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How to Shop for a New Car Online

Updated on September 21, 2017
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Dixie shares her experience buying and researching cars online.

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The Internet is a Goldmine of Information When Shopping for a New Car

If you are looking to buy a new car, there are many ways to hopefully gather information that will make you an informed buyer.

Asking friends is not always the best approach because they are going to give opinions and not facts. Talking to the car salesman can be just as much of a waste of time as they want to sell the car. Only looking at ads online can be just as disconcerting because again, the point is to sell the car.

The internet is full of reviews and information that when compiled can provide a complete look at the car that you are looking at. From problems that others have had with the same make and model of the car to unique features that make the car a good buy, people like to talk about their shopping experiences in different places all over the internet.


What Types of Sites Should You Look To When Buying a Car?

  • Look at all of the major auto review sites. Odds are that there is a review for the make and model of car that you are looking to buy.
  • Type in to your favorite search engine the make and model of the car that you are looking at and then the word problems. There might be some interesting reading there.
  • Many motor heads have their own sites where they review cars and their performance. Some of these mechanics and car lovers even have audio or video blogs where you can see what they are talking about or hear them. Sometimes this is very useful.
  • Car Magazines. These magazines are often heavily sponsored, so caveat emptor. However, the amount of good information contained on their sites about cars is really solid, and oftentimes, they will have some performance tips and tricks to get the most out of your car.
  • The manufacturer of the car has a website. Go check it out. Some of the manufacturers even have features where you can build a car from the ground up and see what it looks like. Some of the manufacturer websites will give you an estimate of what it will cost to build the car the way that you want it to be built.
  • Rebate and discount sites. Look to see if there are special rebates or incentives on the model car that you are looking at. A friend of mine saved over 1500.00 by learning of a few incentive plans that were in place at the time she bought her car.

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What Type of Information Should I Look for About My Upcoming New Car Purchase?

You should learn the facts about your car. A car is comprised of a lot of components that work together, and learning what all of them do, or a good amount of them is a smart use of the money that you will be paying for your car.

What are some things that you should learn about the car you are looking at?

  • How did this car fare in crash testing?
  • What is this car classified as for insurance purposes?
  • How many miles per gallon (MPG) does this car get in the city and on the highway?
  • Are there car seat anchors?
  • How many airbags are there and where are they located?
  • What kind of headlights are used, and do they auto dim?
  • What is the storage capacity?
  • Are there cargo storage features such as webbing or netting?
  • Where is the spare tire located?
  • Is the spare tire small size or full size? If it is not full size, is it possible to upgrade it to full size?
  • What type of jack is provided for the car?
  • Is the car front wheel drive or rear wheel drive?
  • What type of brakes does the car have?
  • What climate control features are on the car?
  • Where was the car manufactured?


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Internet Only Specials

Sometimes, dealerships and the actual car manufacturers will offer internet only specials and promotions. These can be a certain amount of money off, special rebates and special features added to the car at no additional charge.

Finding internet only specials can be a tricky deal to get. The reason is there are often conditions that must be met and an expiration date. I once got a new car with an upgraded sound system by taking delivery of a new car in a color that was special ordered and then canceled by the original purchaser. To me, the car was simply a beige car. I was told that it was a custom blended gold champagne that would not be able to be duplicated. When I sold it, I listed it as beige and it sold.

Check the internet only specials for restrictions, dates, applicable taxes and fees.

Read Online Reviews About the New Car You Want

A source that a lot of people won't mention is public boards and forums where people will talk about their cars. These can be a large consumer of time to plow through, and sometimes people are there venting about a problem that they are having with their car because of something that they did to a car.

I like looking at public forums and boards. I think that there can be a lot of valuable information gleaned from them. It sometimes takes wading through a lot of mindless chatter, so bear that in mind before you set out to find forums.

One of the best pieces of advice I got about my Oldsmobile Aurora was to get rid of the car. Why was it suggested to me on a forum? Because at the time, Oldsmobile was going out of business and there was a concern for warranty issues being honored if there were no more factory made Oldsmobile parts. I got rid of the car at a good price, but if I had not been on the forums, I would never have considered this.

Forums can also be a place where people make friendships, so what you may see as people being unkind to one another can actually be friends giving one another a gentle hard time. Don't be too hard to judge people that you do not know.

If you do choose to look at auto forums, look at several different ones.

Compare Prices Online When Car Shopping

Prices can vary from dealer to dealer and even from state to state. How much can the prices move? Well, I can assure you that it was worth it to a friend to fly to a neighboring state, pick up the car and drive it home herself. The savings were significant. Looking online puts the whole world at your fingertips. If you are not willing to travel to get your new car, then define the area that you are looking in.

When comparing prices, make sure that you are looking at cars that have the same list of features. I made a list to add and subtract from that included features on the car. Here is a list of features that may or may not be on the car that you are looking at:

  1. Cloth versus leather seats
  2. Heated and/or air conditioned seats
  3. Electric seats/manual adjust seats
  4. Bench seat/bucket seats/contour seats
  5. Lumbar support
  6. Air conditioning
  7. Manual/automatic transmission
  8. Type of wheels and tires
  9. Window tint or no window tint
  10. Sound system features
  11. Auxiliary ports and electric outlets and USB power ports


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Dealerships and No Down Payment! No Money Down! New Car Tactics Can Cost More in the Long Run

When I hear about car dealers offering sales that say no money down, no down payment, I shudder. Tax, title and license fees (also known as TTL or TT&L) will have to be paid before you leave the lot with your new car.

The vehicle will have to be insured. No loan will be issued to you if you fail to provide adequate proof of insurance for the car. So when you consider those things, you will be writing a check for at least $1,000! Just because you are not paying the principal on the car loan does not mean that you will not be paying something to leave with the car.

There are calculators online to assist you in estimating what your TTL will be. Check those out and enter in the amount of your new car, the city and state that you live in and finally, the specific make and model of the car that you are purchasing. You will get an estimate of the TTL. When I did it online, my TTL estimate was wrong by less than one dollar!

The Benefits of a Larger Car Down Payment

A friend and I were shopping for cars at the same time. We both wanted vehicles and we felt that it would be helpful to have someone else come along who could ask questions that we might not think of.

When she decided on the car of her choice, she told me that she was going to offer a larger down payment after the first offer was made. I did not see the logic until she did it.

When the financing was brought to her, she looked up and said "What about if I add $2000.00 to the down payment? How much of a difference will that make to the payments?" The salesman left and came back with a new payment plan that was nearly 200.00 less! She added the second check to her down payment and in the first year, she was already saving more than the $2000.00 that she put down! Sometimes, a larger down payment will get you a lower payment, more amenities added to the car, a longer warranty time or extras like free oil changes. With her larger down payment, she was able to put more into her savings since it was not going towards a car payment.

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