My online car buying experience started long time ago. In September of 1999 after visiting several dealerships and finding out how mean and rude they were, I read an article about 2 online car buying services. I mean sites where you can really buy a car like you would buy a book on Amazon.com.
In my case these were CarOrder.com and CarsDirect.com. Both gave me good prices for the car of my choice (2000 Mitsubishi Galant ES).
In fact, I ordered 1999 model, but they didn't have them so I got 2000 model - improved and with more options for the same price! And the price was below "Dealer's Invoice Price" (the price dealers pay for the car), so I went to 2 dealerships after that and test drove a car (unfortunately you cannot do this online!) and than, after showing them the printout of the price I can get online tried to make them beat this price. They couldn't even match this price, so I went home and "proceeded to checkout".
I got my car in less than 2 weeks. They could deliver it to my home (free!), but I decided to pick it up, so they gave me a limo to get there (again, it was free).
The entire experience was great! You can choose options and see the price immediately change to reflect it. You can also get approved for lease or loan online - on the same site!
Out of 3 of those web sites in existence when I was car-shopping years ago, there is at least one left in business (CarsDirect.com). So you can at least get a baseline price there. And while the shopping experience and perks will probably be different now, the opportunity to get a good deal with minimum effort did not change.
Of course, you cannot buy a car you know nothing about. I suggest you do the same thing as I did.
1. First decide what car you want (edumns.com, CarPoint.msn.com and a lot of other sites may be helpful in your research), in my case "Car And Driver" magazine influenced me most (if you are not their subscriber, you still can go to www.caranddriver.com). Test drive it at a nearby dealer.
2. Go to CarsDirect.com and find the price on a car of your choice. Select all options you want and appropriate colors. Find out the price with destination charges, etc.
3. Get free quotes from nearby dealers. You can go to Edmunds.com or a similar site and request free quotes for the exact car/options you want. You will receive quotes by email rather shortly. When shopping for my other cars, I got quotes about $500 below the CarsDirect's price.
4. Purchase time. Go to a nearest dealership and test-drive a car of the exact same model and trim level you chose. After that (not before!) have them try to beat the lowest quote you got. Alternatively, just go to the dealer that offered you the lowest price and test drive the car.
I believe that using this technique you will save a lot of money and, not less important, a lot of time and nerves.
I have bought several cars this way, including a 2006 Honda Accord and a 2004 Infiniti G35.
And remember to use the correct grade of gas in your new car. You can also maximize your mpg potential in it and periodically use Marvel Mystery Oil in its gas.
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