Ask the Mechanic: Online vs local car shopping

What you need to know:

Would you prefer buying locally or importing? Who are the renowned car dealers locally and globally for new and used cars? Which country is the best source for ‘driven abroad’ cars?

Hello Paul, through this column we have received some good advice on choosing cars. However where to get a good car is a challenge, whether based on price, availability, honesty and after sales service. Would you prefer buying locally or importing? Who are the renowned car dealers locally and globally for new and used cars? Which country is the best source for ‘driven abroad’ cars?


Hello Tony,  I am not able to tell you which online shop or local used car dealership to buy from; they are many with mixed fortunes to explore.  The options of buying a used car online or locally both have their pros and cons because buying a good used car is sometimes like winning the lottery. You must assume that someone selling their used car is to some extent running away from a problem or dislike. The best case scenario is the old car owner just wants to upgrade.

Where you are going to buy your used car can be guided by the opportunities or challenges associated with buying online or locally. Buying a used car online, for benefit of other readers, is searching and buying the car off the internet car selling platforms. While buying a used car locally is buying from a recognised franchised dealer selling dealer-approved used cars, a used car showroom and bonded warehouse or private party/individual. Buying a used car online has its advantages such as avoiding the hassle of visiting a dealership and buying the car at your convenience or click of a button. You will even avoid the sometimes irritating or nagging car sales people.

Online car purchasing may help you save some money because you avoid the local dealer’s margin. On the flip side, online car shopping does not give you the opportunity to physically inspect the car or even test drive it to confirm that it does not have hidden defects. Cutting out human contact or interaction with a car salesman during the purchase may deny you the opportunity to get a more personal explanation or attention to the car features or your buying needs. There are measures to circumvent this challenge such as detailed specifications, photos, pre shipment independent car testing or auction grade reports which can be provided by some online car marts.

However, this will depend on the online seller’s reputation and willingness to go the extra mile. Buying a car online may limit your ability to negotiate a price reduction and there is no chance of getting an enforceable warranty. Some online car sellers have established local representation to put a face to the name. This helps to give some level of comfort against fraud. The bottom line; what you see is what you buy, but sometimes may not be what you get when you buy from a fraudulent online car seller.

When buying locally, you have the option of buying an approved used car from an appointed dealership or showroom in a bonded warehouse. You most likely will be charged higher prices to cover dealer expenses and margins. There may also be a little room to negotiate with the sales people or management. However, you are more likely to be handled professionally.

All transfer of ownership and registration documentation will be prepared for you. If it is an appointed dealer, the car will most likely be dealer-approved with service history, defect report or repair of any issues it may have had. The ones in the bonded warehouses often do not have clear service or repair history.

However, you can physically inspect the car or test run its engine. That has a lot of value in that seeing, hearing or touching is believing. The challenge with used cars bought online or from bonded warehouses is that often, they are selling cars whose repair or maintenance history they also do not have.

Here, the honest or professional sellers will share the auction report and explain the grade of the used car you are buying. Service history of cars from Japan, if available (often it is not), is written in Japanese and limited to a record of oil service history. Also, the pre-shipment car testing report is often not availed to the buyers.

Bottom line

All avenues of used car shopping have their pros and cons and so do all dealers involved as they sometimes face the same challenges. Buying a used car is to some extent a gamble, you try to limit your losses by doing some due diligence to mitigate risks or choosing which of the alternatives suits you.

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