What Are the Best Online Car Buying Sites?

August 15, 2018

searching for cars online to buy
So many choices. So many cars! Which car buying website is best for you? We’ll run through all the best options so you can find a great deal on a new or used vehicle.

CarMax

When CarMax opened its first location in 1993, in Richmond, Va., nobody had ever seen anything like it. A used-car store where you didn’t have to negotiate? Where salespeople didn’t push you because they didn’t get commissions? And where all the cars came with a guarantee?

Today, CarMax is the granddaddy of car-buying websites and the biggest used-car retailer in the U.S. Their enormous inventory is easy to browse and sort online, and you can request that a car be moved from one CarMax location to the one nearest you (a fee may apply). Cars come with a 5-day money-back guarantee and a 30-day (or longer, in some states) limited warranty. CarMax doesn’t always have the lowest prices, but many loyal customers are willing to overlook that because the buying process is so easy.

CarMax is the best online car buying site for… risk-averse buyers who value the reassurance of a solid guarantee and an easy, low-hassle buying process.

Pro Tip – You’re going to need insurance during the process of buying a new or used car. Be sure to compare auto insurance quotes at the same time with Compare.com. This will help you prepare for your future finances. You also won’t be rushed into buying an overpriced policy. It’s free. It’s fast. And it’s easy!

CarGurus

The nation’s number one car buying website is CarGurus. Its edge over the competition is the Instant Market Value (IMV): a calculation of the fair retail price for a particular vehicle, based on comparable listings. When you search for new or used vehicles, CarGurus ranks the best deals from the most trusted dealers first, so you can be confident you’re not paying too much. When you see something you like, you can use CarGurus to contact the dealer directly.

CarGurus is the best online car buying site for… price-conscious shoppers who hate the idea of being ripped off.

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AutoNation

AutoNation — a network of 360 franchises in 16 states — is the nation’s largest auto retailer, with more than 100,000 new and used vehicles for sale at any given time.

Like CarMax, AutoNation certifies its used vehicles and offers a five-day money-back guarantee. Its 60-day limited warranty is longer, however, which gives you added peace of mind. And it has a few features we haven’t seen elsewhere. You can reserve a car for up to 72 hours, so no one else can snag it before you get the chance for a test drive. You can send a text and be pre-approved for a car loan. And AutoNation also offers a pre-paid vehicle service plan to help you keep up with maintenance.

AutoNation is the best online car buying site for… choosy buyers who prefer to visit a car dealership in person.

Autotrader

In a crowded marketplace, Autotrader is a breath of fresh air. This well-respected site simply invites you to search cars for sale in your area — no gimmicks, no quirks. It advertises the largest inventory of vehicles from private sellers and dealers: more than 3 million cars. Unlike other car buying websites, Autotrader features a substantial number of private-seller cars. It also offers a staggering amount of information, including car reviews, car-buying advice and car research tools.

AutoTrader is the best online car buying site for… car shoppers who want to compare all the options before they buy.

TrueCar

TrueCar doesn’t sell cars itself. Instead, it’s a free online car-buying tool that promises to reveal the most accurate price for a specific car in your area, based on how much other people actually paid for their cars. Let’s say you have your heart set on buying a new Mini Cooper hardtop, black, with a 2-liter turbo engine. TrueCar can show you the average price people paid for this car in your area, which is likely to be thousands cheaper than the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. Sign up for an account, and you can also receive the TruePrice for cars in local dealers’ inventory.

TrueCar is the best online car buying site for… people who have their heart set on a particular vehicle and want to get the best deal.

Carvana

Out of all of these car-buying sites, Carvana is the one that takes the most innovative approach. There’s no physical dealership; instead, you browse all Carvana’s certified used cars online. And it’s fun to browse! A detailed 360-degree tour of each car (real photos, not stock) shows you all the perks and imperfections.

When you find the one you want, you get it delivered to your house — just like an Amazon package, but without the brown box. Sign documents online, get financing from Carvana or a different lender, and wait for your new vehicle to show up. You can also use one of Carvana’s high-tech car vending machines: a tall glass tower full of cars. Insert the special coin you’re given, and your car will arrive in the delivery bay.

Test-drive your car for seven days, and if you don’t like it, you can return it (free of charge, if you live in one of Carvana’s many local markets.) Carvana offers a 100-day warranty on all its cars. Check out our Carvana vs. CarMax article for an indepth comparison.

Carvana is the best online car buying site for… tech-savvy, decisive people who are comfortable acting as the point person for their car transaction.

Vroom

Vroom is a sort of online used-car boutique, offering only reconditioned, low-mileage, accident-free cars. You browse cars online, sign the paperwork and apply for financing (if you want it), then get your vehicle delivered to your home for a flat fee of $499.

Like Carvana, Vroom promises low prices because it doesn’t have the overhead costs physical dealerships have to pay. Vroom also throws in a full year of 24/7 roadside assistance and a 90-day/6,000-mile warranty, free of charge. One difference between the two, however, is inventory; Carvana has more than 10,000 cars to browse, while Vroom has around 2,300.

Vroom is the best online car buying site for… price-conscious shoppers who are open to considering different car models.

Edmunds

Edmunds, quite simply, knows everything about cars. From its beginnings as a magazine in the 1960s, Edmunds has grown to become an online car-buying site that tells you every possible thing you need to know to make a smart buying decision. Let’s say you’re considering buying a convertible. Edmunds has first-hand reviews, specs and photos for every model year and make, from Aston Martin to Volkswagen, as well as nearby inventory. There’s a wealth of car-buying tools you can use, too, such as car-loan calculators and a calculator that tells you the true cost of owning a particular car.

Edmunds is the best online car buying site for… thoughtful shoppers who want to be really well-informed before committing to a buying decision.

Kelly Blue Book

First printed in 1926, the Kelley Blue Book was an actual blue book that listed the values of used automobiles. It rapidly became the place everyone went to find out how much a car was worth, whether they wanted to buy or to sell. KBB.com, now owned by Autotrader, remains the standard for car prices — now with more sophisticated calculations like the Fair Purchase Price for a car in your area and the five-year cost to own.

KBB.com is the best online car buying site for… people who really want to crunch the numbers, not only how much to pay for a car but how much it will cost them in the long run.

Cars.com

Do you feel overwhelmed by the car-buying process? Do you feel like there are just too many options? Cars.com can help. The site is trying to become “the Tinder of car shopping” with a matchmaking algorithm to help you find — and buy — the best ride for your life. Cars.com will ask you about your needs, your priorities, your style and your budget. Then it will recommend specific makes and models and show you the options at local dealers, including whether the listed price is a good deal. You can also simply browse thousands of new and used cars.

Cars.com is the best online car buying site for… people who are beginning their car search from scratch and want to narrow down their options.

AutoTempest

You know how Kayak lets you compare airfare and hotel prices from other travel-deal aggregators? AutoTempest is kind of like that. On a single site, you can search listings from several other online car-buying websites, such as Cars.com and AutoTrader, as well as Craigslist and eBay. While the interface isn’t as slick as other sites’, AutoTempest is a great way to get a sense of the range of prices out there for a particular model, especially because you can compare deals from dealers, private sellers, and auction sellers.

AutoTempest is the best online car buying site for… anyone who has a specific make and model in mind and wants to see the best local deals.

Goodluck finding a new vehicle and happy shopping!

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