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Shopping for a Car

Buying a car is only slightly more fun than going to the dentist, but the Internet can streamline the car-buying ordeal. You can make the purchase in two ways: buy the car outright on the Internet, or locate a car at a dealership and then go there and physically check out the car, hopefully driving it and giving it a thorough inspection. Both new and used cars can be purchased in these ways. The purpose of this article is not to provide a list of online automotive sales URLs, but give you a glimpse how each buying option works. For automotive URLs, scan the weekend automotive section of our esteemed local newspaper.

Let’s start by seeing how an outright purchase would work. For a new car, visit Cars Direct. Select a make and model of car, then pick the options you want. After picking options, pick exterior and interior colors. 

Several of the local car lots have online listings for their used cars. One of the first I visited was the Ancira Volkswagen. Like many online stores, it listed specific used cars and let you shop for a new car by picking various features from a list. A salesperson calls you back with a price. Figure 2 shows the Ancira web page.

For a used car (which I recently bought), I checked out the CarMax listing. While I was looking through their extensive listings, I ran across a model that was on my short list of interesting cars. It was a 1999 model, and the listing said it had only 1308 miles on it. Unfortunately, the car was not here in San Antonio; instead, it was in Irving, Texas, at the CarMax across the street from Texas Stadium. Thinking the mileage listing had to be wrong, I journeyed off to my local CarMax dealership to explore it further. I learned that they have a service where you can ask questions about a car and the local dealership will e-mail them to the dealer where the car is located and a salesperson will check them out and give you an answer within a few minutes. To my surprise, the salesperson in Irving replied that the car indeed had only 1400 miles on it (obviously it had gone on a few demo rides). He also corrected an error about the engine listed for the car, which had specified one that I (correctly) believed had never been installed in the car.

Now the question remained: how would I get to see and drive the car? Fortunately, CarMax has a deal where they will ship a car up to 600 miles for $150, and if you buy it, the $150 counts as part of the purchase price. I decided to risk the cost. A few days later, I got a call from the salesperson saying the car had arrived. I checked it out, and it definitely had that new-car look, although not a new-car price. A driving test showed no flaws, so I decided to get the car. 

The only thing I didn’t like about the car was the stereo—it had a cassette radio installed. I decided to swap it out for a CD radio unit, which was easy to do, since CarMax had a display of stereo units on display. While looking at them, I learned that CarMax is actually owned by Circuit City, so it’s natural that they would also sell stereos. Guess where the stereo was installed!

After a paperwork exercise that rivaled buying a house, I drove off with my “new” car. CarMax gives you return privileges for five days, so I was comfortable that if some defect revealed itself, I had an out. Fortunately, I didn’t have to take advantage of that offer.

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