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More car shoppers turn to mobile apps for their big purchase

| Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — If you're shopping for a car, your first stop may be your smartphone.

As consumers grow increasingly comfortable buying smaller items such as clothes and concert tickets from their mobile devices, some are using their smartphones and tablets for big-ticket purchases like cars.

“There's this huge upheaval in terms of mobile usage and mobile behavior,” said Jeff Birkeland, vice president of product management for High Gear Media, which publishes The Car Connection site and app. “People are looking to not only research cars but actually take action and connect to a dealer and do some business on mobile.”

Online companies are putting the car shopping experience on a mobile device, replacing the lengthy weekend trudge to dealerships with an afternoon on the couch with an iPad.

The shift to mobile, tech companies and car salespeople agree, has armed consumers with more information and resources to prepare for what is for most of us a sizable and emotional purchase. Shoppers can research their new and used car purchases before going to the dealer, and with some mobile apps, even buy a used car.

Rodney Bonachita of Daly City, Calif., did much of his car shopping on his smartphone while he prepared last year to buy a 2009 Mazda. By the time he showed up at the dealership, he said, he was ready to write a check.

“Dealing with the dealership is just a painful, painful experience,” he said. “Going there armed with information — I wouldn't do it any other way.”

With growing interest in car research apps, mobile devices are expected to become a go-to resource for 87 percent of car consumers, according to a 2012 study from Briabe, a mobile advertising company that surveyed more than 1,600 people planning to purchase a car within 12 months.

Edmunds.com, the online car-buying guide headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., said its mobile website views increased six-fold from March 2011 to March 2013, and its separate mobile app logged 14 times as many views over roughly the same time period.

“We're definitely seeing the shift to mobile,” said Stephen Gandee, vice president of mobile and personalization at Edmunds.com.

Shoppers are not using mobile only for car research — they're buying used cars on their smartphones, too.

EBay sells more than 11,000 pre-owned vehicles each week through its online auctions to shoppers using their mobile device, and traffic is so high that the company made an eBay Motors app, spokeswoman Amanda Coffee said.

The website Carvana buys cars at auctions and sells them online, sometimes in less than 20 minutes. Carvana, which is in test mode in Atlanta, uses high-definition photo technology that zooms in on any imperfections that shoppers may not notice on the lot.

“People will buy with their phones,” company director Ryan Keeton said. “We're using technology to change a very old, established industry.”

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