• Oct 31, 2008

In this second part of our two-part series on researching car buying online, we'll explain some of the best ways to find information on vehicle pricing, financing and insurance; as well as talk briefly about test-driving the vehicle and what to bring to the dealership.

If you get past all the nitty-gritty pricing and financing information, you'll feel even better when you drive off the lot in your new vehicle, knowing you've done your homework ahead of time.

Finding the Best Price

It's fun to shop around for cars online and build your own version of the vehicle, but the payments on that car are going to be with you for a while and knowing what you're going to be spending each month is a topic that can't go overlooked.

Tara Baukus Mello, Senior Writer and Lead Market Analyst at NADAguides.com gave us some great advice on the subject. "You obviously need to research the cost of the actual vehicles you're considering," she said. "Look at not just the base price, but the price of the color, the trim level and the options that you're looking for." Building you car online and selecting all the available options you want, gives you a good idea of the full price of the vehicle (do it here: AOL Autos New Cars page, including invoice and MSRP prices.

But finding the right car and knowing the invoice and MSRP price is only part of the equation. Everyone wants to get the best deal on their new car purchase and AOL Autos can help by providing buyers with local "Best Deals" pricing. Check out AOL Autos' Best Deal Hub for new and updated listings of best deals, rebates and incentives.

The AOL Autos Best Deal Hub displays pricing information, based on your search criteria, on the best deals in your area. You'll be able to quickly see what the current incentives, sale prices or special monthly payments on a vehicle are, as well as what dealership to contact and when and where the deal was last published.

How to do it on AOL Autos:

Step 1: Visit AOL Autos Best Deals Hub

Step 2: Choose which vehicle you're looking for, whether you're buying or leasing and then select the nearest major city near your location.

Step 3: Look through the available deals and incentives to determine which dealership is offering the best deals for you, click on a specific vehicle for further details about the deal.

Getting Multiple Quotes

One of the most exciting parts of buying a new car is walking around the lots, taking a peek into the windows of the vehicle and sitting down in the driver's seat for the first time. What isn't very exciting is driving around from dealer to dealer trying to find the best deal on the car that you've just looked at.

To avoid all the running around and stress of getting price quotes in person from the dealer, you can easily submit for free price quotes online through AOL Autos (do it here: AOL Autos Get-a-Quote page). This feature allows you to have a quicker and easier car buying experience by allowing you to submit for multiple dealership quotes all at the same time.

Car Loans: Freedom in Financing

Even though you can find out what special finance rates are being offered for the cars you are looking at through the AOL Autos Best Deals hub, it is still a good idea to check other sources and secure your own rates. Mello mentioned that you should go the automaker's websites and to "call your local lenders, your local bank, your local credit union and see what they can offer." If you spend the time getting pre-approved before you show up at the dealership, you have the option of letting the dealer compete for your financing business.

How to do this on AOL Autos:

Step 1: Visit AOL Autos Auto Loans page

Step 2: Browse the page for information on auto loan deals and calculators; find new car pricing tips and information on current interest rates.

Step 3: Read articles on credit score basics, auto loan tricks and down payment details. Use the site to help educate yourself on the topics that your bank or financing company really cares about.

Auto Insurance: Researching Insurance Online

MSRP and financing aside, there are other factors that contribute to an overall cost of ownership for a vehicle. One of the biggest factors, but one we all tend to think of last, is insurance.

To find out more about researching insurance online, we asked Jim McCafferty, Vice President of AAA Carolinas Insurance Agency, for his thoughts on the topic. He mentioned some of the benefits to doing research online, before purchasing. "The consumer can find a lot of information about the company, coverages, claims processes, ease of using the carrier system, get some competitive quotes and save time," he said. "Even if the consumer decides to purchase through an agent, he or she is more prepared for an interview."

Although he said there's no magical number of days ahead of time to do this, McCafferty recommends getting an insurance rate quote before you sign the vehicle contract. "No need to sign a lease and then get insurance sticker shocked," he said. McCafferty also recommended visiting an auto insurance's direct website for the best service. This insures that the consumer's information is being managed by that specific company.

When it comes to receiving quotes, McCafferty suggests that people should get them online, but also stressed that after online information and quotes have been gathered, it's best to talk with a professional directly before making a decision.

How to do it on AOL Autos:

Step 1: Visit AOL Autos Car Insurance page http://autos.aol.com/auto-insurance

Step 2: Read articles on the basics of auto insurance coverage and how to buy what is right for you, even find out which cars have the cheapest rates.

Step 3: Search for rate quotes from insurance carriers, then contact those carriers directly to find out more information.

Test Driving: Take It For a Spin

Although you can shop all day long and compare vehicles online, there's no substitute for physically showing up at a dealership and taking a test drive. Sitting in the driver's seat can be some of the best research you could ever do on a car and can help make or break your decision to keep a vehicle in the running.

For those of you who are less than excited about visiting a dealer, Baukus Mello said that doing your research is a great way of showing that you know what you're talking about. "It's no longer a time to be fearful of a salesperson. If you think of them as your sales consultant, and you have many choices, you are working with them to help you come up with the right decision," she said. "It's not a process where you need to be apprehensive or concerned about it, but it is a process where you need to make the sales person aware that you are educated."

In addition to being educated about your purchase, she recommends taking the initiative of calling the dealership for the test drive ahead of time. "Calling in advance is a time saver because the salesperson working with you should have the car out, the license plate on and have it ready for you to drive; instead of digging it out of the back corner," she said. By calling in advance you can set up a test drive for the trim level, engine type and specific features you want as well.

"It's also sending the message to the salesperson that you're a serious shopper, you've done your research, you know what you want; you haven't just stopped by because there was an attractive looking vehicle out front."

Bring Your Homework

Now that you've researched all of your pricing, financing and insurance information online, as well as compared several vehicles and received multiple price quotes and taken if for a test drive, it's time to talk to the dealer face to face. Before you show up at the dealer's table though, don't forget to bring your research.

Whether you're going to purchase the car that day or just want to talk to a dealer about some competitors, you should have all your information on hand to show them that you mean business. Having your pre-approved finance and loan documents, auto insurance information, and any trade-in documents will all be beneficial in making an informed decision at the dealer.

Last of all, don't make any decision you're not ready to make. Even if you've researched everything until your eyes are sore and you've worn down the dealer's tires on the test drive, only you know when it's the best time for you to buy a car. Happy shopping.

Return to Page One: Online Car Buying - Part I

For more information on this topic, visit our Car Loans center.



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