ARA -- The test drive is an important part of car shopping. Taking a car for a spin before you buy it is a great way to get to know the vehicle -- whether it has any mechanical problems or if it fits your personal style. But a growing number of car buyers are finding great deals online, which can sometimes mean committing to buy a vehicle before they've even seen it.
The Internet has made it possible and practical to expand your car shopping search virtually across the country. What's more, shopping online offers unmatched convenience, selection and value - all without the pressure of making your decision on the spot in the dealership.
Buying a new car online, however, is a lot different than other online purchases you might make, such as a book, music or movie. Buying a used car online is even more complex, because there can be far more unknowns to deal with.
To help you in this, here are eight secrets to successful online used car shopping:
1. Find out about the vehicle's history.
When you buy a vehicle from online car shopping sites such as eBay Motors, Yahoo! Autos or AutoTrader.com, you probably won't have the opportunity to actually see and drive the vehicle before you commit to the purchase. Used vehicles are like snowflakes - no two are exactly the same. A vehicle history report like AutoCheck, offered by Experian Automotive can help provide information critical to making a smart vehicle-buying decision. The report will let you know if a vehicle has ever had a reported accident, how many owners it's had, if it's been registered in a designated natural disaster area, what the odometer reading is and if the vehicle has ever been repossessed or stolen. Experian Automotive's AutoCheck Score also enables you to measure how a vehicle stacks up against others of the same age and model class, which is helpful in evaluating any vehicle. Log on to www.autocheck.com to learn more.
2. Complete transactions through the purchase site
If, for example, you find a car online, be sure to start and finish your transaction through the website. Doing so will afford you all the protections and assurances offered by the site.
3. Know what you're buying
In addition to reviewing a vehicle history report, ask for additional photos of details like the odometer reading, VIN and any scratches or blemishes if they are not already revealed in the listing. It's also recommended to have the vehicle inspected by a trusted third party prior to purchase to check for any mechanical or safety issues.
4. Check out the seller
What kind of feedback does he or she have on the marketplace site? Read his or her ratings and comments.
5. Review the vehicle title. If it appears to have been altered in any way, you may want to reconsider your decision to buy.
6. Never send payments through Western Union, MoneyGram or other wire services. If you plan to pay in cash, do so only in person and obtain a receipt. When going to meet a seller, take someone with you and make sure someone else knows where you are and who you're with.
7. Realize that if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. Common sense and patience can be two of your best buying tools.
8. If you encounter fraud during the car-shopping process, consider filing a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
Just like shopping for any other merchandise -- from clothing to houses to vacation packages -- you should take reasonable precautions to ensure you are dealing with a legitimate seller, and take advantage of the secure processes offered by trustworthy and reputable online marketplaces.