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Are you a first-time online car shopper? Start with these tips

What we'll cover

  • Advantages of buying a car online 

  • How to set a car buying budget

  •  Online resources to shop for deals

New or used ? Gas or electric ? Buy or lease ? When you make the decision to purchase a car, there are no shortage of questions that need to be answered, including in-person or online?

Online shopping can provide essential flexibility and even rival the in-person process.

Set your budget

Whether you're buying online or in person, before you start building your wish list, set a budget . Make sure it includes:

  • Down payment

  • Monthly payments (if you plan on financing)

  • Taxes

  • Fuel

  • Insurance

  • Routine maintenance

Read more: How to keep your expenses on track with spending buckets

As car prices for new and used vehicles continue to fluctuate, a firm budget can help you better weather any market changes. For online shoppers in particular, keeping your spending limit top of mind can help you stay focused and resist the temptation to indulge in those extra add-ons that are so much more accessible online.

Get pre-approved for financing

With auto financing preapproval, a finance company will do a cursory review of your credit and income to determine what kind of financing terms (aka the finance charge and amount of your financing) you might qualify for.

Preapproval doesn't lock in a specific rate, but it can tell you which finance company is likely to offer the best deal. Look for preapproval options that don't require a hard credit check to help avoid impacting your credit score .

Even when you're shopping online, there's always room for negotiation.

Research the kind of car you want

In addition to setting your budget, you should also make a list of wants vs. needs. Do you need a large vehicle because you have a big family, or should you go for a smaller, more efficient sedan? Are you big on the outdoors? You might want to consider off-road ability.

Once you've made your list, the research begins. The digital car lot allows you to dive in with side-by-side comparisons of different makes and models. Some even offer 360-degree virtual walkarounds so you can see what your potential vehicle will look like in your favorite colors and trims.

Estimate your trade-in value

If you're going to sell your existing car or trade it in for your new car, it's also smart to take a look at its trade-in value or sale price . Much of the true value of a vehicle is underneath the hood and cannot be determined by looking at it on the lot. Sites like Edmunds , Kelley Blue Book and Carfax can give you access to this information.

Shop around

Once you know your numbers, you're going to want to comparison shop . Just like you'd stop by multiple lots in real life, you can shop at multiple dealerships simultaneously online, too. Many manufacturer's sites now allow you to compare dealer inventories and prices.

Negotiate online

Even when you're shopping online, there's always room for negotiation. Contact multiple dealerships to get competing bids. You might find one exceptionally driven to sell or another willing to give you upgrades at no extra cost. Be sure you understand everything included in each sales quote to avoid any misunderstandings during the purchase process.

Tip: Don't forget to ask about service center pricing for when you have to take your new car in for maintenance.

Explore your financing options

If you're not paying for a car in full, you'll need to get vehicle financing. To find the best financing rate and terms for your personal situation, you can explore financing through your dealership.

If you are already pre-approved, you'll have a head start on this step. Regardless of your path to purchase your new vehicle, Ally has competitive automotive financing and protection products for all kinds of car-buying journeys.

Fine-tune your car shopping

Convenience is the word when it comes to buying a car online. With just one click — and the power of the information superhighway — you can research and shop at the same time, saving time and potentially dollars.

Explore more

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