Right now, 78% of people who browse new and used cars use third-party websites. That’s a far cry from just a decade ago.
These days, most people skip the trip to the dealership or used car lots. Instead, they shop online from the comfort of their homes. Thanks to the dozens of websites that list thousands of new and used cars, it’s become effortless to shop for cars online.
Even so, there are still a few concerns about online car buying sites. And that’s understandable because you’re purchasing a big-ticket time, not shopping for a kitchen gadget. You need to know which sources are reputable and what features you should look for when browsing.
The fact is that buying a car can be overwhelming, so it’s best to stick to some of the most reputable online car buying sites available today.
Compare Between the Most Popular Online Car Buying Sites
There are plenty of reasons that you might dread visiting the dealership. Whether it’s the pushy salesmen, the hours spent browsing, or the feeling that you’re paying way more than you should, it’s an experience that most car shoppers admit they could live with.
That’s where online car buying comes in.
According to a survey by Consumer USA, there are 16 highly-rated car buying websites that shoppers feel they can rely on.
This guide will cover the top five that made the list for the most popular online car buying sites: Autotrader, CarGurus, Cars.com, Kelley Blue Book, and AutoTempest.
Online Car Buying Site #1: Autotrader
Rated as the number one choice for car buyers in the United States, Autotrader specializes in matching buyers with local dealerships.
Autotrader uses Kelley Blue Book pricing and affordability calculators so you can easily find a car that’s within your budget without being pushed towards vehicles that are out of range. Additionally, you can easily compare prices between nearby dealerships while browsing online.
- It features a simple interface that’s easy to navigate.
- KBB’s algorithm produces reliable prices.
- Many listings rate with “good” or “great” scores.
- There are options to browse local dealers so you can check out the inventory with ease,
- The site offers unbiased listings and research with no promoted ads or listings.
- There is no physical inventory, so you’ll be able to connect with local dealerships.
- It doesn’t offer financing, so you’ll have to go through a separate loan provider and get pre-qualified before buying.
There’s a reason why Autotrader is one of the oldest and most popular car-buying websites: It’s an excellent option for those interested in checking out several local dealerships’ and used car lots’ inventories. Since Autotrader also relies on KBB’s pricing method, you can be sure you’re getting an accurate bottom-line cost.
Online Car Buying Site #2: CarGurus
With the option to shop used cars, new cars, certified pre-owned, and listings from private parties, CarGurus is a hotspot for all-things buying and selling cars. This online car buying site was launched in 2006 by the co-founder of TripAdvisor, Langley Steinert, and has more than six million listings and 30 million visitors each month.
CarGurus stands out from the crowd because it focuses on its exceptional Instant Market Value (IMV) pricing, which uses technology and data analytics to provide buyers with the fairest price based on the retail price and comparable listings.
- There is an unbiased showcase of cars where no listings are promoted over others.
- You can get an IMV on your own vehicle if you’re interested in selling or trading in for a new or used car.
- You can shop and get matched up with local sellers, dealerships, and used car lot inventories.
- Dealing with private sellers can be unreliable, especially since their listings might be incorrect or communication with them goes unreturned.
- The website doesn’t have an actual physical inventory and only matches you up with local dealerships and sellers.
The company aims to answer hard-hitting questions about buying a car by taking in analytics and proprietary algorithms. However, CarGurus isn’t ideal for those interested in shopping directly for physical inventories, as the website simply matches you with local dealers and sellers.
Online Car Buying Site #3: Cars.com
Cars.com was founded in 1998 and provides local buyers a way to shop new, used, and certified pre-owned cars from dozens of car lots in your area. Although this doesn’t differ entirely from other car buying sites, you can quickly contact the seller to set up a test drive and purchase the vehicle directly from the dealer.
What makes browsing this website so easy is that Cars.com offers “good,” “great,” or “fair” deal badges on specific listings. That means no limited listings or targeted promotions with a fair price presented to you upfront.
- Cars.com has an extensive database that provides you plenty of information, including photos and the distance from your location.
- You can compare prices and features of up to four cars at once with the “Compare” feature.
- Cars.com doesn’t have a physical inventory, which means you’ll be put in contact with nearby dealerships.
- There is no financing through Cars.com, so you need to get pre-qualified for a loan before you buy.
Another no-frills option for buying new and used cars, Cars.com has a vast inventory available from local dealerships and sellers near you. The “Compare” option further simplifies your car-buying experience because you can choose up to four cars to compare features, price, and other essential factors.
However, it isn’t the ideal resource for those who don’t want to rely on dealerships and independent sellers.
Online Car Buying Site #4: Kelley Blue Book
Kelley Blue Book (KBB) has quickly gained traction in the automobile industry over recent years—but before its pricing model became standard in car buying sites all over the country, KBB’s roots date back to 1918.
In the early 20th century, KBB was founded by Les Kelley around this time but was named under the enterprise Kelley Kar Company that specialized in selling Model T Fords. Soon after, Kelley collected data from dealers and banks and published the information publicly in the first Kelley Blue Book in 1926.
Today, KBB stands out from the crowd because its unique algorithm provides the most accurate vehicle information. Today, the site is a standard guide for determining car value in dealerships and websites nationwide.
- Using the car’s make, model, mileage, model year, and relative condition, KBB utilizes a custom algorithm that calculates an instant value price on the vehicle so you can be sure the price you’re getting is fair.
- KBB offers free tools and services like dealer price quotes, five-year cost-to-own amounts, and an automatic vehicle history report, unlike many other dealers’ websites.
- The website has sponsored search results, which can clog up cars that better fit your preferences and needs.
- It doesn’t have a physical inventory and connects you with local dealers.
If you’re looking for one of the most trusted names in the business that also offers free and complete vehicle history reports and price breakdowns, then Kelley Blue Book is a great option. However, browsing for the right car can get overwhelming with their lacking search feature filters. You’re also limited to selection from local inventories.
Online Car Buying Site #5: AutoTempest.com
AutoTempest is unlike most other car-buying websites. Although it doesn’t have a physical inventory, it does take car listings from a plethora of websites such as:
This means that you can save time and avoid endless browsing by using one tool that checks the inventories of dozens of websites for you.
- Perhaps the biggest pro is that AutoTempest prevents you from having to search multiple websites, providing a one-stop shop for you to find the perfect car.
- The easy-to-use interface is aimed to be as consumer-friendly as possible.
- Listings offer plenty of information, including photos, price, the website for contact information, features, and everything else you may need to know.
- There are limited results as some websites are not legally allowed to be shown on AutoTempest.
- Craigslist still proves to be an unreliable resource for buying cars when it comes to obtaining necessary information, and many of AutoTempest’s listings come from Craigslist.
- It’s not a direct sales website, which means you can’t buy through AutoTempest.
AutoTempest is unique because it takes hundreds to thousands of listings from dozens of websites so that you can save time when browsing for the perfect car. Unfortunately, AutoTempest only lists specific sites and therefore has a somewhat limited inventory to offer.
What Is the Best Online Car Buying Site?
The jury is in on the decision about the best online car buying site. Not only does this choice top Consumer USA’s survey, but Investopedia’s auto experts also agree:
Autotrader tops all lists, including ours, when it comes to the best car buying site online. It’s the most reliable way to check out local inventories while abiding by the Kelley Blue Book pricing algorithm.
Of course, it’s only fair to mention the honorary runner-up: AutoTempest. AutoTempest is hands-down the best way to compare several options from dozens of websites all at once, saving you tons of time in the long run.
Frequently Asked Questions About Online Car Buying Sites
Is It Safe to Buy a Car Online?
Just like any other type of online shopping, you can safely buy a car online—but you should always follow critical internet safety tips that can help prevent fraud and keep your personal information secure:
- Never give out personal information like your social security number or credit card number. Most online car websites will lead you to a dealership where you can purchase the car in person. If the website offers direct sales, always check that it’s a reputable company before deciding.
- Writing checks or wiring money is a big red flag. Legitimate companies won’t request these payment methods, and private sellers may take your money without actually providing the car.
- Verify the seller’s identity in person. Make sure the seller and the car are genuine. This could be a dealership, a used car lot, or a third-party private seller.
- Obtain specific vehicle information, like a vehicle history report, VIN, and other essential tests like emissions and service checks.
What Should I Know Before Buying a Car Online?
When it comes to buying a car online, there are a few things you should know before jumping right in:
- Set a budget. Stick to the 20/4/10 rule, which says that you should put down a 20% down payment of the total cost, pay it off within no more than four years, and keep your total monthly car payment at or below 10% of your monthly income.
- Think about the features you want. It’s tempting to get all the features you want, but it’s important to remember that any added features will only increase the price tag. A couple of the most common features that car shoppers look for are safety and fuel efficiency.
- Check your financing options. Unless you have the funds to buy a car in one payment, you’ll rely on two options: Direct lending from a financial institution company or dealership financing, which is a particular type of loan when you buy through the dealership.
- Research the Blue Book. Kelley Blue Book has become the standard for auto pricing in the industry. Vehicle costs are determined based on private party value, trade-in value, suggested retail value, and CPO value.
- Request the car’s history. If the seller can’t provide you with a vehicle report, you need the car’s VIN to obtain details about its history. The VIN provides access to the car’s history report, including its registration, recalls, and other helpful information.
- Check out the return policy. Whether you’re buying new or used, investing in a vehicle is a big decision—especially if you’re buying online and can’t do a test drive right away. So if something in your life changes or the car isn’t what you expected, it’s a good idea to ensure that there’s a return policy in place.
Whether you’re looking at Autotrader, CarGurus, Cars.com, Kelley Blue Book, AutoTempest, or an entirely different website, online car buying sites allow you to expand your options and browse through thousands of new and used cars all at the tip of your fingers.
Of course, this option also means that you’re not tied down to local dealership inventories since you can also browse in other areas.
If you happen to find a car that fits your needs but isn’t within your state, then you need an auto transport service that you can trust. Or maybe you run a dealership that needs a reliable commercial vehicle transport service to and from your lot. Whatever your car buying and selling needs, Guardian’s got your back when it comes to shipping your vehicle safely to your desired destination.
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