CarsDirect Review: Buy Cars Online

April 11, 2014

You might have heard some of the bustle about the new car buying websites. It’s becoming a more and more common thing and the process seems to be improving from one online car dealer to another. Many of these sites offer to let you find and then purchase your new or used car online and then they’ll send the new car to your house—often in less than 48 hours. It sounds like the future, but CarsDirect has been doing it since 1998. So, what is CarsDirect? Read our CarsDirect review below and find out.

What is CarsDirect?

carsdirect-reviewCarsDirect, or more specifically,—had a very strong start. Founded in 1998 by Scott Painter, the young car buying website emerged from the business incubator Idealab. It benefited from the experience of a company that had helped numerous other internet companies find success. allows users to trade their old car and acquire financing for their new car, which means they offer a bit more than the typical car buying websites out there. Users visiting the site can input the make, model, and trim level of the car they are looking for, as well as the price range and zip code. While not every zip code is eligible for direct delivery, many are. For the zip codes that qualify, CarsDirect offers delivery of your car to your home in 48-hours. CarsDirect aims to offer customers a streamlined and convenient car shopping experience by removing the dealership and the salesperson and simply offering visitors all of the information they might need in order to make a decision.

What should I expect when shopping on

carsdirect homepage recently viewedTruthfully, the initial experience with CarsDirect isn’t dissimilar from trying to buy cars online from most other well-known car buying websites like or You fill out a search form with details regarding the car you’d like to buy: make, model, trim, price range. You get a results page full of vehicles that either match or closely match your request. The search results display a picture of the car, price, mileage, and the distance to the dealership where the car is currently. It’s a nice and tidy search results page.

You can buy through or you can buy through a local dealer with the assistance of CarsDirect. What we found was that we were not given the option to buy direct (or an explanation of why we couldn’t work directly with CarsDirect). We went through the car buying process and discovered that we were put into that second group that must buy through a local dealer. What’s worse is that when we tried to get a solid quote from the dealer we were told we had to wait up to 48 hours to get a response. Isn’t the purpose of buying things online to avoid waiting?

CarsDirect Pros

  • A great source of car information. To their credit, is packed with detailed information about each make, model, and trim level.
  • Car shopping is less confusing than it tends to be on other car buying websites thanks to a “recently viewed” tab which lets you quickly return to a vehicle you’ve already seen.
  • You can do more than just shop for cars online. CarsDirect also allows you to apply for financing as well as get a quote for your trade-in vehicle.

CarsDirect Cons

  • Buying direct through this website isn’t fast. We followed the process and as soon as we were ready to buy we found out that we have to wait up to 24 hours to get a response via email. We gave it a try and when the email arrived, it didn’t come from, it came from a local dealer. There weren’t any details of the deal enclosed, they just wanted us to come to their showroom and start the buying process. We thought we had. So much for hassle free?
  • CarsDirect trade in estimateTrade-in process is equally suspicious. We went through this entire process only to be given a trade-in assessment ranging from $8,500 to $11,500 (roughly). We were prompted via fine print to contact a dealer directly to get a “firm offer” on our vehicle, which we felt defeated the purpose of going through the online process.
  • Selecting options became frustrating when we selected a package and then decided to try to add or remove options. A modal/pop-up window appeared telling us that other items had to be de-selected in order for your new selection to be processed. If the initial package had a lot of options, you could be unchecking boxes for a while.
  • The Auto Loans section of the site appeared to just take our contact information and pass it on to a different business that handles auto financing.

Should I Buy Cars Online via

We admit that most car buying websites don’t offer the extreme depth of information that CarsDirect provides. It’s a great vehicle research site for sure, but the car buying experience left us feeling like this is just a lead capture website—a site where your contact information is captured in a form, then passed on to a third party. That may not be the case, but the processes were extremely similar. It was less of a cut and dried experience than we saw with other online car buying websites such as Carvana or TrueCar.

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