Car dealer sites suck Ryan 08 Nov 2005

53 comments Latest by Paul

When’s the last time you’ve seen a good car dealer site? Not a car company, but a car dealer.

53 comments (comments are closed)

Eddie 08 Nov 05

When’s the last time you’ve seen a good car dealer? (period… err question mark)

Anonymous Coward 08 Nov 05

I guess fictional car dealers don’t count?

J. 08 Nov 05

I was just contracted to integrate a User Car CMS system into 20 dealer sites, and i tell you it hasn’t been fun.

LB 08 Nov 05

It really depends what you want. As a car buyer, I only want 3 things - photos, description and price.

Here in the UK, I must say most dealers do quite well. However, most use Autotrader’s services (

The only time I get frustrated with a dealer is when either they use stock photos, or no stock list at all.

Dan Boland 08 Nov 05

My dealership is Arlington Toyota up in Buffalo Grove (long story on how I ended up at one so far away from Chicago). One time I needed to set up an appointment, so in a fit of laziness, I went to their website and filled out their web form. Well, a few days went by and I didn’t hear back from them, so I called them on the phone (chalking up the unfamiliar area code to one I hadn’t heard of yet… I had only lived in Chicago for about a year at the time). During this conversation, I realized that I had set up an appointment with the Arlington Toyota in Jacksonville, FL. I felt like an idiot.

So in conclusion, car dealership sites suck because they don’t seem to realize that there is such a thing as two businesses having the same name.

Josh Williams 08 Nov 05

They don’t exist.

Will 08 Nov 05

The problem with car dealership sites (in my opinion) is that they’re overestimating their importance.

Consumers don’t browse dealer sites for information on new car purchases. They go to the manufacturer’s site directly because it has the best photos, the latest information, the most recent models.

But almost every dealership site pushes car sales to the forfront when I have to imagine the majority of people browsing their sites are looking for service and support for the vehicle they already have.

So as a user of the site, current owners have to wade through a sea of sales and promotions to get to the service department and customer support.

Kenneth Bowen 08 Nov 05

I actually gave up buying a new car this year because car dealers not only suck in general, but they don’t ‘get’ the Internet. Their web sites do not show current inventory, and, I dare you to try and email the so-called “Internet manager” for a price quote.

After four our five emails refusing to give me a price, and urging me to come in person for “the best deal,” I told them all to bugger off. I’m keeping my old Honda.

Yes, it is their loss; I have cash to spend and I’ll be damned if they can have it.

Will 08 Nov 05

Kenneth, it’s not so much that they don’t “get” the internet, it’s that old habits die hard and salesmen who have been trained to avoid giving specific pricing or inventory out over the phone certainly aren’t going to start being honest about it online either.

Mark 08 Nov 05

Oops, that should be www.

Don Wilson 08 Nov 05

Yay for copy+pasting everywhere -

Chris Griffin 08 Nov 05

Because car dealerships as a whole can’t let go of old-school marketing (loud ass flashing commercials with people screaming at you) and get into the new school marketing (websites).

The don’t see the value or power of having a website, they only get one because that’s what everybody else is doing.

I also think it has to do with the demographics, I think car dealerships think people who buy certain cars are idiots so they put up the flashing prices and they scream it at you. You don’t see that in a commercial for an Audi, Mercedes-Benz, or Lexus. That would turn off their demographic.

My former step-dad happens to be an internet sales manager at a Ford dealership and I saw their web app they used to manage it. Wow, seriously needs an overhaul and it only works in IE. But there are alot of cool things in it. For example, it emails previous customers on their b-day to wish them a happy b-day.

But that’s just a marketing ploy to keep the ford dealership in the back of their mind so that person would recommend anyone who asks and so they’ll return when they want a new car because they are SO nice.

Carl Youngblood 08 Nov 05

Actually, almost every small business site I’ve ever seen sucks. Even a lot of large businesses.

carey 08 Nov 05

like many have already said, it is an antiquated marketing philosophy at the core, but it is slowly turning. Even the OEMs recognize the success that good dealers who get the Internet are having vs. average ones. Those who are quoting prices in emails and showing visibility to inventory are crushing others in their geographic areas. The OEMs still do not have great data integration with dealers, though, so passing a lead down to a dealer is generally ineffective. A lot of people are working on this, though, as it is a huge opportunity, and it is really not that hard technically.

Bob 08 Nov 05

As the web developer for, I’ve had to visit a LOT of dealership sites across the country, and by and large, they’re the pits. There seems to be three, maybe four, companies who “build” the sites for the dealers (read: throw dealership content into a template) and charge them a monthly maintenance fee. The dealerships don’t care —- they’re too busy to keep up with that mess.

Christopher Hawkins 08 Nov 05

“The don�t see the value or power of having a website, they only get one because that�s what everybody else is doing.”

This isn’t limited to car dealerships. Sadly, I suspect that MOST businesses that have a web site built only do it because that’s what everybody else is doing.

Ryan 08 Nov 05

I’ve thought that is a pretty good car dealer website.

Aaron 08 Nov 05

I have a little bit of a different take - I think that a lot of car dealerships actually make their commercials/sites cheesy and terrible on purpose because it leads the consumer to think that they are lower priced and more willing to bargain or negotiate.

After all, the product is the same no matter which dealership you go to, so do you think you can negotiate yourself a better deal at Super Professional Acme Cars, Inc., or Steve’s Toyota?

Matt Round 09 Nov 05

This post made me smile, as there was a time when I was almost exclusively working on sites for car dealerships.

I encountered some good people, so I don’t want to tar everyone with the same brush, but dealership groups were usually clueless clients. They mostly wanted nasty splash pages, animated logos, sound effects, etc., and weren’t interested in trying to provide useful content with good design. The results tended to look cheap and nasty, matching the negative stereotypes people have about car sales.
Perhaps I could’ve done a better job of trying to educate them, but they were usually somewhat arrogant and aggressive.

Adam C 09 Nov 05

A lot of dealership websites are also off the rack software. I’d like to see a good, affordable package that runs a cleanly designed website that’s easy to use. I do website design for a small dealership (~10 cars on the lot) and my programming just isn’t up to task, so I simply lay out the pages by hand. I’m constantly wondering if there’s a better way.

It’s really no different from design itself. Web designers need to help educate certain customers/clients and make good, easy to use design desirable. Most businesses work with what’s given to them, especially small businesses who don’t have a ton of time to research these things.

Ed Byrne 09 Nov 05

I think it’s a pity that in this age of ‘massclusivity’ car dealers don’t take a leaf out of Dell’s book of ‘customisation’. Aside from used cars, you generally have to order and wait for a new car - so why not allow you to order and customise everything about it on-line?

Warren Black 09 Nov 05

We recently built this one (, as an attempt to break ‘the norm’ - the client wanted something ‘simple, and slick’ with as few pages as possible.

But it is Flash - so I guess it’s evil (at least round these parts). :)

Rob Landry 09 Nov 05

My experience has been that car dealers are notoriously cheap - ironic since they’re trying to wring every last cent out of you on the sales floor. So they don’t want to spend a penny on their Web sites unless they have to. It doesn’t help that the dealers I’ve come in contact with certainly don’t “get” the Web.

They certainly don’t care about “ease-of-use”…it’s all about the sale (w/minimum amount of effort). I suspect they’ll never come around to understanding “long-run” bennies of usability versus “short-run” get-it-done-now-cheap.

Sean 09 Nov 05

My dealer’s site is pretty terrible. You’re first given 3 bandwidth options:

2 options go to the same page. All of the options auto-play audio that reads off the scrolling marquee.

I think the high-bandwidth auto-plays video. All options are overloaded with graphics. What’s the point? If you’re offering a low-bandwidth site, then cut down on some of the bells and whistles!

Jens Meiert 09 Nov 05

Well, the quality of car dealer sites doesn’t significantly differ from other sites.

Gregory Heller 09 Nov 05

I would actually say that car manufacturer sites suck. Lots of flash, and complex navigation, and you often can get a uri for a page on a car so that you can send it to your friend, or spouse or just save it in a bookmark for yourself.

Ward Seward 09 Nov 05

So all you guys are saying that the sites “suck”, but very few of you are explaining what you think sucks about them. Let’s make this conversation a little more constructive…

What are you judging these sites on?

What are you trying to get out of these sites that you are not getting (as a car shopper)?

That’s just a couple questions to get the ball rolling. Feel free to add any explanations you want. I’d love to get more insight on what makes these sites “suck”.

Max 09 Nov 05

I agree with Rabbit.

Carmax website is good. I actually bought a car from them, 90% of the deal online.

Michael Spina 09 Nov 05

I think that a lot of car dealerships actually make their commercials/sites cheesy and terrible on purpose because it leads the consumer to think that they are lower priced and more willing to bargain or negotiate.

If that’s the case, they have a thing or two to learn from Low style, but high on functionality. If user car dealer sites could be as useful as that they might actually increase their sales.

Benjy 09 Nov 05

There are a couple of problems with car dealership web sites:

1) they contract out to companies who “specialize” in dealership site design, who give them generic template sites and leave the dealerships without anyone on the inside who really has any idea how to edit, update, etc. the site on a regular basis.

2) The dealers try the same tactics they use in the dealership rather than being upfront. They show their inventory but list the price as something like “Call XXX Today!”

3) They don’t have somebody who takes the time to actually answer email questions. Not long after I bought my Passat used from a dealer, I emailed them to find out pricing on a part. I get back an email about how I’m sure to find the car I’m looking for if i come in and ask to speak to xxx. I respond back and say I asked about a part — whether they carry it and the price. I get another response saying he didn’t know what that was. Finally, after 4 or 5 emails back and forth, I get the answer I’m looking for.

richard 09 Nov 05

In my experience with local car dealership websites, the website isn’t there to sell you a car… It’s just there to get you to see something you like and come in so they can try to hard-sell you something off the lot.

The cars I found online never had pricing, you always had to “call the manager”. What’s the point of going to your website at all if I have to get on the telephone anyway? Then I’d find that the car wasn’t even being sold anymore…but of course they had a bunch of other ones to sell me. Ugh.

stephen 09 Nov 05


recognized this one as being created with cobalt group’s “nitra” platform product and, as much as i hate to admit it in this context, i helped create that monster back in 2001-02. (i was one of many lowly ui developers)

anyways, it’s a good example for our purposes.

it’s good in that, it’s “feature rich” (this site isn’t even using all the available bells and whistles) and they actually work. pretty much a “complete” dealership in a browser, just as it was designed to be.

of course, that’s also the problem with the thing as well. it was designed to look good to dealers and thus convince them that they needed to spend big money on it, but do car buyers actually needs all that? …well, no.

the vast majority of car buyers really just need to know what cars are in stock (or perhap what the dealer can get) and what they cost. on the other end of the browser, buyers need someone knowledgeable and willing to answer questions.

anythign else is largely and most likely will not be used. i mean, are you really going to let a quiz on the dealer’s site be the decision as to whether you buy or lease?

so, while i think the dealer website has cerntainly come a long way technologically, the biggest problem with dealer sites is that the dealers’ online sales process is still stuck in 1998-style thinking. (“hey, what we need is one of them, uhh, ‘portals’ -yeah that’s it!)

Anonymous Coward 10 Nov 05 (linked from the dealer’s site) don’t know if this counts though.

Gives you access to your service history, recalls, etc. Even lets me update my millage (even says user modified).

My first experiance with subaru and my best (wrx sti, one of the first 300 in US)

G. 11 Nov 05

I have worked for a few dealers, all who wanted to “get on the web” , all of who didn’t have a clue on how to do it…right. As has been stated above, the problems derive from two main problems…being cheap and having an antiquated marketing plan aimed at a 1950’s consumer. On new cars, I can understand the desire to not email a direct price. As a consumer, you should understand that even if you get someone to do that, it is going to be a price that covers their ass in all scenarios. What the dealer should do is respond and quickly. The point of the conversation from the dealers perspective should be to set the appointment. After that, antiquated negotiating tactic should be throw out the door and direct answers to questions involving price should be given…face to face. There are dealers (few and far between) out there operating like they are in the 21st century. I don’t suggest dealing with them if you are looking for the best price because they will sell you right and you will end up so happy with the experience you will have paid more and not realized it. If you want the best price go beat up on one of the ones that hasn’t woken up yet. You will get it….

G. 11 Nov 05

Oh yea…this is a great site…

G. 11 Nov 05

Damn I can’t remember to get it all it….just for perspective, the Herb Chambers dealers did 1.2 Billion in sales last year.

Michael Nolan 11 Nov 05

Even though it doesn’t look great, my dealership’s site (Paul Harvey Ford in Indianapolis) is very functional. It serves my purposes beautifully. It’s easy to make a service appointment and they call you back within an hour or two to confirm it. If you enter your mileage and vehicle information they tell you what service needs to be done at different intervals. They also list inventory of vehicles on hand. The site does all I want it to do.

This is a great dealership in general. It seems when you get how to do business, you probably get how to do business on the web. Even though I don’t live in Indianapolis anymore, I still go there for service when I can.

Paul 12 Nov 05

Ward Steward wanted specifics as to why dealers sites suck. Here’s one example: David says his dealers site is pretty good. I challenge anyone to find the dealership’s hours on this site! One of the most important items customers are looking for, and it’s buried under INFORMATION > DIRECTIONS. If you DO happen to stumble across the hours, the first thing at the top of the page is the word DIRECTIONS. Then a long list of different department’s hours, THEN a map! Doesn’t anyone at this website design company think that HOURS should have a section of it’s own?