They’re quick, they’re convenient and they’re the latest things in automotive Web sites. Say hello to one-stop, online car shopping.

All-in-one buying services allow car shoppers to research, price and purchase vehicles over the Internet. And all of this is done without a single minute of haggling with a car dealer.

The main drawback of all this convenience is cost. Going head-to-head with a dealer may be unpleasant, but it does save you money.



Just sign and drive away

At

Driveoff.com, customers only interact with dealers when they stop in to sign the final papers before driving off with their cars.

CarsDirect.com and

AutobytelDIRECT will deliver cars to a customer’s home.

“They know what they want. They don’t want to be bothered going into a dealership. They don’t have the time or energy to do that,” says Chick Ramsay, senior vice president of automotive operations at autobytel.com. “They just want the car to magically appear on their doorstep.”

Why settle for what a local dealer has in stock when you can order the car you want online?

“A number of consumers believe the dealer is an unnecessary link in the chain,” says Chris Denove, consulting operations director at

J.D. Power and Associates, a marketing information firm in Agoura Hills, Calif.

Plus, while lots of folks get a kick out of kicking tires and haggling with dealers, plenty of others don’t. These sites help take some of the stress out of car buying.



One-stop shopping

Many auto sites list price quotes and then shoot you off to a dealer to iron out the details. These all-in-one sites give you fixed prices, upfront. And you don’t need to give out a lot of personal information before the pricing information will pop up on your screen.

At CarsDirect.com, all you have to input is the state where you live.

“Without giving out a whole bunch of personal information you can go and compare four different cars side-by-side and compare everything from engines to what kind of leather seats they have to costs,” says Wendy Barbour, director of public relations for CarsDirect.com. “There is no pressure on the consumer.”

CarsDirect.com, the first nationwide direct buying service, was launched in May 1999. Customers from California, Florida and New York may have their cars delivered to their homes or offices; all other customers must swing by a nearby dealership to pick up the car.



Fast loan approval



Bank One provides the auto financing for CarsDirect.com. Instant online credit approval was added to the site in early March. Consumers learn if they have been approved for an auto loan in under a minute, any time of the day or night. Previously, it took anywhere from 20 minutes to 45 minutes for a Bank One underwriter to review an online application at CarsDirect.com.

While the instant loan approval may be impressive, there’s nothing cutting edge about the financing rates. They’re the same Bank One financing rates available through auto dealers from around the country.

“The danger of these bundled-together easy-everything sites is they make you assume everything’s going to be done to your satisfaction, and in the real world it isn’t,” says Remar Sutton, author of

Don’t Get Taken Every Time: The Insider’s Guide to Buying or Leasing Your Next Car or Truck.

You may be able to get a better loan rate from a local bank or credit union or from online financing sites such as

PeopleFirst.com. The Bankrate.com

search engine allows you to search for auto loan rates from banks in your area.



A trio of transactions

Many consumer experts urge people to look at a car purchase as three separate transactions, the price of the car, the financing and the trade-in. Each transaction should be researched and negotiated separately. This, of course, is awfully tough when an online site rolls everything together.

As much as these sites may spare you the hassles of haggling with a dealer, haggling saves money. When you know how much a car is worth and know a competitor’s price, you make it clear that a dealer is going to have to

earn your business. The same goes for financing. Ask a dealer to beat the financing you can get from a local bank, credit union or online financing site.

“The only way you get money savings is through comparison shopping,” Sutton says.

If you do choose to buy a car through an all-in-one site, be sure to stand firm on the value of your trade-in.

Chances are, when you go to pick up your made-to-order car, the dealer will offer to take your trade-in off your hands. Be ready. Find out just how much your car is worth and don’t budge.

Edmund’s Automobile Buyers Guide,

AutoSite,

Kelley Blue Book and

CarPrice.com are among the sites offering timely pricing information.



Final advice: shop around

People keen on car shopping through an all-in-one buying service should try out a number of different sites before placing an order. It won’t take long and it may save money.

“Be sure to shop around,” says J.C. Pierce, director of the Consumer Task Force for Automotive Issues.

“It’s easy to do. You can shop three services in an hour.”

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