Shopping for a Good Used Car Value Online

by Don Elliott on March 15, 2012

Car Buying OnlineToday’s used car buyers spend an average of 18 hours engaged in the shopping process. According to a joint survey by market research firm R. L. Polk and online automotive marketplace AutoTrader.com, car buyers spend 60% of their shopping time online.

The survey to track current car buying patterns included 4,005 U. S. consumers who had purchased a new or used vehicle in the past six months. Of the respondents, 71% said that they had used the Internet as a part of their car buying research. Drilling further down into the numbers, 58% of the used car buyers claimed that the Internet was the source that led them to the dealership where they purchased their vehicle.

The growth of the Internet has not gone unnoticed by used car dealers. The National Independent Automobile Dealers Association (NIADA) reports that their used car dealer members have shifted their advertising budget away from more traditional resources like newspaper and radio, focusing 68.9% of their marketing dollars towards online resources, up 16.3% over 2010. In the NIADA’s 2011 “Used Car Industry Report,” car dealers increased their usage of the Internet for industry research, for online financing, and to attend online wholesale auto auctions.

Where do used car buyers spend most of their time when shopping online? Overwhelmingly, they spent the most time, an average of 6.5 hours, at third party sites. A few of the more popular third party sites would include AutoTrader.com, Cars.com, Vehix.com, eBay.com, and Craigslist.org. A recent entry of “used car search” in Google yielded a mind boggling 934 million results.

Internet usage has increased for several reasons. Historically, car buyers have been suspicious of the tactics used by some car sales people. The Internet provides a resource to answer almost any question about cars, specifications, reviews, approximate cost, and where the vehicle is available. And this can all be accomplished anonymously from the comfort of home.

Use of the computer saves time and money. Randomly going from lot to lot in search of the perfect car has left some would-be buyers frustrated and intimidated by the process. By narrowing the choices down to a few cars at a few car dealerships, often with an appointment arranged online, customers can approach the buying process more informed and ready to buy.

Interestingly, the Polk/AutoTrader.com survey revealed that social media influenced only 3% of car buyers. Although networking online is still loosely organized, industry pundits are advising used car dealers to stay connected within the social media community. They expect online conversations to become the harbinger of future used car values.

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