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Car-buying services explained

Hate negotiating with pushy salespeople? Let someone else do the work for you.

You can avoid a trip to the dealership by using a car-buying service. And while the costs can vary widely, you may be able to save money and avoid stress by working with a service dedicated to getting you a good deal.

What is a car-buying service?

A car-buying service helps you research and negotiate the price of a car. But the exact discount you’ll get — along with the features available to you — will depend on the type of service you use.

Car concierges

  • What does it cost? Upfront fee based on the type of car you want — the more expensive the car, the higher the fee — plus, a percentage of the money it saves you

A car concierge does the shopping and negotiating for you. You simply explain the type of vehicle you’re looking for, and it does the research to find potential offers available. It then contacts the dealership or manufacturer to begin negotiations. This allows you to sit in the backseat and avoid the hassle of salespeople — some may even be able to get your vehicle delivered to you.

    Car brokers

    • What does it cost? Flat fee, often between $200 and $1,000

    A car broker is similar to a car concierge — a professional car buyer researches and negotiates a deal for you. They can often secure a lower price for the vehicle you want because many are former salespeople. And since hunting for good car deals every day is their job, they likely have a better idea of where to look than you would.

      Club car-buying programs

      • What does it cost? Typically free with membership

      Many banks and credit unions, as well as large companies like Costco, AAA and Walmart, allow you to browse cars through an online network of certified dealers. They typically offer discounted rates to members, which allows you to avoid having to listen to sales spiels when you visit the dealership. However, you may find that the price you get isn’t much better than what you could negotiate yourself, and you aren’t guaranteed to find the exact vehicle you want.

        Online car-buying stores

        • What does it cost? Usually free

        Online car-buying stores like Carvana, Shift and Vroom offer a fast and convenient way to shop for cars — no haggling or dealership visits required. Many offer a money-back guarantee and give you several days to drive your car after purchasing it to make sure it’s right for you — much longer than the 20-minute test drive you get at a traditional dealership. However, because you’re not actually meeting with a salesperson, there’s little room for negotiation when it comes to the price.

          How much does a car-buying service cost?

          It depends on the type of service you use. Some charge a flat fee, others charge a percentage of the amount you save and some are completely free. Check with the concierge, broker, club or online store to see what you might have to pay.

          Is using a car-buying service actually worth it?

          It can be. Some people find the money they save counterbalances the cost of the fees brokers and concierges charge. Others enjoy the fact that they don’t have to deal with pushy salespeople during the negotiation process.

          If negotiation isn’t a hassle — and you don’t want to pay any fees — then some car-buying services may not be the best choice. However, you can still use an online car-buying store or a club car-buying program to compare deals.

          How do I find a good car-buying service?

          Go online, check out the company’s website and read the terms of service. Reach out to the company and see what types of fees they charge. In the case of brokers or concierges, make sure they aren’t affiliated with any dealerships — they might not have your best interest at heart.

          You may also want to read actual customer reviews on trusted websites like the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or Trustpilot as well as forums like Reddit. This should help give you a well-rounded picture of what you can expect with each company so you can find the best one for you.

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          Bottom line

          While dealerships have some advantages, dealing with pushy salespeople can make many people uncomfortable — and leave you wondering if you’ve actually gotten a good deal. A car-buying service may come with fees that you avoid at the dealership, but it could save you money in the long run and help you avoid stress. And the expert help during the research and negotiation process could be well worth what you spend.

          Before you commit to a service, read up on how car loans work so you can make an informed decision when you’re ready to finance your next vehicle.

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