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Updated on Wednesday, November 21, 2018
As soon as you get to a dealership, the pressure is on. There are ways to reduce the stress of buying a new car (we recommend getting preapproved for an auto loan before you go), but nowadays, you don’t even have to go to a dealership at all. Dozens of car-buying websites let you complete the whole process online.
To help you choose which auto site to use, we’ve rounded up the best online car buying sites out there — whether you want to do everything online, shop around for fun or just arm yourself with knowledge.
Best car buying sites for doing everything online
From your smartphone or computer browser, these three companies let you car shop, loan shop and order a vehicle to be delivered directly to you.
On Vroom, you can both buy and sell a car completely online. Multiple photos, long descriptions and a free AutoCheck vehicle history report are on each vehicle listing. You can trade in your own vehicle without needing an appraiser, and Vroom will even buy your car without requiring you to buy one of theirs.
Pros: Vroom only sells vehicles that pass multiple inspections and have clean titles. All vehicles have a seven-day or 250-mile return period, as well as a 90-day or 6,000-mile complimentary warranty and one year of free 24/7 roadside assistance.
Cons: Vroom’s inventory is smaller than competitors, and the $499 delivery fee isn’t included in the car’s price.
Surf the Carvana website to get a car (and a car loan) delivered to your home or work address with extremely minimal interaction with another person. And if you’d like to have a “cool factor” in your car-buying experience, you might also have the option of getting your vehicle from one of Carvana’s giant car vending machines.
Pros: Carvana owns the cars it sells. The listings for each car are extensive, including 360-degree photos and a free Carfax report. Each vehicle has a seven-day return policy and a 100-day or 4,189-mile dealer warranty.
Cons: You don’t have the option to negotiate on price, and unlike peer-to-peer sites and dealerships, you can’t see or test-drive a car before you buy it. Delivery fees aren’t included and if you have a trade-in, you have to deliver it to one of their local markets.
Fair is an app that allows you to car-shop, secure car financing and trade in your old car, all online. But in a twist, you cannot actually buy a car on Fair. Instead, the site offers a middle ground between renting and leasing. Prices are generally lower than renting a car, and the terms are shorter than your typical 36-month lease.
After you download the Fair app and get prequalified, you can browse the inventory and see the monthly payments and how many miles each car has. When you choose one, you’ll drive (and pay for) that car until you don’t want it. At that point, you can turn it in and get a new one that suits you.
Your monthly payment is similar to what you would pay on a loan if you had purchased the car. The vehicles Fair lists are described on its website as “high-quality, pre-owned and certified pre-owned,” under 5 years old with less than 70,000 miles on them.
Pros: Warranty, maintenance and roadside assistance are included in your monthly price. You are not billed in advance, and pricing is prorated if you swap in a car mid-month.
Cons: Your money never goes toward building equity and owning the vehicle.
Best peer-to-peer car buying sites
These sites facilitate private used car sales and generally don’t make many assurances about their condition or value. They can be great ways to find deals, but also expose the buyer to more risk.
Remember: No matter what site you find your next used car on, always perform due diligence — have a mechanic check the car to make sure it’s not a lemon. Many states do not protect used car buyers by excluding used cars, especially privately sold used cars, from falling under their lemon law. Check out our guides to how to avoid buying a lemon car and how to navigate a used car inspection to know what red flags to look for when you check out your potential new car.
This is perhaps the most old-school car-buying website out there. Anyone can post their private vehicle for sale, and each metro area has its own sub-website so you can browse locally. There are usually a lot of options and a large price range. However, Craigslist doesn’t offer a vetting process on the vehicle or the seller. There are no seller profiles — so this site is buy- and sell-at-your-own-risk.
Pros: If you are careful and knowledgeable, you could find good deals. And if negotiating is your thing, shopping on Craigslist lets you do so to your heart’s content.
Cons: Craigslist potentially has a mix of honest sellers and people who are out to scam you, and telling the two apart can take some savvy. You can check out our guide to avoiding Craigslist car scams for more information.
This company helps buyers and sellers in the peer-to-peer auto market by doing much more than just providing a website with for-sale ads. Each car posted to Shift has a clean title and passed both a thorough mechanic inspection and a review of its vehicle history report. Each listing has professional photos and an expert description.
Shift allows you to do everything completely online if you wish. You can apply for financing through Shift and have the company handle the paperwork to transfer the title and vehicle registration. The company also can have the car delivered to you; however, if you live near one of the company’s seven California locations, you have the option to test drive a car with a Shift employee who takes the car to you and can answer any questions you may have.
Pros: Shift reduces the risk of buying from an independent seller. On the flip side, it makes being an independent seller easier, as buyers can more easily trust that the deal isn’t a scam and the car isn’t a lemon.
Cons: While you can have the car delivered anywhere in the U.S., the option to test-drive through their website service is only available at its seven California locations.
On eBay, there are two ways of buying and selling a car: a fixed-price system and an auction system. The fixed-price method lets buyers shop listings with set prices, and the first person who clicks to buy the car gets it. In the auction system, the seller posts the vehicle with a minimum price and sets a time period to accept bids. When the time is up, the person who bid the most is announced as the winning buyer.
Pros: When buying on eBay, you get a Vehicle Purchase Protection (VPP) plan included at no additional cost. This protects you against certain losses associated with fraud. To qualify, your transaction must be made through eBay (not Western Union, Moneygram, or similar services.). The vehicle also has to be less than 10 years old and listed as having a clear title.
Cons: You don’t want to place bids on more than one vehicle. If your bid wins, you are usually contractually obligated to buy it. To avoid suddenly having to buy five cars and a truck, you’ll probably only want to bid on one thing at a time — which isn’t the most efficient thing to do if you need to buy a car quickly. If you want to retract a bid or cancel a winning bid, you can fill out a bid retraction form, talk to the seller or contact eBay customer service.
Facebook allows its users to list for sale all manner of items and markets them to people in the surrounding area. Unlike on Craigslist, sellers and buyers have profiles. This site offers a way to vet a seller and buyer more thoroughly than you could through other platforms. Most people use Facebook as a social media platform and as such, their profile is tied into their social lives; you can see any of their profile information that they make publicly available by following the link from the for-sale posting.
Pros: Depending on privacy settings, you may be able to see the buyer or seller’s profile. This can help you get an idea of whether the person wants to do an honest transaction or if the seller or buyer is actually just a profile shell built by someone trying to scam you or sell stolen goods.
Cons: The Facebook Marketplace may provide a more limited pool of listings or available buyers, since most people don’t think “Facebook” when they think of selling a car. In addition, used car dealers are starting to get in on the platform by creating Facebook business pages, making it less of a pure peer-to-peer site.
Best car-buying services
If the thought of negotiating gives you the chills, but you can’t find the car you want on an online-only site, consider a car-buying service. The range of services you can get from these companies varies widely. Some give you up-front information you can use to shop confidently; others offer a full-service program that delivers the car and the contract for you to sign to your door.
Be aware that many car-buying services focus on sticker price negotiation, not total cost. Dealers make the most profit not on the price of the car, but on the financing of the car — signing you up for a loan. One of the best ways to save money in car buying is to know what loan you qualify for and negotiate on the whole deal, not only the sticker price of the car.
Based on the type of car you want, TrueCar pulls inventory matches from their network of approved dealers to show you and tells you the price people recently paid for that same car. This information is offered for free and helps users know they’re getting a fair deal on the car’s price.
The service is free to you because the dealerships pay TrueCar to be in its certified network; TrueCar makes its money by acting as a sales lead generation business.
Pros: Buyers can use TrueCar to see comprehensive pricing and communicate with certified dealers for free. The transparency of the TrueCar number helps push prices down overall.
Cons: As soon as you fill out the online form, expect multiple calls and texts from a few dealers.
Authority Auto offers more than car price negotiation help — it’s a true concierge service and offers as much or as little service as you’d like, from a free review of a final contract before you sign it to delivering a car and the contract for it to your door. Pricing is either commission-based, or potential customers can call for pricing.
Pros: There are multiple levels of service according to your needs. Authority Auto doesn’t take commissions from dealerships, so there’s less likely to be conflict of interest. Plus, some services they offer are commission-based on a percentage of what they save you, which motivates them to find you savings.
Cons: Authority Auto can take a big chunk of the money you save. If you choose to have them review your final contract before you sign it and they find savings of $4,000 or more, the total commission they take can go up to $2,000.
Run by the nonprofit company Consumers’ Checkbook, CarBargains charges $250 to collect bid prices from at least five dealers in your area on the type of car you’re looking for, making the dealers compete for your business.
Pros: Experienced people negotiate the car price for you, so you don’t have to sweat it. You won’t have to talk with salespeople or do the leg work of visiting different dealerships. Also, you’re paying directly for the service — CarBargains isn’t taking any commission from dealerships, so there’s less conflict of interest.
Cons: It’s a rather expensive service for what amounts to five phone calls and a free internet search. You could do the work yourself by researching listings and using free online guides like Kelley Blue Book or NADAguides to find the industry-standard value on what the cars are worth.
Best car-buying websites with mixed inventory
These sites pull postings of vehicles that match what you’re searching for from a multitude of other websites. These can be useful when you’re first starting your search.
If you’re not sure whether you want a new or a used car, or whether you want to get it from a dealership or another person — but you do know you want it to be red, check out CarGurus. It features new, certified pre-owned and used vehicles. It also has dealer ratings and a feature that maps you to your chosen car’s location.
Pros: Once you find a car you like, you can sign up on the CarGurus app or by email for notifications letting you know if the price drops. Their search result page is prioritized by how well the car is priced under market value (excluding the sponsored listings at the top).
Cons: You might have to scroll past sponsored listings at the top of your search results, since they may not match what you want. Vehicle history reports are summarized for free on each listing, but the full reports aren’t free.
Autotrader provides useful starting resources for car buyers, such as top 10 lists of new and used vehicles under certain price points. It’s also a search engine for used cars sold by both dealers and private sellers.
Pros: The auto research, reviews and tools are easy to understand and use. You can search by listing features, and filter search results by type of seller or whether the listing includes photos or a video.
Cons: The top results you get from each search are sponsored ads that may drastically differ from your search criteria, while on the resource page the regular car buyer may have to click around to find news that isn’t for car junkies.
AutoTempest pulls search results from major used car sites like eBay, CarSoup, CarsDirect, Oodle, Craigslist and others. You can choose to see used cars from both dealers and individuals, and you’re able to search in your local area or across the country.
Pros: Each search listing shows photos of the car, its price, mileage and location, options for a free vehicle history report and shipping quotes. It also has consumer education guides on price negotiation and how to avoid scams.
Cons: Because it pulls from so many sites, there isn’t a standard for quality of posts or any type of vetting — some leave a lot to be desired regarding information and photos.
Best websites for new car buying
While most car sites focus on used cars, there are a few that specialize in new cars. Here’s our favorite.
CarsDirect doesn’t simply pull inventory postings from dealerships in your area: it keeps up-to-date on cash rebates, so you have a better idea of the actual sales price you would pay for a car.
Pros: Besides tracking cash rebates, CarsDirect has links to news and expert reviews about the car you’re looking at, right on that car’s result page. There is also a separate section with videos, how-to-choose articles and a “versus” section that will link you to similar competitor car models.
Cons: CarsDirect may not show results from all of the dealers in your area, so be sure to look around for prices. It also doesn’t track all rebates you may be able to get on a vehicle. You won’t find rebates based on credit or profession (military, educator or student discounts) and other new-car incentives the manufacturer or local dealer may offer aren’t given. You’ll have to visit the manufacturer’s website or a dealer for information on them, which may add up to be worth more than the cash incentives CarsDirect does track.
These three companies have been around the block and have established reputations for being among the best online car buying sites.
Similar to Kelley Blue Book, the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) guide functions as a source for you to determine what a car is worth. When you’re shopping, you can look for new or used vehicles to see what models and trims are available and their prices.
Pros: You can search by vehicle type, see current cash rebates on new cars in your area or use a comparison tool to put cars side-by-side.
Cons: While you can see car prices, NADAguides doesn’t offer direct listings on their site. Once you choose a vehicle, you’re sent to another site with the actual listing. If you’re interested in a new car, NADAguides will send you to a dealership; if you’re interested in a used car, it will send you to Autotrader.
Kelley Blue Book
KBB first became famous as a guide for determining vehicle value, and now doubles as an online car buying site. It offers the slick feature of showing you inventory, prices and a vehicle’s fair market value in one place. It also has a four-star mobile app in the Google Play Store.
Pros: For each vehicle, you can see ratings from KBB experts and consumers, the car’s fair market value and the seller’s price, for easy comparison. The search filters are useful in a common-sense way; you can easily see who’s selling what for how much and how far away they are from you. If you’re selling your car, KBB also has an instant cash offer program.
Cons: Vehicle history reports aren’t free. If you click the “get a loan” button, remember still to shop around for your auto loan to make sure you get a good deal.
Edmunds is an industry website that covers all types of new and used cars with thorough car reviews, consumer ratings, market values and photos. It also has direct listings of cars for sale posted on its site.
Pros: Each listing on the result page priced below market value has an icon showing if it is a fair, good or great deal.
Cons: Like most sites with used cars, there are some scam artists who post on Edmunds — so be careful if you see a vehicle that’s priced for less than half of what it’s worth. Some vehicle listings also require that you submit personal contact information to the seller in order to see the price — we don’t recommend doing that.
Methodology: In order to be chosen as a best online website, sites generally had to be easy to navigate as well as informative, but each company also had to meet the following qualifications:
- It could not have its own brand of physical dealerships where consumers can visit and test drive vehicles.
- Operations could not be limited to one state.
- It has to sell regular consumer vehicles, not only company fleet vehicles or classic cars.