The basics of virtual car buying

(BPT) - Online car buying has become more popular in recent years. Instead of having to go out to visit dealer lots, car shoppers have found it’s easy to look at inventory, set up test drives, secure financing, negotiate price and complete the purchase — all online, from the comfort and safety of home.

Shop with safety and ease. Understanding the virtual car-buying process ahead of time can help you score a great deal and make the whole experience a positive one. Here are the basics you should know.

Set a budget. Before you start looking at vehicles, it helps to get a rough idea of what your monthly payments will be. Car-buying expenses may include:

  • down payment
  • warranty options
  • title, taxes and fees
  • trade-in value
  • monthly ownership costs: financing, insurance, maintenance, fuel and depreciation

Do your research. Once you know your budget, consider any must-have features such as size, fuel efficiency or safety scores. Then, start researching cars online, filtering your search to match those features and your budget.

Get your financing squared away. “By getting preapproved for your next car loan, you’ll be in a better position to negotiate on price and get a deal that works favorably for your budget,” said Joe Pendergast, Vice President of Consumer Lending at Navy Federal Credit Union.

Price compare and get quotes. With your financing in hand and the knowledge of the type of vehicle you’re looking for, it’s time to shop. Hunt for the best deals by checking car-selling sites that pull inventory from multiple dealers, in addition to reaching out to individual dealers by phone, email or chat. Some dealers are offering new ways to conduct your vehicle purchase while minimizing personal contact, including online sales and home delivery.

Set up a test drive. Many dealerships offer online virtual tours of their vehicles. But once you’re ready to get behind the wheel for a test drive, they can often bring the cars to you. Just be sure you understand and feel comfortable with the test drive process, including any cleaning and safety procedures.

Ask for the price and perks you want. With a market value in mind, contact the dealerships that have the car you’re interested in and the price you want. Keep it simple and focus on price before talking about dealer financing or trade-in. Car dealers may be willing to throw in a few extras, too. These may include: service and maintenance plans, spare keys, floor mats, mud flaps and even rust protection.

Get your new car delivered to your door. When it comes to actually buying the car, all the paperwork can now be done online or delivered. Ensure you’re satisfied with the safety processes and purchasing arrangement before agreeing to buy the car. When you’re done, the dealership can bring the new car right to your door. Plus, they’ll pick up your old car if you’re trading in.

“The virtual auto-buying experience is likely here to stay. For you, that means a more flexible buying process and less time visiting the dealership,” added Pendergast.

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