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Updated on Friday, February 26, 2021
If silver linings are to be found in the coronavirus pandemic, the fact that more consumers can skip the dealer and buy a car online might be one of them. In fact, there are so many car-buying sites, the difficult part is picking one. We started with websites that offer a completely digital experience before diving into sites that allow you to research and buy but might require at least a curbside trip to finish the deal.
Sellers, we didn’t forget you. There are many websites where you can sell your car online, free or for a nominal fee.
- Best all-online car-buying sites
- Best car-selling websites
- Best websites for new cars
- Best used car-buying websites
- Best car-buying sites when you can’t decide
- Best car-buying sites: industry standards
Best all-online car-buying sites
Many websites can help you find a car, but these sites make it possible to choose a car, finance it and have it delivered, all without shaking hands with a salesperson or sitting in a dealership. Convenience has a possible downside: A no-haggle deal doesn’t necessarily guarantee the lowest price or interest rate. Plus, you won’t find any new cars here — used cars only.
CarMax lets you buy a used car without haggling or even leaving your sofa. CarMax performs 125-plus point inspections on the vehicles it sells and includes a limited warranty that covers major systems for 90 days or 4,000 miles. Home delivery is available within 60 miles of most of its 220 stores but not all. There’s no fee for home delivery, but you might have to pay to have the car you want sent to your local store. Returns are possible up to 30 days/1,500 miles.
Like CarMax, Carvana lets you buy a used car completely online. The biggest difference is that you could visit a CarMax store and test-drive a car while Carvana shopping is only online. You could change your mind after picking up your vehicle from one of Carvana’s car vending machines or after it’s delivered to your home or work — returns are permitted up to seven days. Carvana and CarMax will buy your old car, even if you decide not to buy one of theirs. Delivery is free on some Carvana cars while others have a refundable fee between $190 and $590.
Vroom works much like CarMax and Carvana except you’ll pay a $599 shipping fee to receive your car. Like the others, Vroom partners with multiple lenders to offer you financing, though all three allow you to use your own financing. It’s always a good idea to get quotes from multiple lenders — if Vroom can beat it, you’ll know you’re getting the best deal for you. If you change your mind, Vroom allows seven-day returns. Each car comes with a 90-day warranty plus one year of roadside assistance, something you’ll have to pay extra for at CarMax. Carvana provides roadside assistance with its 100-day limited warranty.
Can you buy a new car online? New cars are generally sold by franchised dealerships which have long allowed online shopping but kept financing discussions face-to-face. That’s changing. Toyota allows customers in certain markets to use its SmartPath technology to buy its cars without ever entering a showroom.
Best car-selling websites
If you want the best price possible for the car you’re selling, check out these sites. Most require you to meet buyers and do the paperwork, and none guarantee your car will sell. However, you could pocket larger profits selling a car on your own versus trading it in to the dealer.
Bring a Trailer
Consider selling your classic or rare car on Bring a Trailer (BaT), where auction specialists will evaluate your submission and decide if it meets their standards. If your car makes the cut, it goes up for auction. This potentially means a higher selling price, but you’ll pay a higher fee than other services on this list — $99 and up. The buyer pays for shipping, but it’s up to buyer and seller to work out the method of payment. BaT recommends a wire transfer.
Craigslist may not have the most sophisticated user interface, but it’s still where many people go first to buy or sell a vehicle. Potential buyers can search by price, make, model year or miles on the odometer. Craigslist charges $5 per vehicle post. You’ll most likely do more work with Craigslist, including meeting with buyers and arranging for payment and title transfer. You can’t view a buyer’s profile before you agree to meet, so follow a few safety tips — many city police departments provide safe spaces for Craigslist meetups.
Buyers go to eBay to bid on almost anything, including cars. They can even apply for financing through eBay Motors and receive shipping quotes there, too, saving you some hassle. Keep in mind that you’ll be competing with dealers which may make it difficult for your listing to stand out. Fees start at $25.
If you use Facebook, you’ve probably seen Facebook Marketplace items on your feed. It’s a quick way to put your vehicle up for sale, too, from your phone. You and the buyer can see each other’s profiles before you decide to do business. Dealerships are here, too, but depending on your area, you may see more private sellers. It’s also the only free place on our list to sell a car online but like Craigslist, you’ll have to handle all buyer questions, financing and title paperwork.
Best websites for new cars
These sites can save you the hassle of going from one dealership website to another, looking for a new car. Be aware they may not show all your local options.
You can search for new (and used) cars online at CarsDirect, where you’ll find listings plus news and reviews. CarsDirect is especially good at tracking rebates and 0% APR deals on new cars you might want to buy. This is a site that’s suited for those who aren’t sure what car they want — you could sort by crossover SUVs, for example, and see side-by-side models with prices and links to staff reviews. When you’re ready to get quotes, you’ll fill out an online form that dealers in your area will use to contact you. It’s possible to line up financing through CarsDirect but be sure to compare its quotes with your own research of the best auto loans for you.
If you don’t like to haggle, but want to know if you’re getting a fair deal on the price of a new or used car, consider TrueCar. The site shows you what other buyers paid for certain makes and models in your area. That’s why TrueCar is best for those who have a good idea of the particular new car they want. Enter its exact details down to the type of transmission, paint preferences and more, and TrueCar shows a market average as well as its TruePrice. You’ll need to register to see the latter and receive offers from dealers in your area. TrueCar partners with companies such as Sam’s Club and American Express — if you’re a member or card holder, you may be eligible for further discounts.
Best used car-buying websites
You can find used cars at plenty of websites, including the sites above, but see AutoTempest and Shift first.
AutoTempest pulls information from dealership websites and private listings and presents them with the vehicle price, mileage, and location clearly marked. Instead of going to Craigslist, eBay, Facebook Marketplace and other sites yourself, see the results in one place on AutoTempest. Just want to see listings from private sellers? Filter results accordingly, sorting by location, body style and more. Like shopping for airline tickets, you could use Auto Tempest’s compare feature to conduct the same search on competitor pages.
If you’d like to buy from a private party, but you’re skeptical of yard signs or Craigslist ads and Facebook listings, Shift can help. Shift is a safety net between buyers and private party sellers. It inspects each car, and provides photos and detailed descriptions. All of its inventory comes from individuals, not auctions. You can find, finance, and set up delivery of a car online. There’s one significant downside: It’s only possible to test-drive a Shift car in California or Oregon. However, you can buy a car elsewhere and have it delivered. You can also sell your car to Shift if you live in Austin, Dallas or Fresno, Texas.
Best car-buying sites when you can’t decide
These sites might be a good bet if you want to see new and used cars, all in the same place, as long as you’re not easily overwhelmed. They can also help you decide what you want, or compare new and used prices.
Autotrader started as a print classified ad publication for vehicles but became one of the earliest national online shopping sites. Today, dealers and private sellers pay to list their new and used cars on Autotrader. That name recognition can be an advantage for buyers, pulling in millions of listings. Because it’s owned by Cox Automotive, owner of Kelley Blue Book (KBB) — more on it in a second — Autotrader can compare a car’s listing price to its KBB value, letting users know what is a “great” or just a “good” price.
CarGurus devised its own algorithm to label deals great, good, fair, high or overpriced based on a combination of current and previous car listings in your area plus dealer reputation. Save listings you’re interested in and receive alerts when prices drop. Listings of new, used and certified pre-owned may be sorted in multiple ways including the usual: make, model and color, but also dealer rating, National Highway Traffic Safety (NHTS) ratings, recent price drops and more.
Best car-buying sites: Industry standards
You may know KBB, Edmunds and the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) as heavyweight industry experts on vehicle values. All three also offer marketplaces for buying vehicles. They do not sell cars directly themselves.
Edmunds is a trusted site for expert car reviews and car values. Its car comparison tool helps you easily compare new and used cars from dealers by consumer ratings, fuel economy, reliability and more. But you won’t find private party listings here. Like other sites on this list, Edmunds has its own ratings for what are great, good or fair prices. A nifty feature is being able to sort deals by your desired monthly payment. Not sure what that number is? Use our affordability calculator.
Car buyers have trusted Kelley Blue Book for new and used car information for decades, back to when it published actual sets of blue books of car values. Now, you can use its website to research cars using its expert reviews and valuation tools and shop for new or used cars from dealers. KBB also buys cars — get a cash offer online then drop your vehicle at one of KBB’s partner dealers.
The National Automobile Dealers Association, or NADA, offers consumers a way to find their vehicle’s value as well as dealers, banks, auto insurance providers and others. NADAguides is its home for new and used car shopping as well as a place to find research powered by its parent company, J.D. Power.