How to Buy a Car Online in Five Easy Steps
Dreaming of a new (or used) car, but don’t want to visit the dealership? Here’s a solution. Try buying a car online, right from the comfort of your home. In five steps you can compare models, get approved for a loan, secure auto insurance and even have a car delivered to you.
The Pros and Cons of Buying a Car Online
Buying a car is a big decision – and some people like to make big decisions in person.1 However, according to Bloomberg News, in the first half of 2020, online car retailers experienced a 36% increase in sales as compared to the same period in 2019. The shift to online car shopping accelerated rapidly due to the pandemic.2
If you’re considering buying a car online, you’ll enjoy many benefits, including convenience. Here are a few of the most notable perks:
You can shop without feeling pressured to buy.
In one study, more than half of the people surveyed said they felt anxious at used car dealerships.3 Shopping online gives you the space to research cars and think through the decision on your own.
You can compare multiple makes and models quickly.
On the internet, the options are limitless. Online car retailers allow you to view cars all over the nation, opening doors to vehicles you’d never normally see. If you find a car you like, you may be able to have it delivered to you.
You can’t beat the convenience and accessibility.
Have young children? Live in a remote area? Want to avoid crowded sales rooms? For many people, visiting a car dealership is time-consuming and difficult. Buying online can eliminate some of the hassle without forgoing the variety of options.
75% of consumers surveyed said they would choose a completely digital car-shopping experience if given the option.5
But there are a few downsides to buying a vehicle online. Cars are an expensive purchase, so you want to choose the right make, model and features. You may prefer to see the car in person and test drive it to make sure it’s the right fit.
As you contemplate whether to buy a car online or in person, consider these challenges:
You won’t be able to see, smell or touch the car.
For some people, photos alone may not be enough to evaluate a product. If you buy a car online, you’re facing a potential risk—disappointment when the vehicle arrives.
You may experience delays in receiving your car.
If you buy a car face-to-face at a dealership, usually you can drive your car off the lot or set a date to pick it up. But if you’re buying a car online, especially one from another state, it needs to be delivered. And, just like with any delivery, you could experience scheduling mishaps or delays.
You may prefer an in-person conversation.
When you shop for a car online, you need to rely on your ability to browse for vehicles, rather than a salesperson recommending cars to you. Do you feel comfortable with this approach? If not, you may want to visit a dealership to talk to someone in person.
Next, let’s talk about how to buy a car online, including websites to visit and steps to take before making a purchase.
Ways to Buy a Car Online
Today, nearly all consumers research cars online first.4 And, in one study, 75% of consumers surveyed said they would choose a completely digital car-shopping experience if given the option.5
If you’re wondering where to start your buying journey, here are a few ideas:
Websites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are great places to find local car deals. Both marketplaces are free to join and easy to use. You can search for a car, browse photos and then reach out to your local seller directly.
Online car retailers:
Carvana and Vroom offer a digital purchasing process from start to finish. On both sites, you can browse for cars online, make a purchase and even get a vehicle delivered to your home. Meanwhile, CarMax gives you the best of both worlds, allowing you to buy a car online or visit a nearby retailer to see it in person.
Car dealerships advertise their vehicles on their websites, as well as on popular online marketplaces, like Autotrader. Check out a dealership’s website to see what models are on the lot. Or use Autotrader to compare vehicles at a few different dealerships near you.
How to Buy a Car Online
Step 1: Evaluate your budget and needs.
Set a realistic budget first. Consider if you can buy a car outright or if you’ll need a loan with a monthly payment. Next, get a pen and paper to outline the key features you need in a vehicle. Think about the car’s size, gas mileage and where you’ll drive it the most. For example, if you live in the mountains, you may want to consider a car with all-wheel drive (AWD).
If you have flexibility, aim to buy a car during the industry’s slow months —January, February, October or November. During these months, dealers may offer promotions and be more willing to negotiate.
Step 2: Compare brands, models and features.
Open your laptop, get comfortable and start researching cars using the websites mentioned above. Many of them let you compare features, read reviews and save listings for later. Don’t rush this step; your research may lead you to buy a car you never thought you’d own. It also helps to write down questions and use the chat feature (if it’s available) to talk with online sales managers.
Step 3: Secure auto insurance.
If you don’t have an auto policy, now’s the time to explore coverage options, get a quote and protect yourself and the people in your vehicle. Amica offers online quotes for top-of-the-line auto insurance policies. In just a few minutes, you can compare coverages and choose the right policy for you.
Step 4: Go for a test drive, if you have the option.
Carvana and Vroom, as well as other online retailers, have created a completely digital purchasing process. This means that, once you buy the car, they’ll deliver it to you. As a result, you don’t have the option to test drive vehicles in person. But, if you find a car online using CarMax or Autotrader, you can usually set up an appointment for a test drive.
Step 5: Finalize your purchase.
Some online car retailers let you secure financing and sign purchase agreements online. But, depending on where you shop, you may need to visit a dealership to finalize your purchase. Ask a customer service representative or sales manager which steps can be completed online and if any must be done in person.
Buying a car online is no longer a far-distant concept. Now that you know how to buy a car online and how to secure auto insurance, why not get started? You may find the perfect car online today.
- Is it Better to Buy Your Car Online or in Person? Readers Digest, 2020
- Covid and a Crowd of Startups Are Forever Changing How Americans Buy Cars, Bloomberg News, 2020
- The 2016 Beepi Consumer Automotive Index, Cision PR Newswire, 2016
- Google/Kantar TNS, U.S., The Drive to Decide Survey, 2018
- Accenture Automotive Digital Survey, 2015
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