One main perk of purchasing a car online is there is less emotion involved. It’s easier to stay detached when chatting with someone remotely. This helps to make a clear-headed purchase. Also, any discussion you have about pricing or financing generally comes through email, so you have everything in writing, and you can thoroughly review the terms and can make a decision on your own time.
How to Buy a Car Online
- Set a budget. Factor in monthly expenses that come with owning a car, including insurance payments, fuel, parking, and routine maintenance and repairs. A clearly defined budget will make choosing a vehicle, negotiating with a dealer, and getting a loan much easier.
- Shop for a deal. These may include cash-back deals, rebates, low-interest financing options, or incentives for recent graduates, military veterans, Uber and Lyft drivers, or first responders. In addition, many dealers are willing to make price cuts on previous year models or any model that did not sell as well as expected.
- Prequalify for a loan. Prequalifying for a loan gives you a few advantages when approaching a dealer to make a purchase, such as, setting a reasonable price range that fits your budget and giving the dealer a price limit that they will have to meet to make a sale.
- Search dealers for inventory. Take advantage of online showrooms to get a close look at the vehicle. Many online dealers feature dozens of photos from a variety of angles, so you can give each car a close inspection from the comfort of your own home. Compare the offerings of multiple dealers and check each dealer’s business ratings on BBB.org before you reach out to them.
- Speak with internet sales managers. During your initial conversations, focus on what car you want, whether they have it or can get it, and how much they will sell it for. If you feel good about purchasing with this dealer, you can arrange a test drive with the sales manager. If you are considering purchasing a certified pre-owned vehicle, ask for a copy of the vehicle history report.
- Test drive the vehicle. You should always take a test drive before you sign the final paperwork. There is no substitute for seeing a car in person, looking under the hood, sitting in the driver’s seat, and making sure the engine runs smoothly. Some dealers offer the ability to test drive upon delivery and if anything isn’t as expected you may cancel the sale. Take the route that works best for you, but never skip the test drive.
- Complete the sale at the dealer or upon delivery. If everything checks out, decide how you will complete the sale. It is still usually necessary to sign the final paperwork in person. If you would rather avoid visiting the dealership, ask about delivery. Some dealers will drop off the car at your home or place of business and allow you to sign upon delivery.
Avoid Online Car Sales Scams
- Watch out for too good to be true deals. They are most likely a scam. Scammers often steal consumers’ personal information and money by offering them high-value goods at extremely discounted prices.
- Never wire funds or complete bank-to-bank transactions. Scammers love this kind of transaction because there is no way for you to get your money back once it is completed. Instead, make legitimate purchases by check or credit-card.
- Contact the seller by phone. At some point during your negotiations, speak with the sales manager on the phone. If they are unusually vague about certain details of the sale or cannot confirm their location or the vehicle location, it’s most likely a scam.
- See the car first. Never buy a car without making an in-person inspection and taking a test drive.
- Don’t give in to pressure. Scammers often try to pressure you into giving up your personal information or making a down payment before you have time to think about the purchase. Take your time and think a deal over before agreeing to anything. If you get a bad feeling, listen to your gut.
- Don’t trust a seller or buyer who says that the transaction is guaranteed by eBay, PayPal, Craigslist, or another online marketplace. These sites explicitly explain they cannot guarantee that people using their services are legitimate. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.