You need a car… It’s just a fact of life if you don’t live in a big city with a reliable transportation network. But let’s face it… car shopping probably isn’t in the Top 10 on the list of life’s Fun Things to Do. Heck, it probably isn’t going to make the Top 20. It takes time you might not have in your busy day, and energy you probably don’t have after a long stint at work. So keep reading for a great list of online car shopping tips, because who wants to step foot on a car lot when you can buy cars online from the comfort of your own home?
Why Shop For a Car Online?
Shopping for a car online is the ultimate sanity saver. You don’t have to drive all over town, drink too-strong coffee, or make small talk with salespeople. Online car shopping can be done at any time, from anywhere with an internet connection, so you decide everything from how long you look to when you’re doing the looking.
Online car shopping has something else to benefit it, too. You’re in control. You can choose what cars you look at, mix and match trim packages, pause everything and do a little research, or a lot of research. You can change your mind entirely about what car you want, and you never have to worry about inconveniencing a salesperson. In fact, shopping for a car online is probably the easiest method of shopping for a car there is. But like everything, there’s a proper method to shopping for a car online, just like there’s a proper method to shopping for any major purchase. Keep reading to find out the best and easiest method for when you’re ready to buy your car online.
9 Easy Steps to Help You Shop for a Car Online
#1 Decide Your Budget
A general rule of thumb is to pay about 10% (20% is better) of the car’s price, then finance the rest. Smart shoppers try to pay off their car loans as quickly as possible. Don’t let yourself fall for a car you can’t really afford, or you’ll find yourself struggling with paying for other basic car expenses, like registration and repairs.
#2 Decide What You Really Need
Your need should dictate your car purchase. It’s tempting to go for the power and sleek design of the latest muscle car, but if your budget – and your family – are more in line with a sedan or a minivan, you need to get your eyes on the car that’s right for you.
That’s another advantage to shopping for a car online, you can take as long as you want to find something that fits your lifestyle and budget, but you can also take a little extra time to daydream. If you want to spend hours mooning over the latest model Camaro or Porsche before you buy that minivan… well, we won’t say anything.
#3 Get Your Financing Approved Before You Shop Seriously
You don’t want to find the perfect car for you only to get turned down for a car loan. Car shopping is stressful enough. Once you’ve set your budget and gotten yourself pre-approved, your online car buying will go much more smoothly, especially once you get to the test-drive stage.
#4 Do Your Research
Doing a little research on makes and models you think you like is a smart shopper’s best weapon. It’ll help you avoid falling for a car that looks great but doesn’t really suit your needs. The smart internet shopper can get as much information as they want on makes, models, trim packages, and upgrades, and they can take as much time as they want to research everything. Shopping for your new car online puts you in the driver’s seat of the whole experience.
Pro-Tip: If you like, you can always start your online car shopping at your local dealership. Yes, really. If you’re not sure what car works for you, there’s no harm in going to a dealership and trying different makes and models until you find the one that works for you. Just make sure to make it clear to the salesperson that you’re strictly looking, not looking to buy. When you’re planning out your research, you should check a wide variety of websites. Head over to Consumer Reports and read the annual auto issue if you’re looking for a new car. Manufacturer sites are great for finding the base statistics of your prospective car.
Below are some great sites to check when you are shopping for a used vehicle:
#5 Shop Around
You’re going to want to check out multiple online dealers before you even think about making a decision. After all, it’s the internet! You can go all over the state with a few keystrokes, so don’t limit yourself to just looking at dealers in your local area. You never know who’s going to have the best deal on the car you want. If a dealer an hour away has a car you like for significantly less, the drive is definitely worth it (or you can even find a site that delivers the car to you!).
#6 Start Communication
OK, you know what you want, you know how you want it, and you’re pre-approved. Time to chat with some internet sales managers! Internet sales managers will be able to provide quotes on any cars you like at their dealership, and they’re as knowledgeable as you could want. Don’t be afraid to ask for quotes on any of their inventory. Once you do get a quote, be sure to call the dealers who provided you with quotes that fit your budget. Also, ask them if it’s the out the door price, in case there are added dealer fees. You’ll want to ask them about the price including the taxes as well.
#7 Time for the Down Payment
Once you’ve nailed down a quote, always ask if the car you’re interested in is still available on the lot or in the online dealer’s inventory. If it is, it’s a good idea to put a down payment on it via credit card. A simple down payment doesn’t need to be much, but it will allow you to tell your dealer to put a sold sticker on the car immediately. That way, you have a little more time to go pick it up or get it delivered.
#8 Test Drive
Here it is, the moment you’ve been waiting for… the test drive. Just because you’re shopping for cars online doesn’t mean you don’t get to do the actual road test. It doesn’t matter if you’re using an online dealership or one of the internet car services, you’re going to need to get behind the wheel. It’s worth noting that online car services will allow a test drive period so you can see if your new car really does suit your needs or exchange it if anything is wrong.
#9 Wrap it Up
Your dealer, whether online or not, is your one-stop-shop for your car and all the paperwork you need to go with it. They’ll be able to help you with registration, and a Carfax report if you’re buying used, so take advantage of the services that your dealer provides once you’ve decided which one to buy from. Shopping from a local dealer can also give you perks like guaranteed loaner cars or discounts on service. Shopping for a new car doesn’t have to be an ordeal. Whether you’re looking for a new or used (but new to you) car, chances are good that you can find something you like without ever leaving your house.