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Wheeling & Dealing: A Beginner’s Guide To Online Car Shopping

It has been estimated that nearly three-fourths of all buyers of new and used vehicles visit the Internet at least once before buying a vehicle. By simply entering the words "Car Buying" or "Used Cars" or any similar set of words in an Internet search engine, you can turn up tens of thousand of sites. Fortunately, you don’t have to visit them all to access the kind of information that will help you buy a good new or used car at a good price.

Our first and most important recommendation is that you log on and take the time to explore some of these sites for yourself. There is a wealth of current market information to be gained from the Internet. At the very least, you owe it to yourself to make at least one visit to the Internet during your pre-shopping preparation to familiarize yourself with prices.

What’s On the Internet?

New and used vehicle websites generally fall into one of five different categories.

  • Manufacturer Sites
  • Pricing Guides, Buying Tips and Information
  • Internet On-Line Car Buying Services
  • Used Vehicle Listings
  • On-Line Auctions

In addition, many of these sites provide links to auto insurance companies, auto-financing institutions and credit report services.

Manufacturer Sites

Using your search engine, type in the name of the manufacturer. When the list of sites appears, look for the one that identifies itself as the manufacturer’s home page. These sites are your best resource when it comes to learning about the various models and the options each model offers. They also supply many technical specifications for those who want even more in-depth information. Finally, they provide the means to find dealers in your local area.

Pricing Guides

The best pricing information sites are generally free. They provide information on both new and used vehicles. In addition, some will also offer tips and strategies.

Pricing Information – New Cars

The new vehicle information will give you the MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price or "the sticker price’) and the Invoice (what the dealer is charged by the manufacturer for the car.)

Many of these sites will also alert you to consumer incentives. These are the cash-back or low finance offers designed to lower the price of the car and make it more attractive to potential buyers.

Some sites will also offer dealer incentive information. Dealer incentives are payments made to dealers by the factory, usually for having sold a targeted number of cars – or units – each month.

Rarely will a dealer reveal these numbers to customers. However, if you have this information you may find it will be useful in a negotiation. This is especially valuable if you’re buying near the end of the month and the extra unit means the difference between a dealer making or missing the factory sales bogie.

Pricing Information – Used Cars

Used car pricing guides are designed to give you a rough idea of two key numbers: The estimated wholesale price of a used car and the estimated retail price. The wholesale price is what you can expect a dealer to offer you for your trade in. The retail price is what you can expect to pay for a used car. You may find out that these two figures can vary widely.

Some guides will help you try to estimate the value of a used car in excellent, good, fair or rough condition. Keep in mind that the used car market is a trader’s bazaar and that the real price of a used car is only determined once you’ve negotiated with the buyer or seller.

In addition to pricing information, many of these sites contain detailed specifications for the used car. As this is dated information, you won’t generally find it on the manufacturer’s sites.

The following are pricing sites you might want to view:

There are, of course, many others and a simple search engine entry of "used car prices" will turn up dozens of sites. Don’t be surprised if many of these sites vary widely in their estimates of used car values.

In some cases, you’ll find a difference of several thousand dollars in what various guides quote on the same car with identical options. This may be due to the source of their information, how recently they updated their site, geographic price differences or any one of a myriad other reasons.

© 2008, Young Money Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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