The Safe Way to Buy a Car Online

A laptop is shown on a search engine looking for online car sales.

In the 42 years that I’ve been writing about the auto industry, a lot has changed. Back when I first started, if you wanted to buy a car, you’d go to the dealership, meet with a salesman, talk about sports for 17 minutes, kick each other in the groin, and then sign on the dotted line. But that was then, and this is now: over the last year or two, online car sales have gotten bigger than ever and are poised to really take over the market.

But you can’t just type “buy a car online” into your web browser and expect to find a simple, straightforward way to buy a car. And even if you can, don’t do that because I’m going to tell you what you need to know. Don’t leave! Stay here and read this – I need the clicks, please.

Choose a Private Seller

First of all, don’t bother with a dealer or a major website that sells cars – stick to your local sites and personal ads to get the best prices. These private sellers in your area really want to get to know you, and they’ll come down on the price as soon as you start talking about how you live alone and need a car because you don’t have any neighbors around you. The most important thing is paying as little as possible for your car: the cheaper the vehicle, the better the quality!

Consider Your Surroundings

Since you’re probably going to shop for a car on your phone, like a lunatic, you need to be aware of your surroundings. It often helps to sit in a coffee shop with the whole world around you while shopping for a car. There’s only an 81% chance that some creeper is watching you and looking at what you’re doing on your phone, taking notes and photos of you, until the manager has to come over and remind me that I was already asked to leave once this week.

You might not want some weirdo to know all of your business, including what kind of car you drive and where you live, but the vibrant atmosphere around you really makes the car-buying experience better. As you enjoy the exhilarating high of shopping for a car in public, please remember to turn up your screen brightness and maybe zoom in every now and again. It’s really hard to read your address from over here.

Give Out the Information Sellers Need

While we’re on the subject of ensuring complete strangers have all of your private information, it’s very important that you provide all of these details to everyone you interact with online. Personally, as soon as I start to chat with someone about buying a car – or anything else, really – I give them my name, home address, and at least two different credit card numbers. This is not only polite, but it really speeds up the car-buying process.

Sure, I’ve had my identity stolen 31 times, but that’s a small price to pay for a streamlined online shopping experience. If you really want to speed things up, go ahead and send a picture of yourself to each person you talk to. I like to use a photo of myself as my profile pic for every online platform that I use – hell, sometimes I’ll send my photo to people who don’t even ask for it simply to ensure everyone knows who’s watching them.

Going to Meet the Seller

Once you’ve nailed down some of the finer points for the vehicle you’re going to buy, decide on where to meet the seller to take the car for a spin. I like to choose vacant lots, preferably as far away from residential areas as possible, usually around 10:23 pm – I know most people are busy with jobs and families. You wouldn’t believe how often online car sellers get really excited when you tell them you want to meet them alone, at night, in a deserted area. A few ladies I know used this technique to help negotiate a really low price on the vehicle. I miss them sometimes.

Enjoy Your New Vehicle

The real joy of buying a car online comes when it’s all said and done, and you get to enjoy your vehicle. Sure, you could’ve worked with a dealership or used a nationwide auto service, but by going with a private seller, you ensure that two days later, when you discover everything wrong with the car, you’ll have no way to track them down. But who needs reliable service or a business regulated by state and federal laws – you saved some money and met a new creep!

Editor’s Note: Although we’re not sure all of these suggestions are necessarily good ideas, we can attest to how well the author hangs out in coffee shops watching people. On more than one occasion, several of us have been picking up our morning beverage when we noticed a set of red-rimmed, haunted eyes watching us from the shadows of the dewy crowd around us. The reptilian way he blinks only once or twice per minute, slowly and in an uneven rhythm, only adds to his charms. Thank you.


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