Whether they’re buying plane tickets or antiques or DVDs, the Internet has made it possible for lots of Americans to become savvy bargain shoppers. But have you ever bought a used car online? Believe it or not, the online used car marketplace has exploded in recent years. Now you can research vehicles, locate exactly the car you want for the price you want to pay, and even make the purchase, all online.
But how do you know whether you’re getting a peach or a lemon? Buying a nearly new vehicle is a lot easier than it used to be. Every year more than 40 million used cars change hands in the United States, and there are lots of good reasons to consider the option.
“A two- to four-year-old car today can offer customers much of the comfort, performance, styling and reliability of a new model, and it sells for 30 to 60 percent less than a new vehicle,” says John Davis, executive producer and host of MotorWeek, the critically acclaimed PBS weekly automotive magazine series.
According to Davis, cars are better built these days, and the styling is changed less often and less radically than it used to be, so a three-year-old car looks and drives a lot like a new one.
There is also less risk involved now. New car warranties have been lengthened and coverage is at least three years (36,000 miles) for all vehicles, and for premium cars it can be twice as long. There is usually rust and corrosion protection that lasts even longer and roadside assistance coverage as well.
Dealers now offer another level of protection for the consumer in the form of certified used vehicles. These are nearly new cars that meet specific qualifying standards, have been carefully inspected and serviced, and are backed by extra warranties. Consumers can also have potential purchases inspected and certified by independent firms, and they can even purchase additional, after-market warranties.
Perhaps the biggest change has been how consumers shop for cars. Instead of just relying on the want ads or local dealers, people can browse large online auctions where they have access to cars from all over the country. “You can always find the car you want on the Web,” says Davis. “You have the entire country to choose from. If a buyer in the Northeast wants a car that doesn’t have any winter damage, he can search for one from the South,” he adds.
One of the largest used car marketplaces, eBay Motors sells more cars before lunch than the average dealership sells in a year. Consumers have easy access to an amazing array of vehicles from all over the country, and they can buy and sell in a completely secure environment. The whole buying process, even arranging for financing, can be done through the site.
But should you actually buy a car you haven't even seen? Davis cautions shoppers to remember the familiar “buyer beware” warning. eBay Motors offers a mobile inspection service, which sends certified experts anywhere in the country for a nominal fee to check out a vehicle before you buy it. There are also cars available that have already been certified by a dealer.
Another precaution every buyer should take: always check the title. Carfax, Inc., an independent company that offers consumers detailed vehicle history information for a small fee, can generate a report instantly for any used vehicle in the 50 states. This is a good way to check on whether a car has had multiple owners or has been totaled by an insurance company, indicating that it has been damaged and later repaired.
Most importantly, do your research before you buy. MotorWeek's Web site (www.pbs.org/motorweek) offers an archive of road tests and written reviews of vehicles that go back for five years, inspection tips, and other information for consumers.