4 Things That Can Go Wrong with Online Used Car Shopping

September 21st, 2019 by

online used car shopping risks

Ordering stuff online that you know you’ll always use on a regular basis makes sense, like your favorite brands of personal care products (shampoo, deodorant, soap, toothpaste, shaving products, and so on). You know what you like and you can search online for special deals and free shipping when you buy in bulk – all on your favorite device and without leaving the comfort of your home. But what about used car shopping online? The number of companies doing this keeps growing, but we strongly recommend thinking twice before taking the plunge. Here are 4 things that can, and often do, go wrong with online used car shopping.

What We Mean by Online Used Car Shopping

online used car shopping

Using the vast power of the internet to do your homework before you go out to buy a used car is always a great idea. You can see what kinds of cars are out there that interest you, as well as what prices those cars are selling for in your area, which gives you a leg up in negotiating the final price. There are also many sites that list used cars for sale and allow you to filter their vast databases by geographic location to show you actual cars for sale in your area that you can then go out and see in person.

“Window shopping” for a used car online is fine, but this article is about something else. We’re talking about online used car shopping where you actually choose the car you want, make payment or financing arrangements for it, and then have it delivered to your home or other place of your choice. What sets companies like these apart from other online used car shopping sites is that they don’t have actual retail locations. They like to claim that because they’re not paying for brick-and-mortar stores, they can offer lower prices on their cars. While not having a physical location can save on overhead, such business model has its own set of unique expenses that most traditional dealerships may not have. To name a few:

  • delivery and logistics expenses
  • expenses associated with honoring the return policy
  • marketing expenses per unit sold are much higher.

Now, the most important question: How is reconditioning done in such decentralized environment? Reconditioning is the most important thing when it comes to used cars. Can it really be done well and at a reasonable cost with no dedicated facilities?

The 4 Things that Can go Horribly Wrong with Online Used Car Shopping

disadvantages of online used car shopping

Before you jump on the online used car shopping bandwagon, please do your homework. We urge you to very carefully read customer reviews from people who have made online purchases of used cars. It has worked out great for some, and it has not gone at all well for others. In fact, the number of people who have had nightmarish experiences should be enough to at least start asking questions. And don’t just read the hand-picked positive reviews a company puts on its own website – read real reviews from sites like Trustpilot, Google, and Yelp to get the complete picture.  There are many great reviews but there are risks as well. Among the plentiful negative reviews you’ll find things like the 4 problems below:

  1. The Car Does Not Meet Your Expectations: Whether it’s the color, condition, how it drives, a missing key, or broken air conditioning, lots of customers have purchased a used car online only to discover after it is delivered that it’s really not what they expected. Even worse, it may clearly have mechanical or other problems that should have been caught by an inspection but were not included in the listing. And you have to read the fine print of the company’s policies to make sure you know what they think is acceptable versus what you think is acceptable. For example, quite a few people have ordered their used car online and had it delivered only to discover it reeks of cigarette smoke, and when they contact the company to complain, they find out it is within the company’s policies for a car to have cigarette smoke odors, even though most people do not find this acceptable. The good news is that these company’s do give you an “out” or grace period, usually ranging from 5-7 days. If you decide the car is not right, you can “exchange” it for another or get a refund. The tricky thing here is when there is a price difference between the car you’re giving back and the car you want as a replacement. It’s likely you’ll end up having to pay more if the price of the replacement car is higher than the one you’re giving back.
  2. Delivery is Delayed: The number of people who have experience this problem is alarming. The company tells you that your car will arrive on a particular date. Then you get a notification from the company that delivery is delayed. It might be delayed by a few days, or a week, or even more. And there’s nothing you can do about it. The timing of when you find about this delay is often extremely inconvenient – like on the day you were expecting the car to arrive! Whatever specific plans you made for your new-to-you ride are now out the proverbial window. In some cases, buyers have already gotten rid of their previous are because they had no reason to expect a delay in the delivery of the car they ordered. Talk about inconvenient!
  3. Subpar Customer Service: A theme that runs through all the complaints about online used car shopping companies is terrible customer service. When things don’t go well, dealing with these companies can be more stressful than what’s happening with your car. You’re put on hold forever. You talk to more than one representative and each one has a completely different story about what’s happening and why. What they do have in common is the fact that they can’t really provide you with any actual help or support.
  4. The Graceless Grace Period: Here’s an awful scenario you’ll read about in quite a few customer reviews of online used car shopping: Ordering the car is super-easy. Maybe delivery is delayed or maybe not, but when the car arrives it has issues that need to be addressed. After waiting forever to get through to customer service, the company agrees that the problem(s) should be addressed and gives you this whole complicated process of how and where you can have the car fixed. By the time you finally get the car fixed, you’re ready to back out the deal entirely because of how difficult the entire process has been. But now the “grace” period has passed, so you’re stuck with the car, hoping there aren’t other problems that should have been caught ahead of time and taken care of. This sounds like something that should never happen, but it does.

When you dig into customer reviews of these online used car shopping companies, you’ll find that while many people have a great experience, more than 20% of customer reviews give them a one-star or two-star rating out of five stars. That means one out of every FIVE customers has a terrible experience! Those are not very good odds by anyone’s standards. The ordering process, as you might imagine, is extremely easy. Everything else after that, however, is up for grabs.

Auto City Beats Online Used Car Shopping Every Time

Auto City

Maybe these online used car shopping companies are still new enough that they’re working out the kinks and will improve over time. But given the likelihood right now of having an awful experience, we think you’re better offer looking at and test-driving cars in person at a reputable used car dealership like Auto City. If you’re in the greater San Diego area, we invite you to visit our dealership in El Cajon to experience the Auto City Advantage. We have a fantastic selection of carefully selected newer used vehicles with low miles that are in great condition. Every car comes with a warranty. We even offer a no-questions-asked 3-day money-back guarantee! We can do that because we know our cars are top-notch. No runarounds, no headaches, and no haggling over price either, which we think is a waste of everyone’s time. Fair, competitive, and firm up-front pricing is the way we do business, and we’ve got the rave reviews from customers to prove it! If you’re ready to experience a better way to find and buy your next used car, start by exploring the Auto City website!