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The Car Coach – Tips for buying a car online

Written By | Mar 20, 2022
The Car Coach, Buying Online, Car

Buying a car online can be easy and many dealerships are offering online shopping options to make it easier to buy a car from your couch. Some dealerships are adding new online digital platforms that allow consumers to select a model, trim level, color, options, get approved for financing, and even negotiate the prices of trade-ins. Car Gurus, Vroom, Carvana, and others are options for used vehicles.

Drivers have easy access to an immense amount of information online to make the buying process, trade-in values, financing, incentives, inventory, expert ratings, and user reviews. This information will give you Car Smarts.

Here are some of the steps to take when car shopping from your computer.

1. Budget

Your first step should be determining how much you can afford to spend. This includes calculating such things as fuel costs, interest and car insurance, as well as identifying how much of a down payment. All of these factors calculate into your monthly costs. Buyers with higher credit scores are offered more competitive interest rates..

Car Smarts Tip: Make at least a 20 percent down payment and spend no more than 10 percent of your monthly budget for all vehicle expenses, including maintenance and insurance.

2. Loan 

To get the best deal on a car loan, look at credit unions, online banks, the dealer and your bank to get the best offer.  Getting preapproved by a lender will help you shop for what makes sense for you. When you’ve agreed on a price, show the dealer your financing and ask if they can beat that rate. Sometimes dealers offer manufacturer-sponsored financing, which could save you money.

3. Finding the right car 

Most people use the internet to determine what type of car they want and find out as much as possible about the make, model, and options. I recommend you see a vehicle in person and test drive it before signing a sales contract.

4. Research the value of your trade

Knowing the value of your trade is critical, particularly when the dealer offers you a low price. Search websites like Kelley Blue Book to determine the value of your used car. Prices vary based on age, features, mileage, location, and condition. There are a few ways to sell your used car.

1. Trade in your used vehicle at the dealership where you are buying the car. This will give you tax credit on the next vehicle.

2. Sell it yourself privately for on Facebook Market, Craigslist, eBay for cash.

3.   Sell to a used-car dealer such as CarMax or another local dealer.

Car Smarts Tip: Don’t take the first offer or trade-in your used car at the dealership, where you’ll most likely get the lowest amount for it. Plenty of sites will buy your trade, like Vroom, CarMax, and Carvana to name a few. Having another offer from one of these companies is a good negotiating tool to hold over a dealership’s head. The dealership should most likely offer more.

5. Contact local dealerships for price quotes

Once your online research is complete, contact dealerships for online price quotes. Be as specific as you can with make, model, and options, and ask several dealerships for their best offers. Many dealerships will sell you a car at a sticker price while others add on a marketing adjustment fee or ADM. Ask if you order a car will there be any additional fees. If there’s a markup, look at other dealers who don’t charge extra fees.

6. The online price haggle

With today’s shortage of cars, both new and used, it is hard to negotiate the price and incentives barely exist. You can negotiate the dealer fees, and avoid the extra add-ons. Never offer your monthly payment budget to a salesperson. That allows the dealer to pack whatever they can into your quoted payment and still meet your budget. Don’t mention your trade-in or any financing at first. These variables give the salesperson leverage in negotiations. Stay focused on the actual price of the vehicle before you discuss trade ins.

7. Sign and drive 

You may still have to visit the dealership to finalize the bill of sale, sign any required financing paperwork. However, many dealerships are now delivering cars and paperwork right to your driveway. Take the time to look over the final contract carefully. Check all of the numbers and ask for explanations of any additional charges or documentation for fees that look questionable–  before you sign any paperwork. The finance and insurance managers will try to sell you options and add-ons. That’s their job. You can always add these later if you need them, don’t be pressured to buy them and increase your payments.

Bottom Line:

Buying a car online or doing the majority of the work before visiting a dealer can save you time and money. There is an abundance of information available on the internet. Taking advantage of it can reduce the stress of negotiating the price of your next car.


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Lauren Fix

Lauren Fix, The Car Coach®, is a nationally recognized automotive expert, analyst, author, and television host. A trusted car expert, Lauren provides an insider’s perspective on a wide range of automotive topics and aspects, energy, industry, consumer news and safety issues.