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US New Car Online Buying Sites Scorecard
The scorecard below allows you to see at a glance how the online car buying sites we've reviewed operate. If you'd like more in depth information, you can go to the US New Car Online Buying Sites page where you can read our full reviews of online buying sites.
The far left column contains a link to an online car buying site - clicking on the name will take you there. The criteria in the rest of the scorecard are pretty self-explanatory but if there is something you don't understand just click on the text at the top of the column. If there are sites we've missed or something you don't agree with please let us know.
Online Quote Request Method
The majority of the online vehicle buying sites on the Internet let you request a quote on your vehicle of choice - a local dealer will then respond with their price on the car you have chosen. Some sites allow you to look at inventory at dealers before you place your quote request but most don't show you what dealers have in stock. Many sites do not show you or allow you to choose which dealer(s) your quote request is going to but some allow you to choose. Almost all sites use your zip code as the criteria for selecting which dealers to send the quote request to. Quote request sites will allow you to configure your selected car with the options you want (including exterior and interior colors) and will probably show you MSRP and invoice price but you won't be shown 'your price' (the eventual price you'll pay) up front.
A very few sites - less than ten as of late 2002 - allow you to actually purchase a new car without leaving your home except for a trip to a dealership to pick up the car after the sale is finalized. It is hard to understand why more sites don't offer this complete service - especially since a hassle free, set price experience is what consumers have indicated they want when purchasing an automobile. Most of the sites that offer 'true online buying' quote you a price upfront - there is no waiting for a dealer to get back to you with their best price. Some sites allow you to complete financing documents at home before going to the dealer while others will have the prepared paper work ready for sign off when you pick up the car at the dealership. Most offer financing as part of the deal and some require a processing fee - usually deductible from the final price of the car - to get the search for your perfect car started.
Site type - B is for Online Buying Site - one that actually allows you to complete most of the buying process from home. Q is for Quote Request Site - one that allows you to request a quote on the car you have selected and then has a dealer (or dealers) respond to your request with a quote and availability information via e-mail or telephone.
Up front price given - Are you shown up front what 'your price' for the car will be or do you have to wait for a price to be sent to you via e-mail or telephone?
Dealer inventory shown - Can you see what cars are on the dealer's lot without paying them a visit?
Financing available through site - Can you arrange financing through the site rather than through the dealership?
Is Privacy Respected - Does the site respect your privacy by not asking for unnecessary personal information like street address, phone number or birthdate? (You should expect to answer these type of questions if you wish to apply for financing.)
Turnaround Guarantee - Does the site offer a response time guarantee and let you know where you can contact them if the deadline they specify for response is not met?
Online/live or toll-free help - Is there someone you can call or chat to online if you get stuck somewhere in the process or need a question answered?
Secure site - This is scored out of five - 1 point for a privacy statement, 1 point for a secure page for entering personal information and 3 points for a secure page when entering financial information (like a credit card number).
Free service - Is the car buying service free or must you pay a fee? (Sites that charge a fee but then take that sum off the final price of the car are considered 'free'.)
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