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Nearly three-quarters of new car buyers go online to get an idea of what their trade-in vehicle is worth prior to going to the dealership, and almost two-thirds of those estimates are accurate, according to a recent survey conducted for Automotive News. In other words, about half of all car buyers walk into a dealership with a rough understanding of what their car is worth.

While an expected trade-in haggle is considered a major source of pre-purchase anxiety, the new data suggests much of that tension is rooted in expectation. According to the survey, 65 percent of those who checked the value of their car online wound up getting a similar number from the dealership when they walked in.

The study looked at the customers’ experience at dealerships of various brands, but doesn’t indicate which brand of vehicle was being traded in. As a result, this is less a study of the value of cars as it is a look into customer service at dealerships of different brands.

A Honda dealership in Erie, Penn.

Interestingly, the numbers varied greatly by brand, both in terms of the percentage of shoppers evaluating pricing online, and in the accuracy of those evaluations. Luxury brands led the way, with 81 percent of Acura and Lexus buyers going online first. At the bottom end, just 63 percent of Nissan buyers did the same, and 64 percent of Kia shoppers.

Among shoppers who went online first but were offered a different price, the data doesn’t reflect any discernible trend. Just three percent of BMW evaluations differed substantially from the dealership’s offer, something that happened at 17 percent of Cadillac dealerships.

By contrast, not going online first resulted in a better overall experience for some brands, particularly Nissan and Honda, where customers were seven percent more likely to have a positive experience if they didn’t look online first. At BMW and Mercedes-Benz dealers, by contrast, there is an industry-worst 14 and 15 percent chance of an unpleasant haggling experience if the shopper doesn’t check pricing online first.

Overall, however the numbers are fairly positive. 95 percent of all Audi customers were satisfied with their trade-in value, which edged out Subaru for top honors. Cadillac, which came in last of the twenty brands included in the survey, still notched an 86 percent satisfaction rate.


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