The online car sales market has greatly expanded over the past year or so. Manufacturers including General Motors have set up shops online, competing with companies that sell cars directly and ones that refer consumers to offline dealers.
Even auction house eBay.com has set up a section of its site to get into the car business.
"Going online is a terrific way to do auto-related research, but you can't kick the tires through your computer monitor." Finance Editor Lou Richman
Consumer Reports, a magazine published by the non-profit Consumers Union, reviewed five sites for the article -- Autobytel, AutoVantage, Autoweb, Cars.com and CarPoint -- asking a panel of 1,056 shoppers to request quotes for size different vehicles.
The testers specifically requested that the referred dealers be within 100 miles of the shopper and deliver the quotes within 48 hours.
According to the magazine, only 35 percent of buyers got price quotes back within two days, and the quotes were not always for the exact car specified. And 22 percent of shoppers were told they would have to visit the dealership to get a firm price.
Shoppers more generous
"Going online is a terrific way to do auto-related research, but you can't kick the tires through your computer monitor, and you can't slip behind the wheel with your mouse," Finance Editor Lou Richman said.
"When online shopping matures in the next few years, consumers might well prefer the Internet to showrooms, but for now the car-buyer still has to visit the dealers."
But while Consumer Reports may have been unsatisfied with the results of its surveys, shoppers were more generous, with 60 percent of those able to get a price quote saying they would consider shopping at the sites they tested.