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Buying a car can be a challenging, sometimes frustrating process. In addition, dealing with the headaches surrounding a dealer purchase can be too much to bear. As a former dealership employee, I know every part of the sales process and how painful it can be for the customer. One way to ease the pain is to do all your car shopping online ahead of time. Entering a dealership with no direction or idea of what you want will usually end poorly for the buyer. Here are three reasons to always car shop online before entering a dealership.

1. You should know which car you want and how much you can spend

Hyundai dealership | Michael Fein/Bloomberg via Getty Images

First and most importantly, you should know what you want before entering a dealer. There are many reasons, but a vital one is to speed up the process. I have seen hundreds of vehicles go out the door monthly for years. As a result, I’ve seen some sales take a whole day, and some people are in and out before I notice they’re in the building. Moreover, I’ve also been one of the frustrated employees still waiting for a sale to wrap up at 10:30 PM when the store closed at 9:00 PM, and I want to go home.

Walking into a dealer without any idea which car you want results in the same thing every time. The salesperson you’re greeted by will show you every vehicle that sounds remotely similar to what you want. If you say an SUV that’s under $30,000, they’ll show you them on their computer, then have someone pull every single one up outside the door. Eventually, you’re probably going on a bunch of test drives, and before you know it, you’ve been at the dealer for eight hours.

In addition to dragging out the sales process, you’ll probably pay more than you wanted. Going into a dealer particular about your needs and budget is essential for communicating with the salesperson. Remember, they’re working almost entirely for commission. Furthermore, if you’re not limiting your budget and which car you want, they will sell you a far more expensive model than you were ready to pay for.

2. Compare prices with other dealers

A used car dealership window 'SALE' sign and reflection of models on the lot in Detroit, Michigan
A used car dealership window sign | Matthew Hatcher/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Next, another reason to car shop online before entering a dealer is to compare prices. Once you’ve entered a car-selling location, you’ll feel trapped. While you’re certainly not, there’s almost no way comparing to another dealer is going to help you at this point. For example, pulling up the same model you’re looking at on your phone at another location and saying, “this one costs $2,000 less than yours,” will not get the dealer to drop their price. Instead, they’re going to have plenty of excuses ready to go. “Their’s has more miles.” “Ours has more features.” “There must be something wrong with theirs.”

Whether true or not, the answer will seldom be, “fine; we’ll drop our price by $2,000.” Contrarily, shopping online beforehand means the ability to compare the car you want at every local dealer. Pull up tabs on three or four websites and check for the same models. Usually, a price difference will mean different trim levels, mileage, or something else. Determine precisely what features are important to you and how high your budget can go. Only enter a dealership once you’re sure they’ve got the best piece of inventory for your needs and money. Use websites like AutoTrader or TrueCar to compare across multiple sites all at once.

3. Avoid annoying salespeople

car dealers
Buyer shops for a car | Getty

Have you ever walked onto a dealership parking lot and browsed the inventory? Have you ever wondered what’s happening inside the building while walking around? I’ll tell you. Depending on how busy that day is, a group of about 3-5 available salespeople is staring at you through a window like hungry hyenas. They’re discussing a few different things about you being a potential sale.

First, they noticed the car you pulled up in and what kind of condition it was in. Would it make a good, valuable trade? Then, they argue about which one of them has the soonest appointment with a customer coming up that day. “I’m not going out there. I have an appointment in 30 minutes.” Lastly, the first two salespeople who saw you outside argue for a few minutes over which one will approach you.

Finally, someone walks outside and introduces themselves. They’ll ask what type of vehicle you’re interested in and try to take you on a test drive. Moreover, they won’t be happy if you’re not ready to buy and are just there to browse. Browsing online instead of on the lot would save you from these awkward interactions altogether. Although the online listing doesn’t reveal everything, the vast majority will offer you the necessary information.

Continue reading below to learn about online dealership listings and the red flags to watch out for when car shopping online.


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