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How to Get the Best Deal When Buying a Car Online

5 minute read

By Christopher Brown

Pushy car salespeople are the ones sweating now. The advent of online shopping has led to an auto-industry overhaul meant to put the power back in the hands of consumers. Now, you can research, browse, hunt for deals, apply for a loan, and even book a test drive from the comfort of your own home. Heck, you can even get a car delivered right to your door without ever having to step foot outside.

Still, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Securing the best deal when buying a car online requires focus, patience, and the right guidance. Today, we’re going to share a few inside tips to help you secure the best deal on the right car using little more than an internet connection.

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Online Car Shopping Tips

You may not have to worry about an overbearing salesperson extending your shadow through lot, but buying a car online comes with its fair share of potential pitfalls. Thankfully you aren’t the first consumer to buy their vehicle online.

We’ll get to the best online retailers shortly, but first let’s go over a few general things for you to keep in mind when navigating the digital auto lot.

Know Your Budget

Purchasing a car is an emotional whirlwind. As such, it can be very easy to get swept away by something new, shiny, and way too expensive. While working out how much you can afford to spend can’t actually stop you from spending too much, it’s still incredibly important.

There are upfront costs to a vehicle, so you’d be wise to offer up some money in the way of a down payment. You’ll want to consider the maximum monthly payment you’re willing to commit to long before you put pen to paper. Conversely, if you have an older vehicle that you’re looking to trade in, establish a minimum dollar value you’re willing to accept.1

Know Your Needs

You probably already have a general idea of your needs, wants, and nice-to-haves. Especially if you’ve driven in lots of different cars in your lifetime.

Regardless of your knowledgebase, you should sit down and put your vehicle needs down on paper. Ask yourself what you plan to use your vehicle for and be realistic.

Size, seating capacity, storage capacity, fuel efficiency, maintenance costs, and on-board tech all impact your driving experience and the vehicle’s price tag. Rank each from most to least important as a way to add some extra perspective.

Reach Out to the Owner

What? Did you expect to have to navigate the entire online car purchasing process all by yourself? Online or in-person, there’s always someone ready to answer questions and talk numbers. Dealerships are investing in online-only sales staff to bridge the gap between their digital customers and the sales floor, and private sellers are almost always ready to talk about their car.

This is the time to make an offer, ask questions, and if you’re going the dealership route, learn about potential monthly sales incentives and deals. If you have the time, consider connecting with multiple sellers across multiple sites and compiling a list of offers before settling on the one that feels the fairest.

Book a Test Drive

Buying a vehicle sight unseen is never recommended. Since it’s a sizable investment, you should always make time to see it in person and get behind the wheel at least once before committing to the purchase.

Test drives give you a better understanding of the vehicle’s power, handling, and suspension. Are the seats comfortable enough for your body type? Is it making a funny sound? Are the cup holders in a weird place? The only way to answer these questions is by booking a test drive and experiencing the answers for yourself.

Best Consumer Car Sites on the Web

Your comfort with online car purchases is going to dictate much of the ensuing process. There truly is a site for every type of car buyer. There are those that play middleman between private sellers and interested buyers. There are peer-to-peer sites that connect private sellers to private buyers. There are also dealership sites that allow buyers and browsers to explore local new and used inventory.

Some of the most valuable websites are the ones that are ideal for researching potential vehicles and comparing prices across dealerships.

Best Research Site: Edmunds

Edmunds has been aiding car buyers for over 50 years. It’s safe to say they know a thing or two. The site is full of tools and information designed to help you learn more about a car model or vehicle segment, establish your car’s trade-in value, and even calculate a car’s monthly costs.2

Honorable mention goes to Kelley Blue Book. The site is invaluable to anyone looking to get a better understanding of the trade-in value of their current vehicle. The site is also full of information about used vehicles, their specifications, and what a fair price for them might be.3

Best Peer-to-Peer Marketplace: CarGurus

You can tell CarGurus is the largest car-shopping website for a reason. It’s easy-to-navigate user interface is intuitively designed to prioritize the best deals available. You can even search by proximity to your home, which makes things infinitely easier on you.4

Honorable mention to AutoTempest. Simple, intuitive, and effective, AutoTempest aggregates used car listings across all the major used car sites including Ebay Motors, CarsDirect, and Carvana. Moreover, the site can be used to find great deals on new cars too.5

Though much more informal, Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji, and Craigslist can be great places to find great deals.

Dealership Websites

Buying a vehicle might find you browsing a local dealer’s website. Countless Americans travel down this path every day. Many find this process more trustworthy, personal, and accessible. The beautiful part about buying a car online is that there are no right or wrong answers. Just tools designed to deliver the buying experience and vehicle that you want.

If you do choose to purchase via a local dealership’s online portal, then you’d do well to familiarize yourself with CarsDirect. CarsDirect is where you can compare dealership offers and pricing with rival dealerships offering similar cars in order to protect yourself from signing an unsavory deal.6

Financing Tips

The options don’t end with interior add-ons. In-fact, most dealerships provide several financing and purchase alternatives catered to the buyer’s needs. Though there are lots of options, there are a few rules that you’d do well to keep in mind.

Pre-qualifying for a loan can teach you a lot about potential costs, as well as provide you leverage when negotiating a deal. When it comes to financing a new or used vehicle, you should always plan to provide a down payment and avoid any financing arrangements that are longer than five years as a way to avoid undue interest payments.7

Conclusion

We hope today’s discussion brought you a little closer to securing the car of your dreams at a cost that you just can’t wait to brag about. There are no guarantees in the automotive world, but the right tools and knowledge sure can get you far. Knowing the top online retailers, understanding your budget, and knowing which vehicle is the right one for you can save you time and money.

If you take what you read here to heart, then it’s safe to assume your research is only beginning. Watch videos, ask friends, and search online for more information and more ways to save. Your bank account will most definitely thank you.

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