Editor's choice: Carvana
- Most credit types welcome
- 45-day preapproval
- Seven-day guarantee
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Used to be your only option to buy a car was walking into a dealership. Now you can also complete the whole process online. Dealerships still have the benefit of allowing you more space to negotiate both the price and terms of financing. But you’ll be able to browse more options if you shop online — including cars from private sellers.
|Cost||MSRP with the option for a discount||MSRP with the option to negotiate it down|
|Turnaround time||A few minutes to an hour||At least an hour|
|How it works||Test drive your car elsewhere and browse different sellers online. Call or email to request a price and follow the instructions to buy your car. You can have it delivered or pick it up from the seller.||Compare cars at the dealership, test drive the car you’re interested in and negotiate with the salesperson. Drive it home that day or have it delivered.|
Which option is cheaper really depends on your negotiating chops. At a dealership you can negotiate it down the traditional way. Online, you can get a discount by finding deal by coordinating with an online salesperson, who are often more likely to give you a quote right away and offer fixed discounts.
Buying a car online is often faster. While you might be able to drive away the car from the dealership the same day, it typically takes at least an hour to get a deal. Negotiating at a dealership is more of a performance and there can be a lot of back and forth between the salesperson and their manager. That’s less the case with an online salespeople.
The main difference between online and dealership financing is that you potentially buy a car from a private party if you find your car through a site like Craigslist, opening you up to private party financing from a lender. Buy-here pay-here dealers for bad credit borrowers are more common at dealerships. Both are generally more expensive than both car loan options.
The one drawback of getting a car online is that you don’t get to take the car for a test drive — you’ll have to do that before. When you visit the dealership, you can test drive the car there. However, you wont have to spend as much effort negotiating with a dealership.
Depending on who you buy from online, you can go and pick up the car at the sellers’ discretion or have it delivered to your home. Through a dealership, you could potentially drive it home that day.
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.
Buying your next car at a dealership may be efficient and let you ask all your questions, but you could get a better deal if you’ve done your research before showing up. By shopping for a car online first, you’ll be able to:
If you don’t like online research or would prefer to talk to someone about your options, making a trip to a car dealership or two can help you compare your options. By going to a dealer you could benefit by
In addition to shopping at a dealership, you’ll be able to start building a relationship. If you plan on buying multiple cars, having a dealership you trust with people you can count on can help you get better deals in the years to come.
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.
If you want the ease of shopping online but still want to work with a dealership, you can email the sales team at your local dealership for a quote. And if you’re already preapproved for a car loan, mention that as well. It can get the ball rolling on negotiations if you’re interested in financing through the dealership.
Your email doesn’t have to be extensive. Simply provide a little bit of information to get started:
One of the major benefits of email is the ease of communication. You can send one to each dealership you’re interested in — allowing you to quickly compare offers and find a deal with pursuing.
Getting a loan through a dealership involves less work but you can typically get your funding in less time.
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.
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 to find private sales. Take your time browsing online offers so you can find the best deal around.
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.
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