Car Shopping Online: 5 Keys to a New Car at a Great Price

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Shopping for a new vehicle? It makes sense to do a lot of the legwork online -- or even the entire transaction. Here's how.

Ready to buy a car sight unseen?

What once sounded crazy is becoming more of a reality. A report on a survey by AutoTrader shows that 60 percent of car buyer’s time is spent online. If you consider that 71 percent of buyers surveyed said that when they went to the dealership they bought the vehicle they originally intended to purchase, you can see it’s a short jump between browsing and shopping online. In fact, a survey of 10,000 consumers in eight countries by Accenture found that 75 percent of respondents would consider conducting an entire car-buying transaction online.

Want to give online car-buying a try? First consider these five points to make sure you get the best possible deal:

1. Do your research strategically

If you’re like more than half of the AutoTrader survey respondents, you’re already clicking on cars. The trick is to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the choices, and instead allow your lifestyle to dictate what car you consider, recommends Kelley Blue Book (KBB). Will you drive mainly in the city or on highways? Will you often have kids in the car? Do you plan to take long road trips? Will you tow a trailer, another car or a motor home? When you find models that suit your lifestyle, do a side-by-side comparison of the models.

2. Remember your budget

If you think it’s easy to lose sight of your budget at a car dealership, think of the pitfalls of online shopping. As we’ve reported, it’s imperative to know the total you want to spend. Never go by a monthly payment cost alone, or you could end up paying so much for a car that you owe more than it’s worth. A new car also brings with it extra expenses including registration and possibly higher insurance costs. Be sure to factor in those costs too.

3. Find the best place to buy

Sure, you can and should go to the sites of local car dealers, but there are other ways to shop, too. Autotrader and CarGurus are two easy-to-navigate sites recommended by NerdWallet’s Philip Reed, a nationally known car expert. Basically you enter the make, model and a few other details and the sites will show you where such cars are sold in your area. If you’re looking for a used car, Reed suggests CarMax, which has no-haggle pricing.

4. Make a deal

Don’t think of negotiating for a car like it’s a scene in “Game of Thrones.” Simply talk to the internet manager at a dealership, express your interest and ask for the best price, incentives and rebates, recommends Edmunds. Then research the price online. There are various tools you can use to find the price of the car you select. We mentioned some above. Edmunds offers True Market Value, which gives you information including pricing based on what other car buyers have paid. Whichever sites you use, your goal is to find the lowest price. When you do, write down or print out the information including all the specifics of the car and where it’s located. Then call the manager with whom you spoke and ask for a price match. If the manager declines, move on to another dealership. One caveat: Make sure the car you discuss is configured the way you want it. It’s not helpful to negotiate for a car, get a great price, and then find out it doesn’t have the features or trim you had wanted.

5. Arrange delivery

Yes, car dealers will deliver your car to your home or office, notes Edmunds. You can sign all the paperwork there, too. Just make sure you request this before you agree to the deal, Edmunds cautions. However you take delivery, make sure you verify that the car you receive is the one you want. And if you agreed on certain features, verify that they are on the car. It’s much easier to correct errors before you sign the paperwork then after.

How has the internet changed how you shop for and buy cars? Would you buy one entirely online? Share with us in comments or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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