The Internet has made shopping for and buying cars a much simpler and more streamlined process. But there’s plenty of confusion about what you should do online and what you should do in person, so here’s a brief guide to what you can handle with your computer and what you should do in person.
Secure financing: Car dealerships will only offer financing through one bank. Generally, that’s really all they can offer; few dealerships are capable of serving as both a place to buy a car and as a clearing house for various lenders and financial institutions to compete for your business. So, secure your financing online, first, before you shop for cars.
Look up dealer inventory: Just like any other store, not every dealership will have every kind of car on the lot. So before you go forward in the process, make sure that the dealership has the make, model, color and extras in the car that you want on their lot. Usually, cars they actually have for sale will have a VIN, or vehicle identification number, you can check.
Gather quotes: Having the financing in hand will ensure that you cut down on haggling and secure a better deal, but it also helps to know what the price of the type of car you’re looking for happens to be. So email dealerships and ask for a price quote on a make and model; that gives you the ability to show you can walk away and take a lower price.
Check the car’s history: Especially with used cars, dealerships aren’t required to disclose your car’s history unless you ask. Even “new” cars can have a surprisingly checkered history depending on what’s happened on the lot. So, ask the dealer point blank about any history the car may have over email, and do a VIN check as well.
Research taxes and fees: Check your state’s tax requirements for buying a new car, and see how much you’ll pay in taxes when you buy your car. It’s a good way to know about costs beforehand.
Negotiate: If you don’t want to negotiate in person, you don’t have to. You really can negotiate entirely over email, especially if you’ve got your financing locked in. If you’re too busy to go to the dealership, or prefer everything in writing, it’s a viable option.
Take a test drive: Never buy a car without testing it out. Make it clear before you arrive that it’s solely to test drive the car, and that you won’t be buying today. But make it a long drive and try out everything you might be curious about with the car.
Verify your trade-in: If you have a trade-in, while you should have it independently inspected and valued first, you will have to drop your car off to be checked out by the dealership. Arrange a date and have it looked over.
Sign paperwork and driving off the lot: When you’ve got everything squared away, just show up at the dealership, take the keys and drive away. Isn’t the Internet wonderful?