October 12, 2000 -- Here's the good news: the 2001 automobiles are making their way into dealer showrooms around the nation. Here's the bad news: salesmen are waiting at those showrooms to pounce on you.
But fear not. Now you needn't go blindly into a car showroom with no information. You needn't rely on a commission-hungry salesman for basic details. You won't have to wait silently while the salesman "talks to his manager" before giving you a price.
Thanks to the Internet, you can get virtually every bit of data on the new vehicles you're considering before you set foot on a car lot. Want to know about the engine without having to hear a dealer's spiel? Head for the Net. Interested in optional equipment without having a salesman tout the life-saving properties of a $600 rear-view mirror? Head to the Web. Hoping to view the color palette or consider leasing deals without the high-pressure tactics that give car salesmen a bad name? Fire up your browser and surf the Net.
If buying or leasing a new car or sport-utility vehicle is in your future, then make the Internet your first stop. Armed with everything from the cost of optional whitewall tires to the available body styles, you can stand toe-to-toe with a pushy car salesman and not feel ignorant, abused, misled or unduly pressured.
Here's where to find what you want to know about this year's new models.
GENERAL MOTORS The home page (GM.com) offers one-click access to the websites of GM's best-known brands: Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, Cadillac and GMC Trucks. It also links directly to GM's independent Saturn division and to Saab, GM's Swedish affiliate. The sites vary in quality and presentation, but they all offer extensive model information, pricing and financing details, and a dealer locator. Most also offer a "build your own" feature that permits you to mix and match colors, body styles, standard equipment and optional accessories. The best part of GM's web effort is BuyPower (GMBuyPower.com). It allows you to search the lots of most GM dealers and then inspect the actual window sticker of any in-stock vehicle.
FORD The global reach of Ford (Ford.com) is evident from its home page. Besides one-click access to its familiar American brands (Ford, Lincoln and Mercury), there is equally simple access to Ford's worldwide affiliates, including Volvo, Mazda, Jaguar and Land Rover. Each brand-specific site is generally good, offering model details, pricing and leasing information, facts about accessories and a build-your-own car feature. There's a dealer locator and, for car buffs, excellent coverage of classic Mustangs and the once and future Thunderbird line.
DAIMLERCHRYSLER The 1998 merger of American Chrysler and German Daimler-Benz created DaimlerChrysler (DaimlerChrysler.com). The new international firm offers many well-known brands--Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Mercedes-Benz--but you can't tell from the home page. That's because the car links are buried on the second page. Thankfully, the vehicle sites have all the juicy details on pricing, leasing, models and accessories. The Jeep site is especially rich in off-roading heritage and links to the worldwide community of Jeep fanatics. Another bonus: a direct link to Smart, the cute, quirky, colorful little car being sold in Europe. You can't buy it here, but it sure is fun to look at it!
TOYOTA The Website (Toyota.com) of the Japanese car-making colossus is disappointing. There isn't even a direct link to its Lexus luxury division (Lexus.com). The site itself has all the basics--models, specifications, colors and the like--but you won't be able to build your own car. That's partially because Toyota sells virtually all its accessories as parts of a package rather than as separate purchases.
NISSAN The Nissan site (NissanUSA.com) features edgy design and lots of attitude, much like the Japanese manufacturer's new advertising campaign. But it doesn't link to Nissan's Infiniti luxury division (Infiniti.com). However, the site is easy enough to navigate and there are plenty of details on the models, accessories, pricing and financing and dealers. The build-your-own feature is flexible enough to help you wade through the options.
HONDA Honda's site (honda.com) is savvy enough to create direct home-page links for all the company's major products: Honda and Acura automobiles, Honda motorcycles and even Honda power equipment. All the right stuff is here--prices, models, colors, options, financial details, and dealers. It would all be perfect except for the annoying music that accompanies some pages.
Looking for a niche automobile? Volkswagen has a useful site (VW.com). So do Audi (Audi.com), Subaru (Subaru.com), Mitsubishi (MitsubishiCar.com) and Isuzu (Isuzu.com). And if price is no object, you'll also find BMW (BMWUSA.com) and Porsche (Porsche.com) on the Net.
Looking for an all-in-one site to do your car-buying homework? Try Intellichoice.com, an excellent independent resource. You'll be able to compare up to four cars side by side, matching invoice prices, accessory levels and all key specifications. There are also good roundups of manufacturer's rebates and incentives packages and nationally available leasing deals. There's even a financing calculator to help determine how much car you can afford.This column originally appeared at Mapquest.com.