Easy. Cheap. Fast: carfinance.com puts out the goods

Mar 13, 2000

Easy. Cheap. Fast. Sound like the woman of your dreams (or man?) Think again. It's one of the slickest online finance interfaces the Web has to offer, with plenty of intuitive, truly useful realtime charts and calculators to help you make an informed decision. The first couple times I consulted this site, about two years ago, the site was annoyingly slow; and a recent visit shows things aren't moving much quicker on the page.

I had recently purchased a 1993 Dodge Stealth R/T Turbo (see my review of it!), at the typical exorbitant dealer ripoff rate, with full intentions of immediately re-financing at a reasonable rate. I was able to instantly calculate possible payment schedules and amounts, to decide what payment and term length would best suit my needs. The navigation left a little to be desired; and although it shows promise, it still gives the impression that whoever designated the button nomenclature had less than a fluent grasp of English as we know and understand it. The site is still cleanly designed and easy to read, but the navigation buttons don't lead you intuitively to the destination you seek. It's kind of a "guess that's it" game.

Although the site promised a response with an answer within 48 hours, I waited a week and heard nothing. I called the 800# for assistance, and the application was completed over the phone. From then on, it was smooth sailing. My response appeared about 24 hours later in my e-mail, letting me know my used car rate would be 8.14; not too bad ad all. My only gripe was that they would not allow me to finance for 24 months; I had to accept a longer, 36 month term. I like the higher payments with a very short repayment period; I like the feeling of knowing it's mine, free and clear. That lienless title is like finally clearing a faceful of acne; you can't help but feel better facing the world (and the road!)

I have an idea that the delayed response was part of the problem with slow-loading pages; simply overloaded servers. My visit earlier today loaded the pages slowly but steadily; however, the instant quote mechanism is flawed. It asks a few basics, such as type of financing (new or refinance), state, model year and make, and then there is a "Search" button, which I thought would have led to possible loan configurations and terms, but it does not. Instead, a cryptic "Application Error" appeared on the left side of the screen, informing me the application was "Incomplete" and "To finish, you must complete & send the final page of your application." Huh? What final page? I backed up and re-entered this several times, finally giving up, and got up to let the cat out, and at least one of his furry fellows in. When I returned to the computer, half a beer later, the mystery had finally cleared. The page had not had time to load before, in the normal time one expects. When I came back to it several minutes later, there was the prettiest little chart of payment schedules, with an easy re-calculation form. It was simple and intuitive to use; if only it were easier and more obvious to get to!

Nothing sounds so easy yet, does it? But it was, after I got to where I needed to be, and filled in the typical credit application online. When I received my affirmative response, my reply produced a re-finance packet on my doorstep by next-day air, complete with authorization forms and a pre-paid mailer in which to mail my title to the company. That part I wasn't too crazy about. A few days later, I received a call confirming the terms of the loan, which ended up just over 8 per cent, at 36 months, and scheduling an appointment for an appraiser to visit my home to inspect the car's overall condition. He arrived promptly, as scheduled, two days later. He had a general checklist he went through; it basically made sure they weren't financing a wreck; he didn't seem too knowledgeable about cars in general. He brought his girlfriend along, which I felt was unprofessional. Within days I had written confirmation, and a new payment book; with the much lower payments (albeit a slightly extended payment schedule). I saved quite a bit of money this route, nonetheless.

My loan has been resold four times in the time I have had this loan, now it is being serviced through Nationsbank. I know it goes on, but it does concern me when it gets reshuffled. I wonder if the payments during the transfer period are being credited promptly, so I don't get stuck paying extra interest on something I had no control over? You begin to lose track of which payment book is the current one.

Happy with the transaction overall, I attempted to buy a new truck through carfinance.com, which fell through, although no fault of theirs. I applied online, locked in a rate of 7.49 for a brand new truck within 12 hours, and received the check two days later; signed and ready to go to the dealer to buy a truck as a "cash" buyer. The very day I got the check, my husband called me from a payphone - our old truck had decided that this was a particularly auspicious day to spit the transmission out, clutch first. As it was worthless as it sat, with a bum transmission, we wouldn't be able to sell it as we'd planned, to cover tax, tags, and so on. So we unhappily returned the check, and fixed the old one to drive for another year.

I just bought a brand new Dodge Durango SLT Plus (see my review on that, too!), and checked the finance rates; it doesn't look like I will be refinancing that one at all, at least not through carfinance.com. The rate I got from the dealer was actually a little better than the one offered by carfinance.com this time.

I recommend carfinance.com to folks with excellent credit; I have heard a number of people complain they could not get financing through this site, but they may have had less than exemplary credit. This is a premium site for premium borrowers; sorry to sound elitist. Shop around, visit the dealer's sites for the model you are interested in. There may well be an unbeatable promotional rate offered through the factory,
or a dealer-incented financing promotion. Be sure to check your credit union's rates, and see if you can borrow against a paid-up life insurance policy at bargain rates.

If you can overlook the slowness of the site, it is an easy process, really. And the response time, except my first try, a couple years ago, was good. For new cars, it's as cheap as it will get on the open market.

Being able to walk into a dealer with a check in your pocket will give you bargaining power, and the confidence to resist the finance manager's armtwisting. Remember, it is your money, and it's their job to try to pry it out of you. Carfinance.com will help put the edge back on your side of the table, where it belongs.

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