When it comes to used car shopping, knowledge is power.

The more you know about the car you want, the better off you’ll be, and there may be no more complete information source than the Internet.

Not only can the Web give you the lowdown on pricing, reliability studies and financing options, you can also use it to track down a specific car or SUV in your area.

“The Internet is a vehicle locator as much as it’s an information gathering tool for used car shoppers,” says Tony Cohen, a senior research manager at J.D. Power and Associates in Agoura Hills, Calif. “There are certain sites out there with huge inventories of vehicles. It makes it a heck of a lot easier to find the vehicle you’re looking for.”

Microsoft Carpoint

,

AutoTrader.com,

autobytel.com,

autoweb.com and

cars.com are among the sites that list used cars for sale.



Because the sites let you search for cars by make and model, price and location, it’s easy to do a quick and thorough search of cars in your area. The selection of listings often beats what can be found in Sunday’s newspaper. Lots of times it’s not even close.



Web beats print listings



In a study this summer, J.D. Power and Associates compared the car listings found in the

Los Angeles Times with those found on two automotive Web sites.



Researchers searched for a 1997 Ford Explorer within 30 miles of downtown Los Angeles. The

Los Angeles Times had 10 ads meeting that description, cars.com had 105, and Autoconnect.com, which is now called AutoTrader.com, had more than 280 ads.

Part of the disparity in numbers is because dealers only advertise about 5 percent of their inventory in local newspapers.

“Often, we have the entire inventory for many dealers,” says Chip Perry, chief executive officer of AutoTrader.com. “So from the comfort of your home, you can find the car you’re interested in without having to go to all those dealerships. When you really get serious you can e-mail the dealer or call them up.”

Even if you don’t end up buying a specific vehicle found through an online ad, surfing classified ads on the Web can give you a good sense of the cars available in your area. This information will give you more leverage when you negotiate with a seller on price.



Do your homework



Remember, the more you know about the vehicle you’re buying, the better the deal you’re likely to land. So do your homework.

Edmund’s Automobile Buyers Guide,

AutoSite,

Kelley Blue Book and

CarPrice.com are among the sites offering timely pricing information as well as shopping and negotiating tips.

Consumer Reports’Web site includes a listing of used cars that have performed well in its reliability studies.



Some sites such as

CarFax let you check a car’s history by its vehicle identification number. You can find out if a car has had one owner as the seller claims, if the odometer has been rolled back, and if a car has been junked or salvaged. Experts point out that some states do not participate in VIN number searches due to privacy issues. So these searches may not always provide the complete history on every vehicle.

“These VIN search programs by their nature are limited. They may give you a false sense of security,” says Jack Gillis, author of

The Car Book. “But you should definitely check them out because they can give important information. It’s just not necessarily complete.”



Take it to a mechanic



The best way to find out how a car was treated in the past and how it will run in the future is to take it to a mechanic whom you know and trust.

“There’s always the issue of things that are about to go wrong with a vehicle that the average consumer wouldn’t know and a mechanic would,” Cohen says.

One way to take some of the guesswork out of used car shopping is to choose a used car that has been certified by its manufacturer. These cars have been subjected to extensive inspections and reconditioning aimed at bringing them up to new car standards. Most certified used cars are cars that have been returned to a dealer after a lease ends. Many of these cars will still be covered under their original warranties.

All of the major automakers have these programs.

Intellichoice ranks the certification programs of 30 automotive manufacturers on its Web site.

Ford has an online

pre-owned showroom that allows customers to search for certified used Fords in the New York, Atlanta, Boston and San Francisco metropolitan areas as well as the state of Oklahoma. Once the customer chooses a car online, it will be delivered to a nearby Ford dealership for a test drive within 48 hours. This selection requires a $300 “commitment” deposit, which is refundable if a customer opts not to buy the car.



Prices aren’t negotiable



Those who like to haggle over car prices may want to try their luck elsewhere. The prices, which are listed online next to calculators for determining monthly payments, are nonnegotiable.

Typically, a manufacturer’s certification ups the price of a used car by $1,500 to $2,000. Most experts feel that a car that has been certified by a manufacturer is worth the extra cash.

“If somebody is going to buy a used car through the Internet, I would make sure they’re buying through a huge national company that’s standing by their warranty,” says Mark Eskeldson, an auto expert and author of

CarInfo.com, a consumer information and advocacy Web site. “If you don’t have a really good, in-writing, ironclad warranty that’s going to last more than a month, it’s just not worth it.”

Promoted Stories