Buying a car can be an exciting but painful process. First, you need to know what you want, and then you need to find someone who is willing to sell it at a price you can afford. Searching classifieds or car yards is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Fortunately, buying a car online can make the process simpler as well as save you countless hours and dollars. Online sale listing sites like Gumtree or Cars Guide are a great place to find cars and research prices.
There are also sites that facilitate genuine offers from dealers. Going online can make car buying easier and more convenient.
Read our guide to know if you should buy one online, how it works, and if there are any downsides to shopping online plus compare a range of car loans.
Why should I buy a car online?
There are a few reasons why buying a car online can be a good option:
- Convenience. Do research from the comfort of your own home.
- Easy to compare prices. It's much easier to get a gauge on prices by checking similar vehicles.
- Narrow search filtering. Buying online allows you to search for a single model with the desired kilometres, age, transmission type, colour and price. By comparing similar cars you can assess their quality more objectively.
- No pressure to buy. When online you're under no obligation or pressure. No one can directly talk you into anything through your computer.
- Saves time. Buying online helps condense your shortlist, so you can focus on only the cars you're interested in.
How does buying a car online work?
The process of buying a car online is fairly similar to the traditional method. The major difference is in the first few stages. Here are the steps to take:
Research can be a slow and painful process, but it will make all of the next steps a whole lot easier. There are two parts to research: knowing your needs and finding cars that meet those needs.
Start by thinking about what you need the car for. The number of seats, fuel consumption, type of driving and budget are what you should be considering.
Once you know your needs, you can start finding cars to fit them. There are some websites that can help you choose a car based on your criteria.
Use safety ratings, new car reviews, awards and user feedback to narrow down your list to one or two possible models.
Having your finances sorted out early is essential. If you intend to use a loan, you can consider a pre-approval so you know how much you have to spend. Regardless of how you want to pay for the car make sure you have money ready to go when you start negotiations.
By now you should know what car you are looking for and how much you can pay for it. The next step is to find the best options based on your needs. Using an online car sales site such as carsales.com.au, search for the model you previously identified as being suitable. You can usually filter the results by price, location, kilometres, age and transmission to get more targeted results.
Go through the listings and pick out the ones that seem to offer the best value. Make a list of your top five for inspection.
This is where things get fun. Go and do a physical inspection of each car. Use a checklist to guide you in this process. The main thing is to be methodical and dispassionate. Make sure you also do a thorough test drive and, while you might find that the first car you see is perfect, it's prudent to at least try a couple for comparison.
Part of the inspection process is also to check the paperwork. A quick online search can check for encumberment, previous write-offs and current owner. As it costs to do these searches it's only worth doing for your first preference.
5. Mechanic check
Unless you are particularly knowledgeable about cars, or have someone with you who is, you should get a mechanic to inspect the car. Mobile mechanics will go to the seller and can sometimes do an inspection on the same day.
The check isn't necessarily about ruling a car out. It gives you an accurate idea of how much you can expect to pay in the coming year on maintenance.
If you're happy with the car, the online document searches are clear, and the mechanic gives it a thumbs up, then you are ready to negotiate. Your research should have given you a pretty good idea of the price range for this type of car.
Most sellers list their car at the price they would love, not what they want or need. Don't feel obliged to pay what they ask for.
Where can I buy a car online?
Here are a few sites to get you started:
- Cars Guide has a range of great content and reviews, as well as car listings. Nice place to do some research.
- Car Sales probably has the most listings of all the online sites. Good search filters and functions as well.
- Gumtree has more of a community feel than the other options. Low cost of listing means it is well suited to cheaper cars.
- Auto Trader is the online version of an original print classified magazine. Good for unique or novelty cars.
- Auto Genie lets you enter the type of car you want and dealers will contact you with their best offer. No searching required.
Are there any drawbacks to consider?
The anonymity offered to people online can make it hard to judge the seller you are dealing with until you meet them in person. Trust is a big part of buying a car. When buying online you have no way of knowing how trustworthy the seller is apart from your own intuition.
Likewise, it is easy for an online car listing to make a car look and sound better than what it is. Of course you will physically inspect the car and see its real condition, but when the car is not what you expected in the first place it is just a waste of time.
Have more questions about buying your car online?
Are cars sold online covered by some form of consumer protection?
It depends where you buy it. New and used cars purchased from a dealer are covered by Australian Consumer Law. However, the law does not cover private sales. Make sure you do a thorough inspection and have a mechanic check the car before you buy it.
Should I still do a physical inspection and normal checks before purchase?
Yes. Never buy a car based purely on what you can see online. It is easy to make pictures look nice, but much harder to make a bad car drive well.
Do I need to check all online classified websites or is one enough?
The more you check the more options you will have, although if you are searching for a fairly common car you will still get plenty of results from one site. Dealers will most likely list on multiple sites, but private sellers often won't bother.
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