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Car Finder: Find Your Dream Car at a Local Car Dealer

May 6, 2020

In a perfect world, this is how you would find your dream car: You log on to a website — a very easy-to-use website with big pictures, simple prompts and clear instructions. It would be a website with an intuitive, uncomplicated car finder that not only tells you all about your dream car, but it also shows you available inventory at your local car dealer — so you can actually put that dream car in your garage. Welcome to the perfect world. That’s right. It exists. Finding your dream car isn’t a dream at all. It’s real, and it is just a few clicks away with an online car finder, Technology has marched on, and there are now new online car finders, that not only allow you to create your dream car but also shows which auto dealers in your area have it in stock. All in real time. Remember, it’s the perfect world.

Online car finders are nothing new. They’ve been around now for more than two decades. Unfortunately, so has user-frustration. Too many car finders ask you to select the new car, used car, or certified pre-owned car you want, then have you spend time choosing its color and equipment, but they don’t tell you which car dealer in your area has that dream-car combo in stock. Knowing exactly what new or used car you want — but not knowing if it exists —  isn’t much help. And knowing that the car exists — but not knowing where to find it — is even worse.

Does Inventory and Deals Vary Based On Dealer?

Car dealers are independent businesses, so their inventory and their deals will vary, sometimes greatly. Some dealers stock more loaded examples, while others are known for having a large inventory of lower, more affordable trim levels. Other vehicle variations can include color, optional accessories and optional packages. Dealer can also sell that inventory for any price they choose. It’s possible to find some overlap in the inventory between one dealer and another, but if you’re looking for something very specific, it could be hard to find without the help of a car finder. For instance, one shopper looking for a white Kia Optima probably won’t have any trouble finding one at a local Kia car dealer. But another shopper looking for a white Kia Optima SX with the optional Limited Package and Interior Light Kit may have to hunt through the inventory of many car dealers to find that exact combination. The transaction price of those two sedans will also vary from dealership to dealership. Although the manufacturer’s suggested retail price or MSRP of both Optimas would be the same at all dealerships. MSRP is the sticker price, and it’s what Kia suggests the dealership charge for the car. After negotiations, however, one dealer may take less for the exact same car than another. This is called the transaction price. It’s what the buyer actually pays the car dealer for the car. There are several possible reasons and circumstances that can cause the transaction price to vary greatly from dealer to dealer. For instance, one dealer may be simply willing to let the car go for less profit than others. It’s also possible that one dealer is overstocked with a particular combination and needs to move his inventory of white Optimas to make room for the black ones that have been ordered.

How Can I Check Dealer Inventory?

 Checking any car dealer’s inventory can be accomplished in several different ways. Some are time consuming, while others can be misleading. Here are four ways to check dealer inventory.

  1. Check a third-party site: A third-party auto site is an independent information source that’s not affiliated with an automaker or dealer.
  2. Drive to the dealer: In the old days, before the internet, this is how it was done. You would actually drive to all your local car dealers, walk around car lots and see what they have in stock, hoping one of the cars in inventory matched your dream car. This is, of course, time consuming, and you’ll no doubt end up in conversations with a car salesman, which is rarely how you’d like to spend your Saturday.
  3. Check the dealer’s website: Every new-car dealer in America has a website and lists its inventory for all the world to see. Unfortunately, in many experiences, that information can be out of date; the car you see listed may not necessarily be available. Not all car finders are made equal.

Worse than that, the car and deal listed could be too good to be true — and doesn’t really exist. Its purpose is to get you engaged with the dealer, so he can sell you another car he actually has. This is called “bait and switch,” and it’s an unfortunate tactic used for decades by unscrupulous car salesman and dealers that still think it’s the 1950s. Check the manufacturer website: Most car manufacturer websites, including those for popular brands like Nissan, Hyundai and Volkswagen (VW), as well as luxury automakers like Infiniti and Genesis, allow you to see your local dealer’s inventory on their websites. But most will take you to the dealers website where you can experience the frustrations already mentioned.