Beat the Dealer: How web savvy consumers buy and sell cars in the 21st Century

 

During a recent visit to my barber – a font of knowledge and exchange for many men – the subject of car purchases came up.  As it turns out, recently Achilleas (his real name) finally grew tired of the monthly repair bills on his four-wheel-drive and put his car in a parking lot with a for sale sign in the window.  He had one interested buyer already. 

As someone who has bought and sold eight cars online over the last decade, I knew Achilleas had done many things right.  He had searched a few of the online tools for the estimated value of his car, found a known market (this particular parking lot was a go-to in his area), and was prepared to wait for as long as it took to sell his car before finding a replacement.  He had even started researching a replacement from a different manufacturer known for build quality and, hence, residual value. 

Still, he had not posted online, which is the first place people go when they start their shopping.  For 40 dollars, he could get in front of millions of people who, if the car is exactly what they are looking for – a good chance if you increase the number of eyeballs – will sometimes even get on a plane to purchase the car from him.  It has happened to me. 

So why go through all this trouble?

First, unless you are looking for a new car (where slightly different rules apply), you are essentially trading a few hours of time for a few thousand dollars.  This is a good economic exchange for most of us.  Second, you (either as buyer or seller) increase the chances of finding exactly what you want.  Lastly, by following a few basic rules, well documented on Autotrader.com, Cars.com, or similar sites, this is a hassle-free process.  So for those of you who don’t like the thought of walking into a dealer and waiting for hours – part of their sales tactic, by the way – the web does everything you need at a fraction of the cost. 

On the other hand, for new car purchases, the most important decision you can make is to CALL multiple dealers for an “internet quote” on the exact car you want.  I once went down the list of the 18 brand dealerships in my greater metro area for a certain new car I wanted, stopping at #10 because they quoted the dealer invoice price (the lowest price) as presented by Edmunds.com.  The whole process, from dealer selection to emailing and executing contracts and finally picking up the car, took less than an hour (spread over a few weeks).  I easily saved $3K, a few hours and perhaps some aggravation. 

Cars are the second most expensive purchase most of us make, behind homes.  And just like Costco has done with TV sales, a number of successful internet companies are ready and waiting to lower automobile prices and remove transaction costs for savvy buyers and sellers.  It’s your money.   You might as well spend it the way you want. 

(Photo by Hugo90)