The Internet has taken much of the guess work out of the car buying process. Shoppers are able to obtain a vast amount of research information on the Web that was previously hard to obtain. And once you decide on a vehicle, there are websites that can actually help you purchase it.
There are a host of different types of car sites that can be used to help you arrive at a purchase decision:
In the early phases, when you're still narrowing down your vehicle choices, it's helpful to look at third-party sites, such as CarsDirect and Edmunds Online. You're able to view model data, including specs, reviews and even prices, from different makes all in place. Often, there's a compare function that allows you to view key data side-by-side.
To complement initial research, it's helpful to look at sites that specialize in specific topics. These include:
- Safety - There are two organizations that perform crash tests: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. NHTSA is a government agency, while the institute is owned by a consortium of insurance companies.
- Reliability - There are different sites that track reliability. The most well-known one, which has been publishing printed guides for many years, is probably Consumer Reports. You'll need to join and pay a small fee to get full access to their website.
- Fuel Economy - The Envioronmental Protection Agency (EPA) tests and rates all vehicles for fuel economy. You can find all of the agency's ratings at the government site, fueleconomy.gov.
All automakers have a presence on the Internet. These sites are helpful once you decide on a handful of models and want to get a little more in-depth information. As you would expect, these are far less objective.
In addition to being a source for research, the Internet can also facilitate the purchase of a car. There are two general ways one can buy a car online, directly through a website or by being referred to a dealer.
Through a referral, a customer is connected with a dealer that has the desired car in stock. This makes the shopping process a great deal easier and avoids the hassle of having to go from dealership to dealership. While you can't avoid a car salesman entirely through this process, a lot of the negotiation and finance details can be worked out online.
There are different types of websites you can use to initiate the process, including those run by the manufacturer, the dealer or a third-party, such as CarsDirect. While there can be some variance, generally, there are a few steps involved in the referral process:
- Fill out Form - You'll be asked to fill a out form with key details, such as contact information, type of vehicle you're interested in, how you plan on paying, etc.
- Contact from Dealer - Your information will be forwarded to dealers in your area. If a dealer is able to fulfill your order, you'll get an e-mail stating that your request was received, if the desired car is in stock, as well as the asking price.
- Finalize the Details - After your initial contact, the rest of the transaction kind of depends on you and the dealer. If you're comfortable with the car and the asking price, you can likely work out a lot of details before you even step inside the door of the dealership. On the other hand, if you're not sure about the car or the dealerhsip, you can arrange a time to go take a test drive and meet with the salesperson. Financing can also vary. Most dealers will give you the option of working with one of their banks or the automaker's finance division.
With this method, you can buy a new car directly from a website that is not affilated with an automaker or dealership. The price is set beforehand - no negotiation is required. The largest website that offers this service is CarsDirect. You still have to pick up your vehicle at a dealership, but all of the details are worked out before delivery. Through the direct method, you have different finance options that include using the website's banking partners and the manufacturer's finance arm.