How To Buy A Car Online

by Beth M. on 2012-08-2020

Time to buy a new car? Some fast tips before you get going.

A long while back, some of us at work were snickering about a coworker buying a car on eBay. “Can you imagine,” we laughed among ourselves. “Why would anyone do that?” We couldn’t even comprehend the idea. But times change and when more and more people warm up to an idea that once seemed outlandish, the rest of us tend to follow the herd and become more accepting of the “new”.

I’ve since reconsidered. After all, I bought my last car at CarMax. I didn’t complete the transaction online, but I searched through their inventory on the web at both my local store and those across the state. I narrowed down my choices in my price range, and decided on a Volkswagen beetle. I went to a CarMax store, found my beetle on the lot, and proceeded to make it mine. So my actions really weren’t that different from those of my coworker.

buy a car online

Why Buy A Car Online?

Here are a few reasons for making that big purchase online.

1. You save time.
Well, number one, it is a time saver. As I mentioned, I was able to see what cars were available without even leaving my house. I could see that if my local store didn’t have what I wanted, I could request that one be sent from another location. I already knew that a Volkswagen beetle fell within my budget, but that they didn’t have it in the color I wanted. That was fine, but for me, time was of the essence since my other car had died, and I needed new transportation asap. So by going online, I sped up the car buying process. I knew what I wanted to get before I even walked onto the lot.

2. You minimize the haggling.
Another reason is that it cuts down on price haggling. Many people dread the onerous back and forth with sales associates, and online buying eliminates a lot of that. There are numerous online car buying sites, including, Automotive,, and of course, eBay. Some only offer information or brokerage services, whereas others will sell cars direct.

3. You increase your shopping choices and options.
In many cases, a car you buy online can be delivered to a local dealership for pickup. As with any major purchase, you want to protect yourself. One good piece of advice I have heard is only to buy cars located within a reasonable driving distance from you. That way you can go see it for yourself, kick the tires, and maybe even take a trusted mechanic with you.

How To Buy A Car Online: Other Tips

  • Get the car’s history from Carfax or AutoCheck.
  • If dealing with eBay, check the seller’s feedback, and read the fine print.
  • Get an inspection.
  • Make sure everything is in writing.
  • Ask for titles and maintenance records.
  • Don’t pay in cash, but use a credit card or reputable escrow company to protect against fraud.
  • Consider getting financing in advance to save time.
  • Don’t forget costs such as shipping, title, registration, taxes and maybe dealer’s fees.
  • If you plan to use eBay, familiarize yourself with the site’s short term service agreement, purchase protection and mediation policies.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

I’ve always had good luck with buying and selling cars and other big ticket items (e.g. furniture) online, so it’s something that I don’t give a second thought to doing any longer. Have you tried to purchase a car through the Internet before? How was your experience?

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Contributing Writer: BEM

Created April 26, 2010. Updated August 20, 2012. Copyright © 2012 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Marion -- Small cars rock April 26, 2010 at 8:59 pm

I have bought two cars from Ebay and been very pleased. No haggling a great price and solid buyer protection for a car that works great.

Geoff Jackson April 28, 2010 at 10:31 am

I’ve never had any problems buying a car from eBay, it’s a great place to find a bargain or at least good value for money.

I’m currently trying to sell one of my cars though and wondering where I can advertise it online as the internet is normally the place where people look to hunt bargains whereas I’m after the value price for this one. Heh.

Silicon Valley Blogger April 28, 2010 at 11:22 am

If you’re going to sell your car, you should try Craigslist. I’ve done it several times! I got a great price when a bunch of people got into a bidding war on the car. I found it really easy using it as well. I even wrote about my experience here.

Credit Girl April 28, 2010 at 2:19 pm

You also save money on gas by not having to go to every single dealer in town and out of town.

Rodrigo Pereira April 28, 2010 at 3:08 pm

I have bought two cars from Ebay and been very pleased. No haggling for a great price and solid buyer protection for a car that works great.

Geoff Cudd April 28, 2010 at 7:51 pm

One cool thing about CarsDirect is not only can you submit a request for quotes from multiple dealers (like the other services mentioned above), but they also give you a low no-haggle buy now price. Also, if you are able to find a cheaper car 3 days after you buy, they have a price guarantee and will pay you the difference.

mary b May 1, 2010 at 8:16 am

When I needed a new vehicle fast I found a (somewhat) local Car Auction that allowed you to bid online. You can view the cars about a week in advance, so from home I was able to select a few vehicles I was interested in, check the CarFax, decide on my max price for each one, and rank in order of importance. The morning of the auction I watched online as the cars roll through the block and bid on those I liked.

Got a great deal, a little less than half the KBB price and what the same vehicles were on used car lots.

Goran Web Design May 3, 2010 at 4:44 am

The internet sure has the ability to make your search much easier, especially if you’re looking at buying a specific model, or in a specific price range. The old days of trawling the local dealer lots and newspaper classified ads are long gone, and thank goodness for that!

David May 4, 2010 at 6:42 am

However easier it may be, as a car lover i won’t go for it without taking a test drive first.You can’t take an online test drive!

Top Gear May 6, 2010 at 4:33 am

Yeah, sure, there are many internet sites these days where you can filter for car specifications very easily. But when it comes to making a purchase, I think the seller and buyer still have to meet face to face. At least this could reduce the risk for both of them.

Loretta May 7, 2010 at 12:31 pm

“Yeah, sure, there are many internet sites these days where you can filter for car specifications very easily.”

You think???

earnest June 7, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Great advice. I do all my looking and research online, then buy from private sellers online. I get most of the detail from the advertisement then find out the rest on the phone before I look at the car in person. It saves heaps of time.

Chris August 8, 2010 at 1:47 pm

I am an Internet Sales Manager at a big import dealer. People ask for quotes then don’t ask for the person who helped them online when they come in. Please don’t be that person! Don’t make an easy sale for the showroom sales person when they are not the people who brought you in with a great offer. Please ask for the people that sent you the quote, the Internet Sales Manager. Most times the Internet Sales Manager provide a dealers best prices. This is a big problem and people need to know who is really behind those killer quotes you get. It’s not the showroom commission salespeople I assure you.

Josh @ Auto Broker Magic December 3, 2011 at 11:49 am

Just great information here. Buying a car is just filled with stress and distrust. I love going to a dealership to drive and compare cars, but the actual buying process is a huge headache. Doing so much of it online can alleviate a lot of the aggravation.

Peter February 16, 2012 at 5:38 pm

I agree that saving time as well as money are the best reasons to buy a car online. I haven’t used ebay but I’ve used, and has really low prices.

Jim at Bargaineering August 21, 2012 at 5:41 am

I bought my first two cars on eBay from dealerships. I don’t know if I’d buy from an individual but I felt safe buying them from dealerships.

Tim Hawkins August 21, 2012 at 6:43 am

@Chris — your employer should have understood this issue for your position, and modify the commission structure accordingly. Otherwise, the law of unintended consequences takes over causing friction in the work place. This is probably caused by a lack of training at the management level.

Veronica @ Pelican on Money August 21, 2012 at 10:03 pm

I’d be careful about the no haggle issue. Sometimes “no haggle” is simply a front for saying: “we won’t bother accepting your lower offer” – which may actually be closer to the true market value you’re after. That being said, I haven’t really purchased anything online (I don’t think Craigslist qualifies as an online purchase, does it? lol)

Brian August 22, 2012 at 12:01 am

ebay offers a lot of option and that goes the same with cars. I can totally agree about the convenience. While I took the risk of not having my first purchase inspected and just relied on the reliability of the seller, I was not disappointed.

Anpr August 27, 2012 at 3:08 pm

I think it’s not a wise decision to buy a car via online.We should buy a car direct from showroom. My .02.

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