How to Shop for a Car Online

by Contributor

Shopping for a new or used car online can reduce the hassle of working with dealerships and provide detailed information about a specific car before you leave for the showroom.

Form a general picture of what you're looking for. Consider how you'll be using the car, what you're willing to spend, and which factors are important to you, such as fuel efficiency, reliability and safety features.

Check into the resale value and repair history of past models in this car line, such as by consulting Consumer Reports magazine or its Web site (

Open your browser and type in the name of a manufacturer'for example, '' or '''or use a search engine if this doesn't produce what you're seeking.

Enter requested information when prompted. Most manufacturers' Web sites have detailed information on models, including available options, photos and MSRP (Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price).

Find Web sites containing ads for used cars, if new models are a bit out of your price range. For example, look in the business or automotive sections of popular search engines, or try search strings like 'Internet car dealers' and 'buy a car online.'

Look for a site that offers detailed information about each of its used-car listings. Some automotive sites conduct inspections of used cars via independent mechanics'these are generally good places to shop. Look in the 'about us' section of each site for information on its background and services.

Use the site's database to find reviews and ratings for specific cars by make, model and year. Then, visit independent sites (sites that do not sell cars and are unaffiliated with car companies and dealerships) to find reviews and technical information about various makes and models.

Understand that many sites, whether selling new or used cars, will only put you in contact with retailers or individual sellers, leaving you to finish the deal the old-fashioned way: person to person.

Realize that online car shopping is changing every day. There is an occasional site that may deliver a new or used car to your door, with the paperwork completed by the truck driver; these transactions are usually accompanied by a hefty delivery fee. More likely, if a site delivers, it will do so to a nearby 'delivery center' in your area.


  • check The degree of the site's involvement in the transaction depends on the site. Some sites function as simple classified-ad forums, while others take a more active role in car sales. Most sites act mainly as communication points between buyers and sellers, but be prepared to pay an extra fee if the site provides added services such as inspections and warranties. Or even (if you really don't want to leave the computer) delivery.
  • check Once you decide on a car, you'll most likely be referred to a local dealer or seller, so you may not be able to find exactly what you're looking for. This is especially true when shopping for a used car.
  • check If you do shop online, make sure you test-drive the car before finalizing the purchase.

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