We never forget the day we buy our first car — or our second, even if the subsequent purchases don’t mean quite as much. Part of the reason is that buying a car is a decision that follows you for years.

As such, it’s important that you make your decision with all the information you can get. The age of the internet has made online shopping commonplace, a trend that’s no different with automotive sales. That said, there are advantages and disadvantages to looking online for a car — in some cases, a traditional visit to a car lot can be the better move.

Advantages of Buying Online

When you’re shopping for a new car online you’ll have two options: you can go directly to the website for your chosen dealership or you can look for used vehicles on Craigslist and similar online marketplaces. Often, car dealerships will hire and retain an internet sales manager whose sole job is to handle problems arising from online purchases, and it can be helpful to contact these managers directly if you decide to approach a dealership.

One of the major advantages in online shopping is that it can be done from the comfort of your home. Moreover, unlike physically going and looking at car lots, it takes virtually no effort to look somewhere else if you don’t find anything you like. This is an activity that can be coupled with daily holdouts like browsing Facebook or reading about a favorite topic on Wikipedia, decreasing the stress involved in the process.

Another advantage is that the internet sales managers mentioned above receive different incentives to sell — whereas car salesmen on the lot generally work on commission, salesmen online are incentivized to sell a larger volume of vehicles instead.

This incentivizing leads directly into another advantage — these vehicles will usually have a significantly lower starting price. Of course, you won’t have nearly as much room to haggle with the seller, and you’ll be taking their online responses as fact — one way to work around this issue is to meet up with the seller before agreeing to buy and to take a closer look at the vehicle.

Finally, shopping for a vehicle online gives a definite advantage when it comes to options — you’ll be able to shop anywhere in the United States rather than only in your immediate area. Although it’s important to note that this may result in higher fees and taxes.

Advantages of Buying Traditionally

Some folks feel more comfortable heading down to the car lot and talking to a salesman, and there’s nothing wrong with that — in fact, the traditional method of buying a car has advantages of its own over online shopping.

Looking at a car online or reading reviews of how it runs is one way to make your decision — but traditional vehicle shopping has an advantage in that you’re given the option to test-drive the vehicle before you purchase it. In an online purchase, the seller might give you a glowing review of his vehicle’s engine — but then when you get behind the wheel, you hear clunking from under the hood. Test-driving negates this potential problem and helps you decide if this is the ideal vehicle for your family.

Another advantage springs from the experience itself — the process of socializing and cracking jokes with the salesman can be just as fun as the purchase. Haggling and working for the best price can be a rush, and if you’ve got a salesman willing to play ball you might even save some money. Almost all car dealerships will include a vehicle history report with your purchase, which you might miss out on if you’re shopping online.

Time Magazine indicates that the majority of Americans have turned their back on traditional car dealerships — but in its own way, this provides yet another advantage. If you take the time to go down to the car lot and talk to a salesman, you could end up being the beneficiary of these same trends. Car salesmen work on commission, so if they know you can look online and find better prices they’ll work harder to keep your business.

Lastly, a traditional car purchase will generally come from your surrounding area. Unlike an online purchase where you may need to wait for the vehicle to ship across state lines for days or weeks, these are as easy as going down to the car lot and signing some paperwork.

What should I choose?

Both methods have distinct advantages and disadvantages, but the decision really comes down to personal choice and to your specific needs — it’s important to make sure that you’re informed before you make any hasty decisions, so take some time to truly consider which method you want to use.

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This article was worked on by a variety of people from the Autoversed team, including freelancers, editors, and/or other full-time employees.