We are able to purchase nearly everything we need from the comfort of our own homes. Groceries, exercise equipment, and even the homes themselves. So, why not a vehicle? Automakers like Genesis, Tesla, and Cadillac have all been moving the ball forward by offering services that don’t require a visit to the dealership, and even AutoTrader.ca now offers completely online car buying on a growing amount of inventory. The process of purchasing a vehicle has evolved over the years, but the ability to complete the transaction completely online is finally here.

Being able to buy a car online seems like a no-brainer, but a vehicle requires a more lengthy, comprehensive, and arguably more complicated purchasing journey than most products, with many hurdles and government regulations to consider. It isn’t as quick and easy as clicking Add to Cart, but it’s getting close.

Second only to purchasing a home, buying a vehicle is among the most significant financial decisions we will make in our lifetimes. There may be some extra steps involved that require a learning curve, but we’re all used to shopping online by now, so no part of this process should feel too alien.

The Car-Buying Journey Redefined

The Internet has enabled Canadian car buyers to be more informed than ever, so before most of us even set foot in a dealership, we’re armed with knowledge of specs, trims, competitor vehicles, and even fair market pricing. A recent study states that 69 per cent of vehicle buyers visit manufacturer websites during their research process, 66 per cent browse dealership websites, and as many as 77 per cent use online automotive marketplaces like AutoTrader’s website or app to research a vehicle purchase and help build confidence during their journey.

A growing number of our own Vehicle Detail Pages now go an extra step by including a “Buy Online” badge that lets you start the process immediately once you’ve found a vehicle you like. Or, you can build and price out the exact model you want (complete with accessories and warranty coverage) with the help of configuration tools and a payment calculator. Determining your own terms provides transparency into the total cost of borrowing whether leasing or financing.

Appraisal tools like our Instant Cash Offer provide assessments of trade-in value, another important part in boosting your car-buying confidence by making sure you’re getting a fair deal. AutoTrader’s new Digital Retailing platform even allows you to apply for financing, then provide a deposit and down payment. All of these details can be saved to your profile, so you can pick up where you left off any time either in store or online.

Rather than simply using the platform for research, much of, if not the entire car-buying process, can now be done online until it’s time to pick up the vehicle. Virtually the only elements missing are the ability to test drive the car and finalize the transaction, but several provinces have amended legislation to now allow paperwork for purchase agreements and financing to be signed remotely, removing the need to visit the dealership premises altogether.

Flexibility is a Big Bonus

Being able to communicate remotely with a sales representative allows for greater flexibility and convenience. It saves time so you don’t have to get dressed and visit a dealership, it helps boost confidence, and offers an endless supply of information to help you research.

For those of us who are used to shopping online, purchasing a vehicle online will come as second nature. Work meetings, parent–teacher interviews, even socializing with friends and family have now all moved online. If we could make a Zoom baby shower or wedding work during the pandemic, it’s not that crazy to see how buying a car online makes a lot of sense mostly because of how convenient it is.

Don’t forget, a lot of the same things you should do during in-person car buying still apply to the online process. It makes sense to book a time to connect with a dealership so there’s no waiting around. You should also make an agenda with questions you have to help stay on task. Be forthcoming with your budget, goals, and timeline, along with your expectations, and be honest about any concerns you may have with the online process. Ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable and confident; an experienced sales associate should be able to help demystify anything you’re unclear about.

Online Buying Allows You to Take Control

While there are some pros and cons to both in-person and online buying experiences, you can also pick and choose which parts of the transaction you prefer to complete online versus in person.

The inability to test drive may provide an element of stress for some, though some research suggests that many people don’t even require a test drive. Reading and watching as many expert reviews as possible will assist in providing knowledge and identifying questions to address with your sales associate. You can also set up an appointment for a video call with your dealership so they can take you on a live walkthrough of a car you’re interested in, show you features, and answer any questions you have. Taking measurements of essential items may also be helpful to ensure things like strollers, car seats, hockey bags, or golf clubs will fit. If you prefer, a physical walkaround and test drive can be completed in person, then the rest of the process can be completed online once you’ve made your decision.

Relieving Pain Points

Antivirus software, password protection, and security encryption have no doubt matured to make entering sensitive data like banking information and credit applications more safe and secure. A recent study conducted by the Angus Reid Group for AutoTrader revealed that buying a vehicle online would ultimately reduce some stressful aspects of a vehicle purchase by adding transparency and a sense of ownership over the process.

One of the top concerns identified was the fear of having buyer’s remorse over not getting the best deal on a new vehicle or trade-in evaluation, which isn’t unique to online buying. The best way to approach this is by using tools that identify the market value of a vehicle. AutoTrader IQ, for example, uses real-time market data to tell you if a vehicle’s price is Good, Great, Fair, or Above Average based on its year, make, model, trim, features, mileage, and condition. It’s a helpful feature to ensure you don’t leave money on the table when buying, selling, or trading in a vehicle. You will also want to inquire as to whether a money-back guarantee or a refundable deposit are part of the agreement before signing.

The Future of Car Buying

We’ve no doubt become more comfortable with online shopping. For early adopters, the ability to purchase a vehicle online is long overdue. While some of you will still prefer the in-person experience of visiting a brick-and-mortar dealership, interacting with knowledgeable sales staff, and test driving a vehicle, that option will continue to be available to you. But if you prefer to do things from a distance, buying a car online could ultimately make things more convenient for you and empower you to be more confident during your car buying process. As functionality and legislation evolve to make online car buying more robust, it should help give you even more options, and having more options will always be beneficial for Canadian car buyers.