Before the Internet age, choosing a new vehicle was a relatively simple process. You asked your friends, neighbors, or co-workers for recommendations. Or, you may have spent the weekend perusing the classified section of the local newspaper. You may have even made it a family affair by taking a leisurely drive to local dealerships to review vehicle pricing, options, and to let the kids share in the excitement. Today, however, we have the convenience and advantages of the Internet, which has changed the way we shop for new vehicles. In some instances, the Internet can provide more information than a visit to the local dealership.
There are three types of Web sites that can make online automotive research easier and more enjoyable. Once you understand where to look, and what to expect from each type of site, the time spent can be a productive learning experience rather than a confusing search through an overwhelming amount of information. With more than 250 models to choose from, using the Internet can help save you time and money by reducing the number of vehicles you might consider.
Auto manufacturer sites
If you are looking for accurate information on specific makes and models, OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) or automaker Web sites typically offer the most accurate and up-to-date information available. OEM sites are usually clean and professional in appearance, as presentation of their brand image is as important as providing accurate product information. Looking past the obvious commercial aspects of these sites, you can usually find excellent resources for vehicle research.
According to the J.D. Power and Associates 2006 New Autoshopper.com Study,SM 59% of new-vehicle buyers visit at least one manufacturer Web site before making their purchase, and most visit several manufacturer sites. OEM sites usually include detailed specifications, option descriptions and pricing, and extensive interior and exterior photo galleries. When model choices are narrowed, you can use the “build and price” tool to get exact pricing information. Taking it one step further, “locate a dealer” or “request a quote” functions allow you to contact retailers and secure dealer pricing, arrange financing, or make an appointment.
The downside to OEM sites is the lack of local economy and compeditive pricing. Understandably, automakers and retailers want to sell vehicles they have in stock. The factory doesn't know what the local dealers have in stock and what they are willing to sell it for.
Independent automotive sites are another good place to begin your online automotive research. As a non-biased resource, they offer information on nearly every new make and model from all manufacturers. As an added benefit, independent sites often feature data about used vehicles and models going back more than a decade, providing valuable information for shoppers looking for something other than the latest model-year vehicles.
If you are just beginning your automotive research process, an independent site allows you to search and sort by vehicle type (SUV, minivan, convertible, etc.), price, or manufacturer. Taking it one step further, a simple click or two enables objective, side-by-side comparisons of models from different manufacturers—something that is rarely seen on OEM sites.
Vehicle specifics aside, independent sites offer plenty of useful information about warranties, insurance, factory incentives, rebates, and values adjusted for vehicle and market conditions. Public forums, blogs, or online message boards—where consumers can post their own reviews for others to see—are also commonplace and frequently updated.
If there is a downside to independent automotive sites, it is advertising. As much of their revenue is advertising-based, these sites often feature banner ads that can clutter the pages and disrupt the research process. Navigation around the sites can be difficult, as advertising can be integrated with actual information. Finding specific information can be tedious, as most independent sites require you to navigate several pages into their site before they display facts and figures.
Search engines are designed to review and catalog the entire Internet, not just the automotive marketplace. For this reason, more work is required to find good information, but you will be rewarded with a wealth of automotive knowledge for the time invested. Enter a specific make and model, option, or automotive term, and pages of results will be displayed in seconds. A search engine is the best place to research technologies, car care, aftermarket parts, tire information, and even crash test results.
Frequently, specific vehicle searches will return a listing for an enthusiast message board near the top of the search results. These boards, or forums, as they are popularly known, are frequented by thousands of individuals who own or are in the market for a specific model. With tens of thousands of postings about each model, forums are an invaluable resource.
Look to search engines to find information about future vehicles. Spy shots, sneak peeks, even consumer sightings of future models on the road can be found by entering the make and model as well as a future model year. The downside of using a search engine is the work required to find specific research. Frequently, a single-word search will yield countless sites. Be specific, use more than one term, and a search engine will help answer all of your questions.
So where should I start?
Clearly, the Internet has become a valuable tool for those in the market for a new or used vehicle. According to the J.D. Power and Associates 2006 New Autoshopper.com Study,SM a record 67.5% of new-vehicle buyers use the Internet in their vehicle shopping process—up from 66.6% in 2005. Buyers say they rely most on manufacturer-sponsored sites for product information and on independent sites for price-related information. Among these buyers, 77% visit at least one independent Web site, and this is typically the first type of site they visit in their shopping process. Additionally, 85% of buyers visit a search engine or portal (such as AOL, Google, MSN and Yahoo!) as part of their shopping process.
If you already know what model you are interested in and are ready to take the next step, a manufacturer site may be the place to start. However, if you have narrowed your search down to a half-dozen or so models but still are not sure, try an independent site. And, if you’re interested in what others are saying about a particular model before you proceed, perhaps a search engine is right for you.