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Find the Best Online Car Buying Sites

by Emma Simon ConsumerAffairs Research Team

Online car buying sites utilize intelligent search engines to help you compare multiple cars or trucks in your price range. Read our guide to research and discover the best car buying site for you. Plus, learn about what questions to ask before you purchase a car online.

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Top 5 picks for online car buying sites

To determine our top picks, we started by comparing 17 popular online car buying sites and narrowing the list down to only the sites that offer a wide selection of vehicles at different price points. We also considered average reviews and ratings from verified consumers on ConsumerAffairs, only including car buying sites that had at least 14 5-star reviews in the past 12 months. Finally, we excluded any companies that don’t provide financing and customer service that’s available at least five days a week.

Our top pick overallCarvanaAUTHORIZED PARTNER
  • 100-day/4,189-mile limited warranty
  • 7-day return policy
  • Fixed prices
  • No minimum credit score for financing

We like that Carvana performs a 150-point inspection to make sure each vehicle is fit for purchase. The company has a policy against selling cars that have been in an accident, and it runs a CARFAX report on each vehicle to confirm this. You don’t get a traditional test drive, but you do get a week to return the car for any reason.

Generally, positive Carvana reviews mention how easy it is to buy and register a vehicle through the site. Some Carvana complaints mention changes to delivery date scheduling.

The prices on Carvana are fixed, so there’s no haggling. As you browse, listings have 360-degree photos to simulate the experience of seeing the car in person. Cars are sourced from auctions, trade-ins, dealerships and private sellers.

If you're near a Carvana vending machine, you can pick up your car for free. Alternatively, you can have your car shipped to you, though free shipping isn’t available for every vehicle. Shipping and delivery typically take less than 48 hours.

Our pick for customer serviceCarmax
  • 90-day/4,000-mile limited warranty
  • 7-day return policy
  • Fixed prices
  • Financing available for most credit profiles

Like Carvana, CarMax offers a wide selection of new and used vehicles at fixed, no-haggle prices. The company has both curbside pickup and home delivery services in many locations. The site makes it simple to find different autos by make, model, features, mileage and number of previous owners. Vehicle history reports are provided through AutoCheck.

CarMax offers an easy preapproval process for those who want to finance their purchase. It takes about 20 minutes, and the loan offer is good for three days. Most credit profiles can qualify. If needed, a co-borrower can sign on the finance application.

Shipping fees vary by location. Local shipping is free and takes about three days if you live near a CarMax location. It takes longer if the car must be delivered from another store. You can find information about shipping fees to your location on each car’s detail page.

Positive CarMax reviews describe good deals and helpful customer service. People seem to like the user-friendly site and the helpful sales staff. However, CarMax complaints sometimes describe long wait times to receive cars after purchase. For more, check out how CarMax stacks up to Vroom and Carvana.

Our pick for negotiable pricesAutotrader.com
  • Warranties vary by car
  • No return policy
  • Negotiable pricing
  • Financing available through LendingTree

You may be familiar with Autotrader as a popular print magazine. More recently, Autotrader has been expanding its digital presence in the online car market. Like the magazine, the website doesn’t facilitate the sale of cars but connects buyers with a range of options.

The website offers an intuitive search engine that lets you filter cars through dozens of criteria to pinpoint the exact vehicle you’re looking for in your budget. Autotrader also offers an app for Apple and Android phones that lets you search for cars, save cars to your favorites and connect with sellers.

Overall, Autotrader makes it easy to browse new and used cars that are available from dealerships and private sellers. Positive Autotrader reviews frequently mention finding a good price. Some customers have been using Autotrader to buy cars for decades, long before it launched as an online marketplace.

Our pick for used carsTred
  • Offers add-on warranties
  • No return policy
  • Verifies vehicle histories
  • Offers financing for most cars on its site

TRED is a person-to-person used car marketplace. Its website helps you search for used vehicles, compare prices, communicate with sellers, schedule test-drives, apply for financing and set up delivery. You can also sell your current car on TRED.

While buying directly from another person can seem intimidating, TRED verifies the vehicles sold on its site by conducting identity checks on buyers and sellers and confirming the car’s ownership and accident history. All payments are made through TRED, so you can rest assured that your money ends up in the right hands.

Our pick for online experienceTrueCar
  • No warranties
  • 7-day, 250-mile return policy
  • Nonnegotiable pricing
  • Offers Financing through OpenRoad Lending

TrueCar offers new and used cars online. With TrueCar’s new-car shopping program, you choose the vehicle make and model that you want and, optionally, filter for specific details. TrueCar then outputs a market average price estimate, the MRSP, your estimated savings and any vehicles for sale in your area that match your description. TrueCar’s used-car shopping program is similar, allowing you to choose the car make and model that you’re interested in before showing you local results.

TrueCar also offers a trade-in program. You can enter details about your car on its website to receive an instant trade-in estimate. TrueCar then helps you find local dealers that may be interested in your vehicle.

Questions to ask when buying a car online

Don’t feel awkward about asking questions before you buy.

Whether you are buying a new car or a used car, knowing the right questions to ask can help eliminate any concerns that you have around the vehicle you plan to purchase. Consider it a red flag if the seller can’t or won’t provide answers.

If you’re unable to find certain information about a car online, it’s always a good idea to first ask the dealership or individual seller, especially if the car you want to buy is used.

Questions to ask when buying a used car

When buying a used car, always ask the buyer questions about the service history, previous owners and past repairs. Having this information upfront lets you get a better idea of how the car has been maintained and the likelihood of future problems.

Why are you selling the car?
This is a good question to ask if you’re dealing with an individual seller rather than a dealership. This is one of many questions that will help you get a better understanding of the car’s overall health.
Has this car been in an accident?
The best car buying websites run a vehicle history check to prevent vehicles that have been in accidents from being sold on the site. If a vehicle has been in an accident, that is a major red flag.

Aside from visible damage to the car, you can learn more about a vehicle’s accident history by reviewing the CARFAX report. You’ll need the car’s VIN to learn more about its service and accident history.

Do service records prove that the maintenance is up to date?
Most good online car buying sites can provide the ownership history of the vehicle. This gives you a better idea of the condition of the car. If service records are available, that’s a good sign. Make sure to review them carefully. If they aren’t readily available, that might mean the car hasn’t received proper service in the past.

Some online car purchasing sites will provide an oil change and a car wash for a used car. Even so, it’s good to also check whether other important maintenance is up to date. A history of several owners on a relatively new vehicle might imply something is wrong with the car.

Would anything stop me from taking this car on a long road trip?
This is another question that tells you more about the car’s condition and lets you know what might need to be fixed, which gives you a better idea of the true cost of the car. Features like the heater, air conditioner, turn signals, lights and audio system should all be working.

Asking if any features aren’t functional helps you fish out any details about how the car’s condition may be less than optimal. It’s vital you have a transparent history of a used car before buying.

Can I take the car to a mechanic for inspection during the test drive?
If you are about ready to buy, this is a good question to ask. The assumption here is that you’ll buy the car if the mechanic gives you the go-ahead. If a dealer is reluctant to let you do this, consider it a red flag.

However, not all car buying transactions provide an opportunity for a physical test drive. In this case, the seller usually offers a grace period for free returns. It’s a good idea to take the car to a mechanic for an inspection during the trial window.

What is the Kelley Blue Book value of the car?
The Kelley Blue Book lists the value of used vehicles as well as new cars. Estimates are based on private party value, trade-in value and certified pre-owned (CPO) value, among other factors. It’s a good idea to ask what the KBB estimated value is, even if you already know.
Are there any additional fees?
Nothing’s more annoying than hidden fees popping up at the last minute. Many online sellers charge shipping and delivery fees separately from the price of the vehicle. Make sure to ask about additional fees so you can see the full financial picture.

Questions to ask when buying a new car

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of buying a new car and forget to ask the right questions. Make sure you know how to best take care of your car and that it fits your current needs.

What do repairs typically look like for this make and model?
Sometimes it can be hard to get an answer on this one, so it might help to look at other user reviews online for answers. Look for patterns in repairs and factor these into your budget. Some car owners get an extended car warranty to offset the cost of potential repairs.
What’s the gas mileage?
It’s important to know what kind of gas mileage a car gets as you’re budgeting for monthly payments. Many of the better sites provide this information before you have to ask for it. If you are buying a car online from a private seller, you might have to refer to the original manufacturer’s brochures in order to get this information.
Does this vehicle have four-wheel drive?
All-wheel drive (AWD) and four-wheel drive (4WD) help with traction and acceleration when driving on slippery surfaces or in inclement weather. They typically cost more and require more maintenance than two-wheel-drive (2WD) vehicles. If this is important to you, make sure to ask about it. You don’t want to need it and not have it.
What does the warranty on this car cover?
If something goes wrong with your new car through no fault of your own, it’s always comforting to know you can repair it at a low price. But warranties don’t cover everything, so it’s important to know what yours does cover.
Is it possible to hold the vehicle?
Some car dealers will put a hold on the vehicle for you while you make your decision on whether to buy. Holds can range from 24 hours up to a week. It’s better to take time and think over a big decision like buying a car than be rushed into it.

Not sure how to choose?

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    Online car buying site reviews

    Autotrader.com

    Autotrader has millions of vehicles to choose from. The Car Research and Review section of the site helps car buyers calculate how much they can afford to spend on a car. The site is also full of helpful educational resources to inform users on every aspect of buying and selling a car, including finding the right insurance, tips for getting a car sold and comparison photos. In addition to buying vehicles, you can also sell or trade in your car on the site.

    Read more about Autotrader.com
    Carmax

    The prices on CarMax are non-negotiable, meaning there’s no need to haggle. The site exclusively offers used vehicles. However, there are a moderate amount of cars with very low mileage. CarMax spends an average of 12 hours prepping each vehicle for purchase — each car must pass a 125-point inspection and undergo a thorough cleaning before being put up for sale.

    Read more about Carmax
    CarsDirect

    CarsDirect has both new and used cars for sale. The site is able to provide auto financing for those with poor credit, no credit and any other level of credit. Leasing and refinancing are additional options. Because this site works with a high number of diverse dealerships nationwide, a wide range of cars are available to customers.

    Read more about CarsDirect
    Carfax

    CarFax is well known for providing comprehensive vehicle history reports that detail all previous damage and ownership history. It works with over 28,000 dealerships nationwide to sell a variety of used cars. You can sign up for alerts on recalls and necessary maintenance reminders to make sure your car is in tip-top shape. The accompanying mobile app receives strong reviews from users.

    Read more about Carfax
    eBay Motors

    Cars, trucks, motorcycles and other vehicles are available on this classic bidding site. You can either bid on a vehicle or, if available, buy at the set price. You can also look at satisfaction ratings to see if a seller has a history of satisfied customers and is legitimate. Daily deals on car parts and other accessories also provide opportunities for savings.

    Read more about eBay Motors
    CarSoup

    CarSoup offers both new and used vehicles. Multiple search options and filters make finding the perfect car easier than ever. The site uses referral tools to connect individual sellers to local dealerships. Informative articles and research tools also help consumers broaden their knowledge on all subjects automobile related. Last of all, their accompanying app serves as a helpful resource to search for cars wherever you may be.

    Enterprise Car Sales

    Enterprise Car Sales lets customers buy, sell and trade new and used vehicles online. Customers can search for nearby vehicles, use car buying calculators and obtain financing through Enterprise.

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    Bring-A-Trailer

    Bring-A-Trailer is an online car auction platform for buyers and sellers. Customers first submit their vehicles for approval and are paired with an auction specialist. Buyers are responsible for arranging and paying for shipping.

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    Autotempest

    Autotempest is a third-part online aggregator that also provides tools to compare quotes and calculators to estimate trade-in values. It does not facilitate transactions but directs buyers to sites such as Carvana, TrueCar, Detroit Trading, eBay and craigslist.

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    Hemmings

    Hemmings is an online marketplace to sell, buy and trade classic vehicles. Find cars for sale, parts, services and real estate.

    View Profile

    Compare Online Car Buying Sites

    by Emma Simon ConsumerAffairs Research Team

    As a member of the ConsumerAffairs research team, Emma Simon is dedicated to creating accurate and valuable content that helps consumers make difficult decisions.

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