NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Despite all the benefits of online dating services, couples meet in person before heading down the aisle. But surveys show that growing numbers of car buyers are taking the online-only approach, avoiding the hard sell in the showroom and even skipping the test drive altogether.
There’s no question an Internet search allows the car shopper to cast a bigger net, improving the odds of landing a great deal they might not get if they’re limited to what’s at the dealership. And if you save hundreds of dollars or more, it may be worth going 100 miles to pick up your new baby.
But most buyers will be wise to take a hybrid approach, visiting a dealership or two in addition to scouring the Web. If you haven’t shopped for a car in a few years, it may be news to you that some dealerships now have an “Internet department” to help buyers find vehicles that aren’t on the lot, often at substantial savings.
An online search can certainly help you find a good used car as well as a new one, but there are just too many potential problems with older cars to risk buying sight unseen. In fact, unless there’s a terrific warranty, you should really have your own mechanic check the vehicle before signing any sales contracts. A new car is a safer bet for Internet shopping because today’s warranties cover so much and last so long.
Still, it can be pretty risky to buy a car without having driven the same year, make and model with similar options. Reviews are helpful, but it’s not likely the reviewer was exactly your height and weight, shared your concern over blind spots or the feel of the arm rest. You really have to get in the driver’s seat to know if a vehicle feels right, and it’s a good idea to have the family ride too.
The chief benefit of Internet shopping is price comparison. Start by checking your preferred model at sites such as Edmunds.com and Kelley Blue Book, and look for the typical price over dealer’s invoice. Then use their services, eBay or the manufacturer’s own website to find vehicles within a specified distance of your home.