Between the research and negotiating, buying a car can be a daunting process. But thanks to technology, information is more accessible than ever, making it easy to prepare for a trip to the dealership. Having a smartphone handy makes the car-buying process a little less intimidating.
"Most consumers have already done their research when they arrive at the dealership," says Kenny Goldstein, director of mobile products for Edmunds. "And apps, or mobile in general, are enabling car shoppers to take this information with them."
Overall, you want your smartphone to at least be equipped with the ability to do the following at the dealership:
- Show you vehicle reviews.
- Compare vehicles and dealer prices.
- Offer specific vehicle history.
- Calculate financing of your auto loan.
Smartphones can help shoppers close the information gap that has long given dealers an advantage in each of these areas, says Oren Weintraub, consumer advocate and president of Authority Auto.
Weintraub is a former general sales manager and car salesman who spent 12 years working in the consumer auto industry before turning to consumer advocacy.
"The average consumer doesn't know how to effectively manage negotiating. So what I teach is how to speak in dealer terms," Weintraub says. "Having a smartphone with you at the dealership is a good idea. ... There's so much research you can do with it."
The lot and showroom
It's essential to do some preliminary research on car models and prices before heading to the showroom -- and most people do. A 2013 poll commissioned by AutoTrader.com found that 75 percent of the time consumers devote to buying a car is spent online.
"The dealerships have lost an advantage over the average Joe," says Jim McArthur, managing director of Big on Mars, a mobile technology and connectivity company. "Sure, some people still wander haplessly into a dealer and engage on their terms, but the number of consumers walking in with TrueCar quotes, their own financing and competing bids is rising every day."
McArthur recently bought a new car using two smartphone apps:
- TrueCar, which allows users to find and compare car deals in their area.
- AutoTrader, which allows users to scan a VIN on a car's windshield to bring up comparable vehicle options.
"Though we're not quite to the point where people are buying their cars online and just picking them up ... the days of 'quick service dealership' are pretty much here," McArthur says.