Online car buying: The ultimate guide

Online car buying: The ultimate guide


Across the United States, things are changing for car dealers and consumers. The internet has been driving changes in the car-buying process for several years, but COVID-19 has made online car buying even more popular. 

Today, there is no need for you to spend days traveling from dealer to dealer looking for the perfect car, SUV, or truck. You don’t have to stress about the time it takes to negotiate a deal. It’s now possible to visit hundreds of dealers without leaving the comfort of your couch. It doesn’t matter if your dream car is across the other side of the country. Buy a car online and have it delivered to your door. It doesn’t get much easier than that. 

In this guide, we’re going to cover all the aspects of buying a car online, including:

  • Traditional car buying vs. online car buying
  • Best websites to buy and sell your car online
  • How to buy a car online
  • Getting the car delivered
  • Tips on making your car buying experience a safe one

Traditional car buying vs. online car buying

The traditional way of buying a car can be incredibly challenging. It can be time-consuming and there are face-to-face negotiations that you must endure. Thanks to the internet, you can now complete every step in the car-buying process online. And you can do it from the comfort of your home. Such an option is very reassuring at the moment. Let’s not forget, that the nation is being encouraged to stay at home as much as possible during the current COVID crisis. 

Not so very long ago, a final trip to the dealership would have been necessary. A test drive would be recommended. You would need to sign the paperwork and take delivery of the car. 

Now fast forward a few years to today. You can arrange for someone to check over the car on your behalf, sign the paperwork electronically, and then ship it across the country to your home. Car manufacturers also help make the online car buying process more straightforward, with Tesla taking the lead. 

The top 7 websites to buy and sell your car online

If you want to find your ideal car, you don’t have to spend days visiting countless car lots or dealerships. Your dream car is probably waiting for you online. However, not all used-car sites are cut from the same cloth. 

You need an online used-car website that has a user-friendly interface. It should provide comprehensive details about all the cars and high-resolution images of the interior and exterior. You should have access to the vehicle’s service history, plus information about the standard and optional equipment. 

To save you some time, we’ve put together a list of the best classified sites you should visit when shopping online for your next used car. 

How to buy a car online from a dealership

Buy a car online from a dealership

We’ve decided to split the process up into seven easy steps. 

Set your budget

The first step is to determine your budget. Without a clear idea of what you’ve got to spend, you’ll struggle to know what vehicles you can include in your shopping list. Use a car affordability calculator to help narrow down the price of vehicles to consider.

When you determine your budget, don’t just consider the monthly payments. Take the car’s total cost into account, remembering to include the total cost of interest over the term of your loan. Other costs to consider include fuel, insurance, maintenance, and parking. 

If you owe money on your current car, don’t forget you’ve got to pay that back. You might be able to include this cost as part of your financing. Otherwise, you’ll have to do it before you pay out on your new ride.   

Get pre-approved for a loan

Before you approach a car dealership, it’s a sensible idea to get a pre-approved loan. With a financing deal in hand, you’ll be able to set a reasonable price range. It also gives the dealer a ballpark figure to work with. 

Pre-approved financing deals are ten a penny. Shop at credit unions, banks, and other lenders for the best deal. Alternatively, you may find a website that offers deals from a range of lenders, and all you’ve got to do is complete one application. 

Find the right model

You might already know exactly what car you’re looking for. If you’ve got no idea, perhaps a little guidance is necessary. New and used car ranking sites can give you all the information you need to make a decision. Find out about predicted reliability, safety, cost of ownership, and much more.  

Check for car deals

The automotive marketplace doesn’t always run smoothly. If, for example, a particular model is not selling as well as it should or is reaching the end of its product cycle, there may be some very attractive incentives available for the consumer. You should also check out the certified pre-owned market.

Whether you’re in the market for a new or used car, always take the time to check whether any incentives are available on the models you’re considering. Find the right one, and you could save thousands of dollars. Options might include a cash rebate, subsidized lease deal, or low-interest financing deal. If you’re fortunate, you might find an interest-free car loan deal. 

Search the inventory at multiple dealers

Thanks to the internet, you no longer have to spend days driving from dealer to dealer just to see what they’ve got on their lots. It’s possible to look online at the inventory of both used and new car dealerships in your local area, the state next door, and even across the other side of the country. 

Choose to peruse individual dealer websites or choose one of the comparison sites we’ve mentioned above. It’s a good idea to look outside your local area because there may be locations or dealerships where you’ll get a better price. 

If, for example, you’re looking for a full-size pickup, check urban dealers as vehicles of this type might not be as popular. On the other hand, if you want a plug-in hybrid, they may be in less demand at a rural dealer. In this case, the dealer might be willing to sell for a lower price.

Don’t forget, you also have the option of dealing with a manufacturer directly. More and more manufacturers are now taking orders via the web. Here’s a list of some of them:

  • Tesla
  • Ford/Lincoln
  • Cadillac
  • Fiat Chrysler
  • Chevrolet
  • Mitsubishi
  • Hyundai
  • Jaguar Land Rover
  • Mercedes Benz
  • Daimler
  • General Motors
  • Honda/Acura 

Chat online with the sales team

The next step in the online vehicle purchase is to chat or email with the internet sales team or manager of a dealership you’re interested in. It is usual for dealerships that offer sales online to have a dedicated team of experienced people. These people understand that an online purchaser is going to be savvier than someone walking through the door. This also means that you’re more likely to experience a no-haggle buying experience, which has to be a bonus. 

When you first get in touch, you’ll talk about the type of vehicle you want, whether they have one in stock, or if they can get one for you. The conversation may also steer towards financing and trade-ins, depending on individual circumstances. 

Don’t be too stressed about going into too much detail. There’s nothing wrong with being a little bit vague. You’re under no obligation to tell them what your plans are regarding your auto loan or the state of your current car. The aim is to keep the conversation focused on the price of the car. You can discuss other components later. 

If you want to buy a used car, ask the dealer to provide a copy of the vehicle history report. The report provides details of its title, accident, repair, and registration history. If the dealer is not happy about giving a report, take it as a warning. If you’re sure the car is for you, order an AutoCheck or Carfax report using the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN). 

Arrange for a test drive

Traditionally, you would be taking the car for a test drive at this point. A test drive is vital in the car buying process because it’s essential to get a feel for the car. If there are any issues with the car, these are more likely to reveal themselves during the test drive. 

But what if the car is on the East Coast and you live on the West Coast? What if you’re worried about the risk of contracting coronavirus?

An increasing number of auto manufacturers and dealerships have programs where salespeople can bring vehicles to your home for a test drive. Hyundai’s Shopper Assurance program is just one example. One of the benefits of this type of service is that it’s an excellent opportunity to drive the car on roads you’re familiar with. 

Other options include remote and solo or no-touch test drives. A concierge brings the car to your home, wipes it down with disinfectant, and waits while you test drive the car alone. 

Purchasing a new vehicle is hard enough without wondering whether it’s safe or you’re about to buy a lemon. A company called WeGoLook is offering a fantastic service that can put your mind at rest. Take advantage of the on-demand auto inspection, and you get complete peace of mind. 


When you’re buying a used car, an auto inspection by a qualified inspector has two benefits. Firstly, it will uncover any safety issues that you might not be aware of. Secondly, an auto inspection will save you a bundle of cash if it turns up certain issues that might be expensive to repair.

Before you sign the contract

You’ve reached the end of the process, but there are just a couple of things you still need to take care of. You’ve got to get the car to your home, but we’ll look at that in a minute. You’ve also got to sign the contract. Before you sign on the dotted line, here are a few tips from our experts about a final inspection. 

  • Have the car delivered during the day so you can check for any scratches or dents. You’ll also be able to see the true color of the car in the daylight. 
  • Before you enter the car, clean it thoroughly by wiping down touched surfaces with isopropyl alcohol.
  • Review the contract to make sure the numbers match what was agreed.
  • If you’re buying from a dealer, all the registration should be done for you. Install the temporary registration on your windshield.
  • If you’re buying from a private individual, be aware that some registry offices won’t be open. Check the website of your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles for details on how to get temporary registration. 

Getting the car delivered

How you get your dream car home is easy. Take advantage of an auto transport company, and you can ship a car across the country hassle-free. It doesn’t matter whether the car you bought is in New York, San Francisco, Florida, or Montana. You can arrange for your new vehicle to be picked up from anywhere, including Hawaii, and delivered right to your door. 

Why door-to-door transport is better than driving

It’s very tempting to go and collect your car and drive it home, but there are things to consider, especially if your dream car is on the other side of the country. 

First, there’s the problem of getting there. You could take the bus, hop on a train, or even fly to collect your car. But whichever one you choose, it’s going to add to the cost and timeframe. Let’s not forget the additional expenses on your journey back home. There’s the cost of food, accommodation, tolls, and gas. All of these will add up very quickly. 

And then there’s the issue of driving a long distance. You’re going to be very tired and stressed, which makes driving long-distance dangerous. And are you really confident enough to be driving a new vehicle such a long way? 

Hire a car shipping company to transport your car for you, and you’ll enjoy several benefits:

  • Saves time
  • No unnecessary wear and tear on your new car
  • It’s much safer
  • Costs less

What are your auto transport options?

When you buy a car online and have it delivered by an auto transport company, you can choose whether they transport your car in an open or enclosed trailer. Both have their pros and cons. 

Open car transport

Choose open car door-to-door transport, and a carrier will transport your car in an open car trailer. The trailers have two levels and are typically 75-80 feet long. This allows them to transport as many as ten vehicles at the same time. The trailers have no sides and no roof, which means the vehicles are exposed to the elements. Nevertheless, this is a very safe and secure way to transport your vehicle. 

Open car transport is suitable for all types of vehicles. It is also the most flexible and affordable option. 

Enclosed auto transport

Choose enclosed auto transport, and a carrier will transport your vehicle in an enclosed auto trailer. The trailer has a roof and four sides. This means your vehicle is safe and secure throughout transportation. However, the trailers enclosing walls restrict the number of vehicles that can be transported. 

Enclosed auto transport is typically used for extremely expensive, rare, or antique vehicles. It is very safe, but costs around 30% to 40% extra.  

Tips on making your car buying experience a safe one

Buy car online

Buying a car online is a relatively new thing, so if you’re considering it for your next purchase, there are some things you need to know, especially if you’re buying from someone other than a reputable dealer.

An increase in the number of cars being bought online has led to an increase in the number of scam artists waiting to take advantage of car shoppers. They can do it in various ways, so you should always be on the lookout for deals that look too good to be true. 

We care about our customers, so here are some tips you can use to avoid getting scammed when shopping for a car online. 

Only shop at reputable websites

Craigslist has long been a popular place to go shopping, but it’s not as good as you think. There are no consumer protections, so you must use your discretion. We’ve already shared our list of the top car selling websites.

Never send money upfront

A common trick is for scammers to ask for money upfront, and plenty of people get caught out because they’re bowled over with the promise of their dream car. The scammer might request a wire transport, prepaid debit card, or a gift card. They often claim that the payment is to ensure they don’t sell the car to someone else. 

Don’t believe the picture you see

You’ve heard the saying, “A picture paints a thousand words”, but be careful because some of those words can be a lie. Don’t believe everything you see. It’s easy to edit and smudge photos. 

Something else to remember is that just because the car is shiny on the outside, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be the same under the hood. Always get the car checked out to make sure it’s not a lemon. 

Only use sites with secure transactions

Only shop for cars on sites that provide secure transactions. If a site is unsecure, the computers are vulnerable to attacks and could give access to personal information. “Https” before the URL is a good indication of security.  Also, look for the padlock. 

Use secure and traceable payments

As well as using a site that offers secure payments, it’s also smart to use a traceable and secure method of payment. This is just in case the sale goes wrong. Never use prepaid credit cards, wire transfers, or gift cards. Only pay with traceable, traditional forms of payment. Never agree to cash-only deals, handshake deals, or costly upfront payments. 

Never share personal information

Whatever you’re doing online, whether it’s buying or selling a car, or doing anything else, always be wary of sharing your personal information. A scam artist can be very crafty if they’ve got information such as your social security and insurance numbers, credit card and banking information, or your date of birth. 

Don’t fall for pressure tactics

Don’t believe it when you’re told you’ve got to act now or miss out on the deal of a lifetime. Such high-pressure tactics can make you act irrationally and give out information you shouldn’t or hand over cash. 

You’re now ready to venture into the world of online car buying. When you’ve found your dream car, get in touch with our knowledgeable shipping advisors, and we’ll make sure your car is delivered to your home. Call (864) 546-5038 or use our Live Chat option. 

Get a quote banner