Purchasing a Vehicle Online – Part 1

buyingonlineA few months back, we wrote a piece on how to test drive a car but what if a test drive isn’t possible? In today’s Part 1 of a 2-part piece, we’re going to focus on the actual process of purchasing a vehicle over the Internet.

In general, the process of buying a new vehicle can be a daunting task which can be magnified if you decide to purchase a car over the Internet. While the Internet often helps buyers to research and find a vehicle or dealership, it can also be used to make the purchase of your chosen vehicle easy and cost-effective.  However, it should be noted that this type of purchase is not without its risks.

According to CarBuyingTips.com, the most sound advice for buying online is to do so under the assumption that there is no safety net.  Thorough judgment and due diligence will help you to avoid being caught in a bad situation.  Like with any purchase, make sure to ask as many questions as possible and know as much about the car as you can before agreeing on a purchase price and to make payment.

Below are some best practices for making vehicle purchases only:

Check Out the Seller

The secret to success when shopping for a car online is doing business with someone who is reputable, whether it’s an automobile dealership or an individual found on the web (i.e CraigsList, eBay, et al.).

Once you research and find a vehicle you’re interested in, email the seller and ask to see the car in person. It doesn’t matter if you don’t intend to follow through with a scouting trip – especially if the vehicle is in another state – the point of asking is to see if a seller turns you down or is eager to make time for you.

Asking other questions is a great way to get to know a seller better and weed out potential fraudulent n’er-do-wells. For example, ask for additional photographs of the vehicle if you want a better view of the car’s interior, trunk or other parts. If a seller doesn’t answer you quickly or seems evasive, move on. According to DealerDNA, an automotive e-commerce solutions provider in New York, these are sure signs of someone looking to scam an unsuspecting buyer.

Meanwhile, take advantage of other aspects of the Internet to research the potential seller. Social media sites and Google are great resources.  Read the feedback posted by customers who’ve done business with a seller in the past, a feature of eBay Motors and other sites.

Identifying reputable sellers is crucial. Once your hard-earned money leaves your hands, it is nearly impossible to track down an online thief and get your funds back.

Research Your Vehicle
When shopping online, your best protection is your own due diligence. To get a full read on a vehicle’s history and determine its overall condition, start with its vehicle identification number, which any reputable seller should provide.

Once you get the VIN, order a report on the vehicle from companies like CARFAX (read our blog on How to Read and Understand a CarFax Vehicle History Report) and AutoCheck that will reveal important details about the car, such as: accident or flood damage history; if the airbag has been deployed; previous odometer readings;  and even if the car’s been salvaged.

If possible, get a mechanic to look at the car on your behalf. Independent companies like SGS Automotive Services can inspect most cars for roughly $100, and you can hire an inspector to eyeball the car, even if the automobile is located in a city far from where you live.

It should go without saying that any seller who balks at an inspection is probably unreliable – and so is their car. In that case, it’s probably smartest to close the browser window on the seller and search for a new vehicle.

Note: Vehicles sold “as is” pose the greatest risk to buyers because when you purchase them, you’re agreeing to take on any problems with no warranty to protect you. For that reason, expect little-to-no chance of recouping your money from an “as is” seller.

Check back next for Part 2, where we will focus on buying from a dealership online and how to handle payments.

Have you had any dealings with buying a vehicle from a private seller online?  Or made the decision to purchase an “as is” vehicle, only to regret it later? Let us know in the comments section below. As always, we appreciate your feedback!