Shopping for a car online can be so convenient. You can browse inventory, get price quotes, and even apply for financing without leaving your couch. But buying a car sight unseen comes with risks. Avoid these common mistakes when car shopping online so you don’t end up with regrets.

Not Doing Your Research

With endless dealership websites, third-party listings, and vehicle history reports to sort through, it’s tempting to skip right to the model that caught your eye. But that’s a mistake. Before falling in love with a particular car, be sure to research the following:

  • The vehicle’s reliability and ownership costs. Check reviews and forums to see what actual owners say about real-world gas mileage, maintenance needs, and repair costs.
  • Resale value. How well does this make and model hold its value over time? That impacts what you’ll get when you sell or trade it in.
  • Safety ratings. Never compromise on safety. Look up crash test results and read professional reviews.
  • Average pricing. Use pricing guides to see what others in your area are paying for the exact make/model/year vehicle. This prevents you from overpaying.

Doing your homework upfront prevents surprises down the road.

Failing to Inspect Before Purchase

When you find a car you want to buy online, it’s tempting to just seal the deal and have it delivered. But not inspecting it first is a critical mistake. Thoroughly examine the car in person, test drive it, and have a trusted mechanic give it a check. This allows you to:

  • Confirm odometer reading. Make sure it hasn’t been tampered with.
  • Look for signs of damage. Carefully inspect paint, body panels, glass, lights, tires, and undercarriage for any evidence of accidents or abuse.
  • Check for leaks. Look under the car for any dripping oil, coolant, or other fluids.
  • Assess wear and tear. Mind interior wear and tear too. Lots of stains, damage, or excessive wear for the car’s age are red flags.
  • Take it for a test drive. Make sure it drives, steers, accelerates, and brakes smoothly. Listen and feel for any issues.
  • Get a mechanic’s opinion. They can do a comprehensive inspection and diagnostic to uncover any problems.

Skipping this step means you have no idea what condition the car is really in. Protect yourself with a thorough in-person inspection first.

Not Confirming Advertised Options

When car shopping online, it’s easy to get excited about all the options and tech features you see listed. But there’s nothing more disappointing than having the car delivered only to find out it doesn’t have the heated seats, sunroof, navigation system, or other options you wanted. Prevent this letdown by confirming the vehicle has:

  • The exact trim level promised. Often the ad just lists the highest trim when that’s not what’s for sale.
  • All options mentioned. Don’t assume ads are accurate. Verify the VIN to confirm.
  • The right packages and technology. Double check it has the tech and convenience packages promised.
  • The engine advertised. Make sure it’s the size, cylinders, and fuel type you expect.

By validating options before purchase, you avoid paying for a car that doesn’t have what you need.

Not Checking Title Status

Used cars sometimes have sketchy pasts. To avoid buying a lemon, a stolen vehicle, or one with a salvage title, carefully inspect the VIN and title.

  • Verify the VIN. Make sure the VIN on the car’s dashboard and paperwork all match. If not, walk away.
  • Check title status. Confirm it has a clean title rather than a salvage, rebuilt, or flooded title.
  • Look for red flags. Beware if the seller can’t produce proper documentation or is selling far below market value.
  • Get a vehicle history report. Pay for a report from Carfax, Autocheck, or VinAudit to uncover any title issues or accidents.

Taking these steps prevents nasty surprises down the road. You want to buy a car, not someone else’s problems.

Not Negotiating the Best Price

When shopping online, it’s common to just pay the internet price or Make an Offer price listed. But that’s usually not the lowest price you could pay. Here’s how to negotiate and save:

  • Research fair pricing. Use pricing guides so you know approximately what the car is worth.
  • Get quotes from multiple dealers. Contact several dealers about the same vehicle. Let them bid against each other.
  • Point out flaws or needed repairs. Use any wear and tear or mechanical issues you spot during inspection to ask for a lower price.
  • Offer below the asking price. Offer a number that’s realistically below asking. Be willing to negotiate.
  • Secure financing first. Being pre-approved for an auto loan means you’re ready to buy. Dealers often discount more for serious buyers.

With the right preparation and negotiation tactics, you can often save thousands below the initial asking price, even on cars purchased online.
Buying a car online is convenient but has risks. Avoid disappointment by thoroughly researching vehicles, inspecting them in person before purchase, confirming all options are present, vetting the title, and negotiating the best possible price. Taking these steps helps ensure your online car purchase is a smooth, satisfactory experience.
Check out this article on car internet pricing for more tips on getting a good deal when shopping online.

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