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Autos on the Internet

By Devin D. O'Leary

OCTOBER 6, 1997:  In the last couple weeks, I've had several friends ask me for advice on buying a new mode of transportation. Winter's coming up, I guess, and everyone's worried that their rattletrap vehicle won't make it through the snowy season. While everyone knows how to drive one, and a few know how to fix them, hardly anyone I know has the slightest clue how to buy one. What is it about buying a car that terrifies us so? All it takes is a little information under your belt? So how can the old WWW help us in purchasing a new car? Naturally, there are home pages for just about every make of vehicle on the road--from Ford (www.ford.com/) to Lamborghini (www.lamborghini.com/). Most of those pages are little more than advertising, though. If you want the real dirt on motor vehicles, you've got to surf.

Edmund's Automobile Buyer's Guide (www.edmunds.com)--If you're in the market for a new (or used) car, then this is the place I'd suggest you start. If there's a more complete buyer's guide on the Internet, I haven't found it. This one doesn't muck around with any fancy-schmancy Web tricks. Nothing but text files here--every one a total lifesaver when it comes to purchasing a vehicle. There are road tests of all the newest car models, prices, buyer advice, info on getting the cheapest car insurance and reams of data on used cars--from pricing to evaluating to negotiating trade-ins. Simple and well-written, each brief article provides the car buyer with a wealth of handy info. If you're trading in your old car, for example, negotiate a price before you select your new car. That way, the dealer knows that you're smart enough to want a fair price. If you negotiate a price after selecting a new car, you've already proven you've got no loyalty to your old junker and will take any damn price. Only drawback to this site? Used car info and prices only dates back to 1987.

Kelly Blue Book (www.kbb.com/)--Now here's the guide that every bank and car dealer in America uses to price used cars. And you, lucky surfer, can access it right off the Web. Snappy little cartoon illos perk up this easy-to-use site. Say I want to check out the trade-in value of my '82 Mustang. I punch up the Price charts for Fords. I fill out a little point-and-click checklist to describe my exact model. The checklist is very detailed, right down to the engine size, accessories and my zip code (car prices fluctuate from region to region). According to Kelly, I should expect $1030 trade-in on my car. Pretty handy ammunition to have on hand when I walk into a dealer's showroom. Prices go back to 1977.

Used Car Buyer's Checklist (lyre.mit.edu/~powell/sherman/files/used_car.html)--So you're standing in the dealer's lot, scoping out his selection of used cars. How do you know what to look for? Surely there's more to this process than just kicking a couple of tires? Not to worry. Somebody has put a lot of work into this particular site, which should help you out immensely. Basically, this is a giant checklist for the used car buyer. It's divided into five main sections: Initial Questions, Interior/Exterior Checklist, Test Drive, Bill of Sale and Federal Odometer Statement. All you have to do is print out the master list and check off every question as you go over the car. What could be simpler? Follow this thing to the letter and you'll know everything--from top to bottom--about that used car you're considering.

Car and Driver: Buying Guide (www.caranddriver.com/templates/bg/)--Of course, if you've got a much bigger income than I and most of my friends do, then you may be in the market for a new car. Here's a good place to start. Car And Driver, the premiere automotive magazine, has its own Web site. In addition to the usual slavering car fetish articles, you can use the site's search engine to yank up info on just about every new car, truck and sport utility vehicle on the road. As you might expect, the info here is a little more in-depth than the casual buyer will need. C&D's concentration is on performance and technical details (lots of talk about engine torque and compression ratios). Perhaps the most useful section for a new car buyer is the magazine's Top Picks of the year. Want to know what car has the highest MPG? The lowest price? The most interior room? Car and Driver will give you the skinny.

--Devin D. O'Leary

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