Buying a Vehicle Online

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As the Internet became a household appliance in the late 1990s, consumers began to use it to seek the best interest rates for auto loans, best prices for autos, and other vital information about vehicles and their various options.

To meet this swell in public demand for information, auto dealers and auto-industry sites provided free search engines at their Web sites for selecting an auto, reviewing the specifications, and obtaining a "haggle-free" quote.

Buying an auto online is difficult. You can't touch, test-drive, or even smell it. Perhaps it's the excitement and heightened stimulus of touring a new-auto showroom that is the deal-clincher for many buyers.

However, the Web is loaded with sites aimed at information gathering and purchasing an auto. For starters, you may wish to browse the Web sites of makers whose autos interest you. All the major makers have search engines that allow you to browse, learn, and -- yes -- purchase.

You may also wish to use the search engine that is sponsored by the National Automobile Dealers Association of America (NADA).

Online auto shoppers sometimes complain that a dealer's price quoted on the Internet is different from the quote that is offered in person. If an auto dealer or maker quotes a price that is materially different from what it quoted online, ask for an explanation of the difference. If you aren't given one and remain unsatisfied, you may decide to take your business elsewhere.

If you feel a dealer is misrepresenting prices on its Web site and is unwilling to explain, you may wish to notify NADA or the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is the federal agency that is responsible for regulating interstate commerce and ensuring fair consumer-reporting practices.

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