Buying a Car Online

It dawned on me that I have purchased at least two vehicles off the internet—more if I really think about it. In 2008 the first Audi TT that I bought off of Carsoup.com was from an individual out of Chicago. Then in 2017 I bought the second used Audi TT from Cars.com out of a dealership in Wichita, Kansas. Even more recently, one of my best friends just bought a car from Carvana. The major difference from the recent truck purchase was that those past purchases were all used cars, versus the new car purchase of the Ford F-150 Crew Cab truck.

              Not knowing the recession was going to hit, I bought that first Audi TT after shopping for a few months online. That was only 14 years ago, but it seems like the Olden Days. The internet and Web wasn’t exactly new, and Facebook existed, but I didn’t join Facebook until the next year! Carsoup was the go-to online car-buying resource—I didn’t know until now that it is a local Minneapolis based company!

              I had my heart set on an Audi TT. It was at the time a classic entry level sports car, with an innovative look like no other. I have often thought it looked like a squashed VW Bug.  I found mine in Chicago, with low miles, silver grey, black interior, a six-speed manual transmission. I researched the seller, as much as one could research online. He was a marketing consultant, and ran long distance races—his name appeared in a community race. I had him take the car to a local dealership who ran a 100 point check for $100. There was a misunderstanding about the check—they wanted to charge me almost $300, but I held to the $100—it was their mistake, not mine. And the car checked out clean.

              This was pre-Venmo, PayPal or Zelle. I pulled out cash, and flew to Chicago, one way. I was pretty sure I was getting this car. I sat next to a nice looking African American man, who couldn’t believe I was meeting a stranger to buy a car. He had done some bar bouncing in his day, and didn’t have the highest regard for mankind. I was more forgiving.

              I was met by the seller who had the car and  an extra set of wheels loaded in the back hatch of the TT. One thing I will say, an Audi coupe has a lot of room in the back. I got into the passenger side of the car and slammed the door. That was the first time (though not the last) I was chastised. He said, “This is a German engineered car. You do NOT need to slam the doors.”

We drove directly to his bank where he deposited the cash. He was more nervous than I. Then we drove to a local donut shop where his wife was waiting to drive him home. I took the two sets of keys and drove the seven hours back to Minneapolis. It turned out the car was returning home—he had bought it in Minneapolis at Carousel Audi after closing a big deal downtown.

              I’ll never forget driving into the garage at home. We had sold the last of the family vans and the little TT was SO cute! I called ahead (yes, cell phones existed) so my husband and youngest son came out when I pulled in, and they had the appropriate level of excitement that boosted my own.

              I drove that TT hard, but it still had a little life in her. I sold her off Carsoup to a young woman who lived about two hours out of town. This was around 2017, almost ten years later. The internet was much more sophisticated. Back when I bought TT1, there were very few dealerships listing their vehicles. In 2017, there were more dealers than individuals listing vehicles. This time I had to throw the net wider to find what I wanted in my price range.  And I found that the benefits of buying through a dealer were significant.

First of all, they offered extended warranty packages, financing, and recourse if things went south. I dealt with salespeople—I was actually looking at two TT’s; one in LA and the one I got in Kansas, both were lease returns. The salesmen took me on a test drive—with their cell phone cameras on they drove on streets and freeways, opened the hood so I could listen to the engine, and walked me around the car. I chose the Kansas dealer because the overall cost was lower, and it was going to be easier to pick up the car as we were doing business in Wichita, and Dallas, where my daughter lived, was close.

              I signed all the paperwork online. The salesman had everything ready and there was no trade involved. I wrote a check for the difference between the sales price and the loan that my husband hand delivered. Finalizing the transaction took some back and forth online and on the phone, but when my husband stopped in to pick it up, they handed him the keys. He took a test drive, and then he drove off to Dallas, where I met him at my daughter’s home. It turns out that this vehicle also came from the North. It had been traded in at a Sioux Falls dealership then ended up in Wichita when the weather turned and the dealer moved it south where the season for sports cars is longer.

              In Dallas, if you drive the LBJ Turnpike from Plano to the airport you will pass a glass circular structure about ten stories high that has cars displayed. It had caught my eye early in 2014 when my daughter first moved to the area to work for JC Penney. It was one of the Cavana car dispensing stations! It captured my imagination. Like a vending machine, this glass structure houses cars that Carvana sells, and like a vending machine, you can take possession of your car like a candy bar. Carvana has only been around since 2012 and is based out of Phoenix. My friend Richelle just purchased her car from Carvana. She said that she had to put down $49 to hold a car, which she figured out she needed to do as soon as one popped up on their website that she liked. She said she missed out on several that she wanted to learn more about, and by then they were gone. You can put your $49 down, and you don’t lose it if you don’t buy. You can use it to hold others. She bought a fairly new Jeep Wrangler with 14,000 miles and is trading her Toyota Element to Carvana. Like most dealers, Carvana uses Kelly Blue Book to value trade-ins, so there’s not a lot of negotiating involved. She did all the work online or via phone. So far she has loved the experience.

              I love my truck. Don’t get me wrong. But the buying process, not so much. It took so much time, just when I didn’t have time to spare. Because I bought locally, I was trapped in their dealership, captive in their sales process. The beauty of buying online is, as we all know, we can multi-task while getting the work done.

              There are significant benefits of buying locally, and the dealership should be focused on those value-adds, instead of trying to upsell me during the close. Cars are significant investments nowadays, and they could be touting the benefits of local care and support. For sure they could be encouraging me to come in quarterly for help doing a software update.

I am already stressing about the software update, but I look forward to the next generation driver’s assist that’s coming!

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