Internet technology is making shopping for a car easier, and here's how: Car manufacturers are helping inform and educate their prospective customers by adding interactive information to their Web sites.

Car companies like Toyota and Mercedes use interactive 3D models to create virtual showrooms on their site, which allow the customer to configure a photo-realistic car model to the right color, upholstery, wheels, etc, and then zoom in on the details, spin the car around, open the doors and look under the hood. The customer knows what features are available, how much it will cost, and exactly what it will look like.

Gone are the days when the salesman held a green paint chip up beside a red car and asked the customer to use his or her imagination.

Because they have educated themselves at home, car buyers can walk into the dealership and make a decision much more quickly and decisively. This is also good for the dealer, who can execute the sale much more quickly to a customer already familiar with options and pricing, and move on to his next client.

Toyota, Mercedes, and several other companies use a technology called Cult3D, which can be viewed on the Internet and in computer programs like Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat. Once the consumer downloads a simple 3D plug-in, models can be viewed on any site that supports 3D. Download the viewer here (it is a small file, and will take a couple of minutes with a decent Internet connection)

A preview of the new MR2 is available here:

A simple showroom for Mercedes' exclusive G. Wagens is located here:

This interactive 3D technology is being used to market and sell everything from flower vases to power plants, and has delivered impressive results. The music retailer HMV is using this technology to promote CDs, and has seen an average 75% increase in sales.