Buy a Car Online

Buy a Car Online

If you're looking for a good deal on a new or used car or need a vehicle that isn't easy to find locally, the Internet can be a useful shopping resource. Several websites and services specialize in selling cars in this way. However, it's very important that you protect yourself when making large purchases online. Understanding the process of online car shopping can help you decide whether this is the best way to spend your automobile-buying dollars.

Process for Buying a Used Car Online

The process of buying a used car online is similar to other virtual purchases; however, there's a lot more at stake. Understanding how to choose a car and make a purchase can help you avoid some of the possible pitfalls you can encounter with an online purchase this big and important.

1. Know What You Want

With all the options available online, you'll have better luck finding the right car for you if you narrow down your goal. As with any car purchase, you'll need to figure out your budget and which type of car and which features are important to you. However, when buying online, it's also important to consider how far you're willing to drive to get the car and what kind of assurance you're going to need to feel good about your purchase. Will you need a return policy or a full vehicle inspection?

2. Start Browsing

One of the advantages to shopping online for cars is that you can browse the inventory without getting pressure from sales associates. Take your time, and look at what's available at different sources. Consider how the various options match up with the criteria you've determined for your used car purchase.

3. Check Multiple Sources

When you've found a car you like, start comparing prices. Look for the same model and year on other sites. If they have it, compare the two cars to see if the prices are competitive.

4. Do Your Homework

Even if you find a site offering the car of your dreams at what appears to be a great price, it's still important to check out how the car price compares to its value. Enter in the information about that car at a site like Kelley Blue Book to find out if the price is fair. If it is, you're almost ready to make an offer.

5. Get a Vehicle History Report

Before you start the process of buying a car, be sure to find out whether it has a clean title and if it has any accidents or damage in its history. Ask the seller for the car's vehicle identification number (VIN), and then visit a site like CarFax to get a vehicle history report.

6. View the Car if Possible

If you possibly can, take a look at the car in person. Test drive the car, and perform an inspection of its body and mechanics. If you can't view the car yourself, consider stipulating that the car needs to be inspected by a mechanic of your choice before you finalize the purchase.

7. Make Your Offer

Depending on whether the seller specifies that the price listed is final, you may need to negotiate for your used car. When you've settled on a price, be sure to stipulate that the sale is not final until you've received the car and decided that it meets your expectations. Never send a seller a payment if the seller can't produce a clear title.

Process for Buying a New Car Online

Although you can't actually buy a car directly from the dealer's website, due to legislation enacted to protect car manufacturers' and dealers' rights, you can still partially or completely purchase a new car on the Internet. In some cases, this means buying the car directly from a seller. Other times, you may be able to do all of your shopping and negotiation online but will still need to appear at the car dealership to sign the papers and get your vehicle.

The procedure is similar to buying a used car over the Internet, but there are a few important differences.

1. Do Your Research Ahead of Time

Just like when you're buying a used car on the Internet, you need to do your research before you really start to shop. This means reading reviews of models, but it also means deciding on what you need in a seller. Will you be satisfied buying a new car sight unseen or would you prefer to view the car yourself? What kind of reputation and service do you expect from the seller? How far are you willing to drive?

When you've decided on the car and the sales experience you want, browse the listings on new car sales sites. Find a car that fits your needs and budget, and then compare the price of that car on other sites.

2. Negotiate a Price

Negotiating a price on a new car can actually be easier over the Internet than it is in person. When you've found a car you like, look for all the dealers or sellers who are offering it. Contact each of them via email or through their respective websites. Typically, you can start your negotiations significantly below the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP). When you receive responses, mention the lowest offers to other sellers. In this way, you can play the sellers off of one another until you get the lowest price possible.

The advantage to negotiating online is that you have a record of your conversations. In addition, you'll skip over the intense pressure you may feel at the dealership.

3. Check the Facts

Although you won't need a vehicle history report for a new car from a dealer, it's still a good idea to check the facts. If you're buying from a private seller, you may still want to get a history report to be sure the odometer is accurate and the vehicle hasn't been in any accidents.

Confirm everything you know about the car with the seller in writing. This includes the mileage, year, color, features, location, price, and any other details. Clear communication can ensure that you're both on the same page. You may also want to view the car in person or have your mechanic check it over.

4. Make Your Offer

Now that you know the car you're getting is the car you really want, it's time to make you offer to the seller. Never pay money for the car until you're ready to drive away with it, especially when you're purchasing a new car over the Internet.

Finalizing the Purchase of a New or Used Car Online

Now that you've agreed on a price, it's time to complete the sale.

1. Decide on Pick-Up Conditions

In most cases, the buyer is responsible for picking up the new or used vehicle from the seller. This means you'll need to book a one-way plane ticket, arrange a ride to the car's location, or rent a car to get there. If the seller offers to deliver the car to you, be cautious. This circumstance will often require you to finalize the sale without seeing the vehicle, and you may be responsible for delivery charges. If the seller can provide the details about the car in writing, including the VIN, mileage, price, delivery fees, and other information, this option may be worth considering.

2. Inspect the Car Before Signing

Always view the car in person before you pay any money for it. Usually, the car will be everything you expect, but it's important to confirm that it is indeed the car you've been discussing with the seller. Ask the following questions:

  • Is the VIN the same?
  • Does the car have the specified mileage?
  • Does the vehicle have all the features and options the seller specified?
  • Is there any damage to the interior or exterior of the car that was not noted by the seller?

3. Pay for the Car

The very last step in the process is paying for your new or used vehicle. If everything meets your expectations and you're ready for the car to be yours, it's time to get out your checkbook. If you've followed the process properly, you'll drive away in your new car feeling satisfied that you got a great deal on a good vehicle.

Resources for Buying Cars Online

There are two main ways that websites can help car shoppers hoping to buy online. Sites can offer a service that connects sellers and buyers, or the sites can actually be the sellers. Provided you do your homework about the service you're using and practice smart consumer safety procedures, you can have good luck finding your next new or used car with either of these methods.

Auto Trader

Long known for its printed booklets full of used car classified ads, AutoTrader is now online. You can filter used car results by your zip code, allowing you to find nearby cars for sale, or you can search based on other important criteria like make, mileage, and year. This site also provides tools for assessing a car's value and determining whether you're getting a good deal.

Auto Trader is a little more difficult to use if you're buying a new car. You can build and price a vehicle, but to actually shop, you'll need to input your zip code. Then the site will connect you with regular car dealers in your area.

eBay Motors

eBay Motors connects sellers and buyers around the world. You can search in a specific location or focus on a keyword that's important to you. You can also search for a year, make, or model you have in mind. Auction sellers like eBay do have arbitration available to both buyers and sellers, so keep that in mind if things go wrong.

eBay is one of the only sites on the Internet where you can directly purchase a new vehicle. To find new cars, search for the current model year and limit the mileage as you desire. Be sure to read the fine print to make sure the car you're considering is actually brand new.

If you know how far you're willing to travel for a specific car, you can use the area search feature on to find the vehicle you want. You'll see listings from dealerships and individual sellers, and you can use the tools provided to determine a fair offer for the car.

For new cars, you can use the build and price feature, or you can check dealer inventory within a specified radius from your home. Each dealer listing includes the dealer's email address, so you can complete your negotiations online.


CarMax specializes in buying used cars, inspecting and reconditioning them, and then selling them to consumers. They offer financing, no-pressure sales consultants, set pricing, and a 5-day return policy. In addition, they provide a free history report for the vehicle and guarantee that it has a clean title.

You can also buy new cars at CarMax, and you'll get a no-haggle price on the models that interest you. CarMax has new car inventory from seven major brands, including Dodge, Toyota, and Nissan. You can shop by price, features, location, model, and many other factors. offers a handy search feature that allows you to find nearby vehicles from a variety of sources. You input your zip code and the car you're looking for, and the site provides you with an exhaustive list of options, including dealerships and individuals.

This site does not sell new cars.

Online Car Buying Tips

Keep these tips in mind as you search for and purchase your next used vehicle:

  • The term "let the buyer beware" applies when you buy a car on the Internet. Before you buy, call the Better Business Bureau in your area and see if the auto website or dealership has any complaints. If not, ask the sellers on these sites to send you all the information they have about the vehicle, including a copy of the title, completed repairs, and needed repairs.
  • If something feels off about the transaction, simply walk away. There are lots of cars for sale online, and you can find another one from a seller you trust.
  • Many dealerships offer new and used cars for sale online. When purchasing a pre-owned vehicle from a dealership, try not to pay more than $500 over the dealer's invoice price. Ask the dealership representative if he or she can fax or email you the invoice so you can see the dealer's true cost. Also, ask for a complimentary CarFax report.
  • Know the seller. If it's a dealership, find out their online reputation through prior customers and the Better Business Bureau. If it's an eBay seller, what is their eBay rating? If it's an individual, ask for personal references and a CarFax report.
  • Pay attention to the vehicle condition. How many miles does it have? Is the body in good shape? What about the interior? As lots of questions, and examine photos carefully.
  • If the vehicle's price sounds too good to be true, it probably is. You may want to choose another.
  • Buy an extended warranty if you can afford one. You can obtain an extended warranty from any dealership, no matter what used car you buy, or from places like Warranty Direct.

Do Your Homework

As with all things involved with car buying, doing your research can save you a lot of money when you shop for cars online. Finding and buying new and used cars on the Internet is easier than ever these days if you do your homework and use strategic car buying skills.

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