide” or “Used Car Buyer’s guide” for insider tips and secrets on how to buy a car and avoid dealer scams.
As always, I recommend using an online referral service such as Ryde Shopper or Motor Trend before visiting a car dealership. Their free online price quotes will automatically include any discounts or cash-back incentives currently available in the marketplace.