Buying Cars Online

Lyle Romer Author Circle
By , Consumer Advocate
Published January 28, 2016

25 years after America Online launched AOL for Windows dial up internet service, we decided to take a look at how things have changed to benefit car buyers. Back then, the only thing you could really do is discuss the car you wanted to buy in a chat room. Everything started to change in 1997 when Jeff Ostroff founded this site.

The first thing we were able to do is expose the scams that car dealers had been pulling on consumers for decades. Before the explosion of the internet, some of these tactics were shared by word of mouth, but very few people had a complete understanding of the details. Since the tools were limited, we created several free spreadsheets to help consumers with budgeting, bills of sale and making offers. Improved versions of these early tools are still available today in our free download area.

closeup mustang

The web has changed significantly since was founded. Most of the changes were for the better while some, like the addition of annoying pop-up and pop-over ads, were for the worse. In regards to buying cars online, pretty much all of the changes were for the better.

Taking the Mystery Out of Options

We feel that one of the biggest benefits brought to the table by the internet is the ability to do thorough research on a car before going to a dealership. In the past, you needed to sit in the dealership for hours to try and figure out all of the various trim levels and options. The salesman was your best resource to answer questions about the vehicle and options available.

The problem is that many salespeople move around from dealership to dealership on a somewhat frequent basis. They may be selling their third brand in the past 2 years, which makes it nearly impossible for them to be experts on all of the options available. The good news is that the manufactures provide a ton of information on their websites. Additionally, there are many discussion forums where enthusiasts discuss every aspect of every vehicle.

You need to spend the necessary time doing research to ensure that you have a comprehensive and accurate understanding of what you get with each trim level and available option package. We strongly advise you take the time to do the research to make sure you end up with what you want. A friend of mine recently ordered a car and realized too late that he didn't order an option that he needed for a certain appearance.

The available trim levels and option package choices are overwhelming. Mini brags that there are over 10 million configurations of their vehicles. This is not something that you want to be trying to figure out sitting in a dealership. All it takes is missing one option and you may have a huge regret later.

Utilizing Free Tools and Resources

There are many free resources and tools available and we show you how to use them to your advantage to negotiate a great deal. You must realize that getting a great deal means more than just getting a great price. The car buying process is very complicated and it is designed to extract the maximum amount of money from your pocket. Make sure to read our new car buying guide. Even if you have read it before, it's always a good idea to brush up.

You'll see that you can get invoice prices from sites like TrueCar and Edmunds. You'll want as much competition as possible so you should get additional quotes from RydeShopper and others that we recommend.

We will walk you through the whole process and help you along the way via email or our site comments if you need it. When we started the site, we could only dream of the tools that would be created to make buying cars online a highly beneficial and pleasant experience.

cars on dealer lot

Reasons You Still Need Need to Go to the Dealership

Unfortunately, mainly due to ancient franchise agreements, you can't buy a car online in the same way that you can buy a DVD on Amazon. A dealership has to be involved (unless you are buying a Tesla, but they are the exception).

Additionally, until virtual reality gets much more advanced, you'll need to visit a dealership in order to take a test drive. Unless you know somebody with the same car, you will want to know how the ride feels and how it handles.

The worst part is that you will usually have to go there to do the paperwork. The dealers want to make sure you enter their "profit cube" known as the Finance and Insurance (F&I) office. You must be prepared for this experience! You should read our guide to buying a new car and pay particular attention to the chapter on closing the deal. You'd be surprised how quickly a good deal can turn into a bad deal at the very end of the process. You don't want to get beat on a game winning field goal!

You can see how much progress has been made when it comes to buying cars online. The important thing is to pay attention and realize that there are still many tricks and scams out there that you need to watch out for. Don't get lulled to sleep because the process starts on a sleek web page.

Author Lyle Romer

About The Author: Lyle Romer is a consumer advocate, Founding Contributor and Vice President of A 20 years veteran of the auto industry with a high level of expertise, Lyle has been researching all aspects of the automotive sales industry.

Lyle's expertise and research played a vital role during the creation of in 1999 after years of industry research. He carefully observed every aspect of his own car buying experience as the internet began to take a foothold in the process. He also designed the site to make sure that consumers had easy access to the best consumer advocate education.

Lyle has been an auto industry insider since 1999. He also has worked with other automotive websites to help improve their offerings based upon feedback from users. He covers important industry events and gathers off the record sources while attending industry conventions.

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