Make the most of your online car shopping time
This content is presented in partnership with ADAMM.
If you're like the rapidly growing number of people who thoroughly research cars online before buying, a new study says you'll spend seven to nine hours on your computer, tablet or phone before setting foot in a dealership.
Car-buying experts agree that's time well spent.
"Some people come in not knowing what they're looking for," says Katie Herbst, business development manager for Griffin's Hub Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram of Milwaukee. "It's a good idea to look at features, models and trim levels ahead of time to find out what you want and which vehicle will benefit you most."
According to Cox Automotive's annual "Car Buyer's Journey," most shoppers start their online research with third-party sources such as Consumer Reports, Carfax, Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader.com. A large percentage also check out manufacturer's websites.
"That's where you're going to get the most accurate information," says Dylan Roloff, sales manager at Gordie Boucher Ford in Menomonee Falls. "The third-party sites can be good sources. Dealers check them regularly to see what they're saying, but also to make sure they're accurate. We want customers to get the best information up front."
John Domask, sales manager for Russ Darrow Nissan of Milwaukee, says the "build-a-vehicle" tool on those sites can give you a good idea what's standard and what's optional on various vehicles and make comparing trim levels and option packages a snap.
"You start with the entry-level version of the vehicle, but then you add things and see how that affects the price," he says. "You find out what you can get on a vehicle and still stay within your price range."
Dealers don't mind if you check out lots of sources. In fact, they recommend it because the more you know when you walk through the door, the easier it is for them to make sure you get the vehicle that's right for you.
"If I'm the customer," Herbst says, "I'm looking at multiple sources."
Manufacturer sites provide easy access to specifications, such as how much horsepower you get from one engine versus another, gas mileage and the amount of payload area in pickup beds of varying lengths.
Roloff points out, though, that building a car online is more of a starting point than a destination because some features may not be available all over the country. Furthermore, the prices displayed as you add or subtract options are part of the MSRP, or Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price, which Kelley Blue Book says can vary due to regional market factors and incentives that apply in some places, but not others.
Sources say that "fair purchase" or "market value" prices are a better gauge of what you should expect to pay. Based on actual recent transactions, these prices are expressed in terms of ranges. They're available from sites like KBB, Edmunds and TrueCar.com, to name a few.
Here's a breakdown of how to research a vehicle online:
Several news outlets, such as US News, Forbes and USA Today, and consumer groups, such as Edmunds and Consumer Reports, create lists of vehicles by any number of categories, such as SUVs or crossovers or "fun cars." They usually provide capsules on individual models and links to more detailed reviews. If, for example, you think you'd might like a compact SUV but don't know what models are available, you can search for "best compact SUVs 2019" and get lists comprising dozens of models.
All of the organizations already cited offer detailed reviews of almost every model available. Most of them also archive reviews from past years that offer insights into used vehicles. Most third-party sites also have search functions to locate specific cars that are for sale near where you live. For example, a search for Nissan Rogues near the 53211 area code will likely turn up dozens, if not hundreds, of results at ADAMM dealerships across Southeast Wisconsin.
Most allow you to compare different models or different versions of one model. For example, Jeep's official website has pages devoted to the Wrangler, Grand Cherokee, Compass, Renegade and Gladiator. Click on one to find out more about everything from engine choices to safety features, exterior dimensions, cargo space, towing capacity, infotainment systems, massaging seats and so on. The sites usually mention MSRP and link to pages that list deals and incentives that may be in effect.
Once you've winnowed your list, you can find dealers a number of ways. For example, searching for "Ford dealers near Milwaukee" will net hits from Cudahy to Menomonee Falls and Mukwonago to Thiensville. Visiting a dealer's website will give you access to information about what new and used vehicles are on the lot. Many sites also offer photo galleries and spec lists. If you identify a vehicle you'd like to test drive, the website provides sales professionals' phone numbers and email addresses.
MyCarfax is among the most-recommended apps for used-car shoppers because it gives you access to the service and accident history of millions of vehicles. Other apps that get high marks for new- and used-vehicle shoppers include Consumer Reports, Edmunds, Autotrader, Car Buying by Kelley Blue Book and Autolist. Several manufacturers also offer car-buying apps.
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