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Shop for Your Next Car Hassle-Free

Free websites allow you to comparison shop, haggle less on price

Hassle-free car buying  online

Bernhard Classen/Alamy

Websites that offer "hassle-free" car buying can help save you time and money

En español | There's no doubt it's much easier to buy a new car or truck these days. Thanks to the Internet, there's a widespread availability of information about dealer pricing and discounts. You can use one or a variety of respected online sites to find out what other buyers are spending for the same vehicle.

What you can’t do is find a new car or truck online, check a box and have it delivered in a couple of days. The process isn’t that hassle-free. But you can use the sites to scan the market for vehicles and prices, and when you’re ready, tell a dealer (or dealers) how to contact you with the price and terms in writing.

If you know which car you want, you can start with the automakers' own "build and price" websites (e.g., Ford.com or Dodge.com). On such sites you can pick your model and accessories and, in some cases, learn about current discounts. But these sites are generally meant to show you what is available and what the sticker price would be. They don't claim to give you best-value pricing, as some online shopping sites do.

That's where the websites and programs that offer "hassle-free" car buying can help save you time and money. You can skip a lot of the price haggling  before walking into the dealership.

Well-known car-shopping sites include Cars.com, Edmunds.com, Kelley Blue Book, and the AARP Auto Buying Program powered by TrueCar who also powers the USAA and Consumer Reports pricing services.

The online sites are free to consumers. Dealers typically pay fee to the site operators, which sometimes also make their money from online advertising.

Some of the sites tell you a typical or "fair" price that people are paying in your area for a car or truck.

When you're ready to buy, dealers often have Internet sales operations that reply to you with a price quote. If it's a lower price than what the shopping services say is typical, you might want to grab it and go.

"On average, consumers save $3,000 off MSRP using TrueCar-powered car buying services," says Eric Lyman, TrueCar's top analyst and vice president of industry insights, referring to the manufacturer's suggested retail price that's printed on the window sticker.

With the AARP Auto Buying Program, you can see what others across the country have paid for the car you want and receive a Guaranteed Savings Certificate. When you are ready to purchase your vehicle, print your certificate and take it into one of more than 10,000 certified dealers. The free program is available to both AARP members and nonmembers, but AARP members will get at least $100 more in Guaranteed Savings when using the Auto Buying Program while registered on AARP.org.

While some folks who are determined to get the lowest price will negotiate for hours and even days, most car buyers aren't price grinders. An Edmunds study shows that 64 percent of car shoppers say they value saving both time and money, which is why the hassle-free approach these websites and programs offer is appealing.

"In my conversations with many buyers, I often hear the desire for a fair price rather than the ultimate lowest price," says Patrick Olsen, editor in chief of Cars.com. "To them, saving time in negotiating is worth as much as those extra nickels and dimes."

And even skilled bargainers are unlikely to pay bottom dollar. That's because it's all but impossible to know about all of the discounts the automakers give dealers as well as the quota systems that automakers sometimes use to boost their per-car payment to dealers when the dealers pass certain sales thresholds.

Still, there is a site that works to give you the low-dollar quote, or show you how to get it. It’s fightingchance.com, and it’s not free. You pay $39.95 for a quote on the first vehicle, $15 for each additional vehicle.

What you can't escape is a visit to — or from — the dealership to trade your money for the car. An exception is Tesla, the maker of luxury electric vehicles, which does sell directly to buyers. Dealers in various states are challenging the legality of this under the states' dealer-franchise laws.

And no matter how smoothly your shopping process is, you'll still need to navigate decisions regarding dealership financing — which can be attractive if it's one of the automaker-sponsored 0 percent or 0.9 percent offers — and the offers to purchase extended warranties. You can arrange your own loan, of course, if the car or truck you want doesn’t have one of the low- or no-interest loans.

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