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6 easy steps to finding—and financing—a car online
Most car shoppers start their search for an auto online, comparing makes and models, trim packages and customer reviews. But is it really possible to buy a car without spending hours at the dealership? Here’s a look at the online services and options that could allow you to customize your car, determine the price and find your financing—all from the comfort of your home.
Explore car types
Start by figuring out how much you can pay for the car. If you’re planning to finance it, determine a monthly car payment you can afford. Then, go online to see what kinds of cars you could get for your budget and narrow down to the makes and models that fit your needs. For example, if you’ll be commuting 60 miles round trip to work, you might want a trusty sedan that gets good gas mileage. Some sites allow you to do side-by-side comparisons of different cars, showing their specifications and other financial factors such as fuel economy. You might also find that some are cheaper to insure or more expensive to maintain. Be sure to read owner reviews for more insight into these expenses. Learn more about Bank of America’s online car shopping resource.
Look beyond the retail price
Once you’ve figured out the vehicle you want, research the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), as well as any taxes and licensing and registration fees. But don’t stop there. Sites like Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book can also show you the average price paid by people in your region. To find your car’s availability at local dealerships, you no longer need to visit them (or their websites) one by one. Many sites allow you to search across dealer inventories and compare prices.
Check out the car manufacturer’s website or other informational sites to understand the options for your car and if they might add to the price. These can be big picture, such as a more powerful engine, or more cosmetic, like color. Consider which features are must-haves and which you can live without. State-of-the-art safety technology, for example, might be worth the extra money. As you explore the options you want, keep in mind that some manufacturers only allow you to purchase them as part of a package; for example, if you want navigation, you may have to upgrade to a package that also includes leather seats.
Get a good price
Once you’ve found the car you want for an amount that fits your budget, you could contact other dealers to get competing bids. You can do this by phone or email or through the dealership’s website. Focus your conversations on the price of the car, not on what you’re willing to spend, because you may be able to get it for less than that. You might find a dealership that is especially motivated to sell the car on its lot, or one that’s willing to add an aftermarket upgrade, like remote start, to get your business. Just make sure you understand what’s included in each price you’re quoted and if anything else will be tacked on later.
Shop around for a loan
Don’t just take the financing offered by the dealer—compare different lenders’ rates and terms. All other things being equal, it’s better to get a loan with a lower annual percentage rate (APR). While the dealer that has your car may prefer working with a particular lender, you can choose any lender you want and even apply for a loan online in advance, if you know the ballpark price. Don’t forget to subtract the value of your trade-in, if you have one. Getting approved for a loan in advance can be useful in your negotiations, because like buying in cash, a loan approval can help you secure a better price.
Wrap it up in person
Loan approval in hand, you can head in to the dealer knowing you’re ready to sign the paperwork and walk off with the keys—once you’ve checked out the car and taken it for a test drive, of course. The dealership will finalize the paperwork and help you complete any other necessary forms—turning a process that used to take hours or days into just a single, quick trip. Yes, the day has come when shopping for your car could actually be fun!