Should you buy a car online or at a dealership? |
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Buying a car online vs. in-person

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Find out if driving to the dealership or surfing the web is right for you.

Part of buying a new car is deciding where to shop. Though many resign to visiting a dealership to work with salespeople and test drive potential cars, online car marketplaces are another popular way to buy your next car. Both have benefits and drawbacks, and depending on your buying style, you might find one that works better for you.

Buying a car online vs. at a dealership

The biggest difference between buying a car online versus going to the dealership is the shopping experience. You still need to test drive the car and negotiate your price.

When both make sense

The differences between shopping for a car online versus in-person balance out. You may find the best option is using both methods: Take the time to compare cars and financing online, then visit a dealership with an exact plan to face a sales pitches with confidence.

Where can I buy a car online?

The benefits of shopping online can vary based on the website you’re using. Each one is different, and one might suit your needs more than another. Here are some sites you can visit to start your comparisons.

  • TrueCar. TrueCar lists prices others have paid for similar cars so customers know you’re getting a fair price for your next vehicle.
  • works with thousands of dealers to give you an easy way to find the car you want when you’re ready.
  • Carvana. Carvana not only allows users to inspect the car with a photo model, but also have access to a free history report before you buy.

There are plenty of other websites geared to help you buy a new or used cars. You can buy directly from a brand’s website or visit sites like eBay and Craigslist to find private sales. Take your time browsing online offers so you can find the best deal around.

Online financing vs. dealership financing

Getting a loan through a dealership involves less work but you can typically get your funding in less time.

Compare a range of car loans you can apply for online

Rates last updated December 12th, 2018

Reveal your potential loan offers and rates

Answer two quick questions to filter the loan offers and get the best one for you.

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Unfortunately, none of the personal loan providers offer loans for that credit score. If you are in urgent need of a small loan, you might want to consider a short term loan.
Name Product Product Description Min. Credit Score Term of Loan Requirements Car Loans
Apply with a simple online application to get paired with a local auto lender. No credit and bad credit accepted.
Varies by lender
Must be a US citizen with a current US address and employed full-time or have guaranteed fixed income.
Auto Credit Express Car Loans
Get connected with an auto lender near you, even if you have bad credit.
Typically 3 to 6 years
Must be employed full-time or have guaranteed fixed income of at least $1,500/month and be a current resident of the US or Canada.
LightStream Auto Loans
Quick car loans from $5,000 to $100,000 with competitive rates for borrowers with strong credit.
Good to excellent credit
Flexible terms
Good or excellent credit, enough income or assets to afford a new loan, US citizen or permanent resident, 18+ years old
RateGenius Auto Loan Refinance
Connect with a network of over 150 lenders to refinance your car loan.
Income of $2,000+/month, vehicle has less than 150,000 miles and is no older than 8 years, loan balance is between $10,000 and $100,000, debt-to-income ratio is less than 50%
LendingClub Auto Refinancing
Lower your monthly car payments and save on interest through a fast and easy online application process.
Fair or better credit
Minimum of 2 years
Car must be less than 10 years old with fewer than 120,000 miles. Current loan must have a balance between $5,000 and $55,000 and at least 24 months left in its term.
MotoRefi Car Loan Refinancing
A car loan connection service for borrowers looking to refinance.
1–6 years
Must have an income of at least $2,000/month and have a vehicle with less than 100,000 miles.
LendingTree Auto Loans
Compare multiple financing options for auto refinance, new car purchase, used car purchase and lease buy out.
Good to excellent credit
Typically 1 to 7 years
Must be a US citizen and 18+ years old. Must have good to excellent credit.

Compare up to 4 providers

Benefits and drawbacks of each option

  • Take your time. You can do your research at your own pace without the pressure of a dealership trying to get you to buy.
  • Compare prices. You can get prequalified or preapproved for multiple offers on the same make and model. This saves time if you do decide to vist a dealership.
  • Avoid professional hagglers. Most people online aren’t professional salespeople and aren’t after a huge profit.
  • It takes longer. You’ll have to message back and forth with the seller and set a meeting time, which could take days or weeks.
  • No background checks. Most online sellers don’t go out of their way to make sure the car is functional. You’ll have to visit a mechanic yourself to make sure you aren’t buying a lemon.
  • Comparisons may not be accurate. It’s hard to tell what condition a car is in based on a picture and short description.
  • Extra features. Dealers often offer a wide range of extra features that you can have installed on the lot.
  • Quick answers. Car salespeople are experts in their business and can answer most questions immediately.
  • Dealership financing. Dealers have financing options that you can apply for when you get your car.
  • Overpriced and unnecessary options. Dealership extras could be unnecessary or a lot cheaper to get elsewhere.
  • Limited time to compare. A salesperson wants to make a sale as quickly as possible. If you haven’t done your research ahead of time, you may feel pressured to make a decision before you’re ready.
  • High-pressure sales. If you can’t handle sales tactics, you might walk away with something you don’t want.

Bottom line

There are benefits buying your car online or at a dealership. The easiest way to find a good deal is to compare both and keep your options open. Trying to find a median between the two should help negate some of the drawbacks.

Looking for a place to start? Read over our guide to car loans. to equip yourself with the knowledge you need to find the right financing.

Frequently asked questions

Image source: Shutterstock

Elizabeth Barry

Elizabeth is an editor for specialising in personal finance and fintech. She enjoys reading PDSs so you don’t have to.

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