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With the average new car cost running $23,000, it pays to be a savvy consumer. Even if it's a used car you seek, the cost is still a significant investment. Score one for the internet: it has changed the rules of the vehicle-buying game, shifting more power to the buyer.
In years past, buyers were at a great disadvantage, at least from an information standpoint. You might find bits and pieces of information at the local public library, but that was a time consuming, slow process. Trips to dealerships were fraught with the hassles of complicated, sometimes senseless negotiations and high-pressure sales pitches. Most buyers finally gave up the quest for knowledge and took their chances. A car was selected from a handful of dealerships within a close proximity to home.
That's all changed. Now web sites let you zero in on the models and options that interest you and find out how much it will cost to buy, insure, and maintain a vehicle. You're not limited to a dealership with a thirty mile radius from home. Additionally, the ease with which a prospective buyer can do comparison shopping online improves the buyer's ability to bargain with the seller in person, when they do stick close to home.
In the summer of 1999, J.D. Power and Associates conducted a survey and found at least twenty-five percent of used vehicle buyers consulted the internet before making a purchase.
Even if consumers are not buying online, they are at least using the internet to do a more thorough job of researching than in the past. The arrival of dot-com car purchasing and referral services has put reams of data on models, options, prices are just a few mouse clicks away from the customer's home computer. Dozens of car information web sites are available, filled with indepth details which no individual salesperson could possibly know.
Some web sites that "sell," used vehicles are actually referral services which link sellers and buyers or offer information. Other sites essentially act as an intermediary between seller and buyer.
The big names such as Toyota, Ford Chrysler and General Motors, all have a web presence. Their sites both promote their brands but also direct buyers to local dealers.
According to Consumer Reports, all is not rosy in the world of car buying online. They asked over 1000 people to try five auto web sites. Participants were to get a price quote within two business days, on a specific vehicle from a dealer in their region. Perhaps not surprising for a young industry, the results were mixed. A number did not get the price quote within the two day timeframe. Of the others who did get a quote, less than half were for the car specified.
After decades of getting to kick the tires, not-to-mention the joy of taking a test drive, buying a car off the computer screen will take some adjustment. But down the line, consumers can look forward to using the web to order new cars, custom built to their specifications.