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Would You Buy A Car Without Driving It First?

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Handing over car keys

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The idea of buying a car over the Internet is nothing new, but recent data shows that the trend is increasing as manufacturers offer consumers more tools to design specific models and even evaluate performance from behind a keyboard. Even sight-unseen lease takeovers are on the rise, growing from three percent of all lease takeovers in 2007 to nearly seven percent today.

Why the change? The quality of vehicles is up, from both domestic and import manufacturers, so consumers are less likely to experience a significant issue with a new (or used) vehicle than they were in decades past. The Internet provides a wealth of year-make-and-model-specific information for car shoppers, so known issues with a particular model can be addressed before cash changes hands.

In terms of lease acquisitions, there’s less risk than with buying a car outright. Most lease take-overs are for relatively short durations, so minor annoyances (squeaks, rattles, etc.) can be overlooked if the price is right. Since leased vehicles are generally covered under a manufacturer’s warranty, the risk of getting stuck with an expensive repair is particularly low.

Still, we drive enough cars from every manufacturer to know that there are cars built on a Monday and there are cars built on a Friday. We’ve experienced significant differences even between “identical” cars of the same year, make and model. Perhaps it’s because we’re car guys (and gals), but we’d have a hard time signing on any dotted line without first going over the car from front to back and top to bottom, then climbing behind the wheel for a test drive.

No one would consider buying a house sight unseen, and we feel the same way about our vehicles. What’s your take on this? Would you assume a lease without driving the car first? Would you buy a car sight unseen?

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Comments (7)
  1. I purchased a used Range Rover over the internet from a highly reputable dealer in Texas, I live in upstate NY and has it shipped. The vehicle and the dealer were both great. I had one problem,a repaired chip in the windsheild he forgot to mention. He told me if it became a problem to let him know. we'll the repaired chip became a large crack. The dealer told me to get an estimate to replace the windsheild. I did and he agreed to pay for its replacement. I had a certified check in my hands within the week. I couldn't have asked for anything more. Very satisfied.

  2. If you see a car on the internet that is too good of a deal to pass up. Then it is probably too good to be true anyway.

  3. @larry300, there really is no such thing as a free lunch; there's always a reason why a deal is too good to be true.

  4. For many years, more than half the buyers actually bought three brand names of cars without roadtesting them: Rolls-Royce, Cadillac, and Alfa-Romeo.

  5. I targeted a specific vehicle based upon reputation and experience. I determined the price I was willing to pay and sent the specifics to all area dealers. I specifically told them I wanted "walk out the door pricing" no dealer's fees or other BS. Within 2 days I took delivery. I used Edmunds and the Consumer Reports Internet pricing guide for research. I would not purchase a new car in a different manner, however a used vehicle has variables that in my opinion require face to face interaction with the seller.

  6. @peglaws, I've done the same thing, but I still always test drive any vehicle before signing the paperwork.

    I used to own a 2006 Mazda MX-5, bought new in '06. I drove about five different cars before I picked the one I bought, and each felt distinctly different. The fastest one had a door rattle that would have required the dealership to pull the door apart before I took delivery (likely producing more rattles over time). Even with solid brands, you still have cars built on a Wednesday and cars built on a Friday.

  7. An independent third-party vehicle inspector is the answer. You contact the inspection company (the one I know is AiM Mobile Inspections), schedule an appointment, they come to where the car is, conduct the inspection and provide a condition report within 24-48 hours with lots of pictures and a letter grade (A-B-C-D-F). These types of inspections are a great tool for online car shoppers.

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