Believe it or not, you can now buy a car online and have it delivered to you.

Buying a Car Online: The Pros and Cons of Online Car Sales

Whether new or used, the thought of buying a car can be thrilling.

Or, for some, downright terrifying.

The excitement of getting a new vehicle, after all, may be overshadowed by the negotiating involved. While not all car salespeople live up to their pushy stereotype, it’s hard to avoid the stress of feeling like you’re paying more than you want.

But what if you no longer had to worry about negotiating your future vehicle’s price? What if you could buy a car online?

Just like the innovation of ride-share services, drivers can now thank the internet for a new way to buy a car.

Can you buy a car online?

Believe it or not, you can now buy a car online and have it delivered to you.

The rise of services like Vroom and Carvana is changing the face of the automotive industry. Not to mention, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace also make private car sales easier than ever. 

The process is relatively simple:

  1. Browse a wide selection of vehicles online.
  2. Narrow down your options until you find the one you want.
  3. Click “Buy” and walk through the online purchase process.
  4. Wait for your car to be delivered.

Unlike the traditional car-buying process, the buyer has more agency—namely in browsing different models and getting upfront pricing—without the pressure of communicating with a real-time salesperson. This can ultimately reduce the time spent completing a car sale, as no dealership employees have to defer to their managers to “see what they can do.”

For this reason, it’s no wonder that online car dealerships are revolutionizing the automotive sales industry. As Shift, one such online car dealership, states so clearly in its mission, they “turn what is universally regarded as a burdensome life event into a delightful experience.”

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Buying a Car Online

Policies vary across companies, but purchasing a car online generally comes with several distinct advantages, namely:

  • Since you’re looking at the online car market, you have exponentially more options than just the cars at your local dealerships.
  • It’s easy to compare vehicles and financing options. Many online services offer a calculator so that shoppers can pick loan terms and see monthly payments upfront.
  • Pricing is more transparent, and depending on the model you’re interested in, a vehicle may be 1%-7% cheaper than if you went to a brick-and-mortar dealership.
  • Most services offer a 7-day return policy so that you have room to change your mind if something seems off.
  • Generally speaking, you’ll save on both time and stress than if you were to go to an in-person car dealership. 

That said, it’s also important to weigh the drawbacks of buying a car online. These include: 

  • Test drives aren’t a guarantee—for instance, if the car of your choosing is in another state. (Only some services, like Shift, will bring a car to you for a test drive.)
  • Similarly, for more distant vehicles, you’ll have to account for shipping time rather than being able to immediately drive your car off a dealership lot. 
  • Warranties from online dealers tend to be less comprehensive than those from franchised brick-and-mortar dealerships.
  • If you’re thinking of buying from a private dealer rather than an online car marketplace, you face the risk of fraud and deception.

Joshua Li, who bought a car from Vroom in 2015, shares some thoughts about his own purchasing experience:

“The nice thing about online retailers is that these sites have high-definition pictures of the interior and exterior of the actual vehicles; they even highlight any imperfections to be fully transparent. While you don’t have any room to negotiate the price like you can with a car salesman, I’ve found that the prices online are fairly competitive and if you do enough research, you can easily find a great deal.”

Tips for Buying a Car Online

First time buying a car online? Keep these tips in mind.

  • Consider your budget and transportation needs. Will this be your primary or secondary car? Do you expect to drive passengers around often? Are you looking for certain amenities, e.g., a sunroof? You can filter vehicles based on the criteria that matter to you, whether that’s price, make and model, mileage, color, or something else.
  • Do your research. As with buying from a traditional dealership, be sure to read up on different car models. If you’re buying used, consider the miles already on a car, and whether there are any scratches, dents, or other imperfections. Additionally, remember to compare pricing across dealerships. 
  • Get a third-party inspection of your chosen vehicle. Whether it’s by asking for a CarFax report or getting someone to look at your car after purchase, find out whether your car lives up to its online listing. Most online dealerships have a return policy, giving you the flexibility to get another opinion before committing to a car.
  • Avoid getting trigger-happy. One major downside of being able to buy a car online is the ease of access—you’re just a few clicks away from your new ride! Enticing as it may be, however, give yourself some room to weigh the implications of buying a car. Since new cars are constantly being added to these virtual car dealerships, there’s no need to be hasty if you’re looking for something more specific.

Conclusion

Does the rise of online car sales mean brick-and-mortar dealerships will soon be going out of service?

Not likely. Although having the option to buy a car online certainly removes much of the headaches associated with the process, many drivers are accustomed to and prefer the traditional process of going to an in-person dealership. 

That said, the future of online car sales will likely grow in the coming years. If you decide to buy a car online, just remember to do your homework before moving forward with any vehicle. 

Have you bought a car online before, or have you considered it? Why or why wouldn’t you do it?

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