Gone are the days when dull automotive Web sites demanded your ZIP Code in return for access to limited information about their new cars and trucks. Prices were never posted, and detailed specifications were unavailable until a local dealership was notified of your interest. Today, auto manufacturers and car-buying sites have dramatically upgraded their online services, offering the latest prices, reviews, surveys, advice, car care, links and more.
At www.autobytel.com, for instance, you can get customer testimonials, insurance quotes, delivery information, extended warranty prices, trade-in values and online vehicle appraisals. One of the leading online automotive resources, www.edmunds.com, continues to upgrade its services. Edmunds' menu includes loan and lease calculations, recalls, crash-test results, financing advice, lemon checks as well as maintenance tips. Edmunds also supplies its 800,000 pages of content to The New York Times Web site. And a new feature at www.carsdirect.com is a channel that connects you directly with a dealer of your choosing or finds local dealers for you. This is also the only site where you can compare an unlimited number of new or used cars side by side.
The most improved sites belong to the auto manufacturers. General Motors' www.gmfleet.com has new Web tools to help you acquire vehicles quickly. Organized with the busy business shopper in mind, the site links commercial customers to specialty dealers. Ford's www.lincoln.com lets you schedule a local test drive online. And at www.lexus.com, you can view a 3-D model of the all-new RX330, download product information to a Palm Pilot, or listen to Lexus press conferences live from the major auto shows.
Editor and consultant Jill Amadio has been reporting on the automotive industry for 24 years.