Shopping for a Car Online

Automotive, Home & Family, Technology
on March 4, 2010

The next time you shop for a new family car, consider using the Internet. Its a great tool to get a good deal, relatively hassle-free.

By going online to research vehicles and negotiate with dealerships, you generally can expect to pay 10 percent to 20 percent less than at a car lot, says Philip Reed, consumer advice editor for the automotive website The savings in time and aggravation are even greater than that, Reed adds.

Here are some tips:

Do your research. Websites such as and offer detailed information on vehicles, as well as photos of all makes and models available. Look for highly rated vehicles that meet your needs and budget.

At, you can type in your preferred car and options and get an estimate of the dealers invoice price (base cost) as well as the True Market Value, which is the average amount others in your area paid for the same car. This information is vital in negotiating price.

Identify local dealers. Search the Web for dealerships within a 100-mile radius of your home. If you know specific dealership names, check to see if they have a website. Or, search by typing the car model (Chevrolet, for example), the name of your city and the word dealership into an Internet search engine. This should give you a choice of several area dealership websites.

Virtually every dealership has some sort of Internet presence. They have a website or you can contact them through e-mail, Reed says. Many large auto dealers have Internet sales departments that focus exclusively on online sales.

Visit local dealerships to test-drive your top few contenders.

Contact all dealerships. Once youve selected the vehicle you want to purchase, you can handle all negotiations via e-mail. Contact the dealerships with a standard message that provides details about the car you want. Ask about the price and tell them to respond by e-mail.

The biggest problem in buying a car in the past has been you cant just walk into a dealership and say What will that cost me? because they wont give you a straight answer, Reed explains. But through the Internet department, they will, or should. Thats the whole concept of it.

Haggle. As the sellers reply to your e-mail, ask the higher-priced dealers if they can offer a better price. Let them know in a subtle way that their price is not the lowest and that they are in danger of losing your business. Often, they will lower their prices. Aim for a price below Edmunds True Market Value.

As the bidding starts to slow, politely let the sellers know that you are aware of their costs. Try offering them a price that allows them to make $200 profit. Some sellers will accept this deal, especially if its at the end of the month and they need to hit a sales quota. If the car you have chosen is in high demand, however, you may have to pay an amount thats closer to the sticker price. Avoid letting the dealer add expensive extras such as advertising fees or special charges.

Make the deal. Typically, youll want to finalize the deal in person. After concluding negotiations, bring your printed e-mails to closing to be sure you get the agreed-upon price. Buy your car!