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The car buying process works differently in 2022 compared to decades ago. With many more resources available on the Internet, it’s easier to compare the best used car prices. You can skip the dealership and pushy car salespeople by buying your car online.

Websites like Autotrader and Carfax have listings where you can purchase cars directly from reputable dealerships. You don’t have to visit a dealership if you purchase a car from Carvana or CarMax. Buying a car online still has risks: always take a few precautions if you choose this route.

1. Do your research

Carvana logo on a laptop where you can purchase a car online.
Carvana logo | Getty Images

Many cars are on the market today, so finding the best one for your lifestyle is crucial. If you have a growing family, it might make more sense to purchase an SUV than a two-row sedan. Drivers with long work commutes might want to consider the most efficient vehicles like hybrids and EVs.

Once you know which car you want, you can look for it at various dealerships with online search tools. Most dealerships list their available cars online or through a third party like Carfax. These listings usually also tell you if the vehicle has been in an accident or has any significant issues.

If your desired car isn’t available at a dealership, you may be able to purchase it from a private seller. While it’s possible to buy a vehicle legitimately this way, there are also many scammers looking to take advantage of innocent drivers.

When working with a private buyer, always ask for the car’s VIN. It’s recommended that you run that number through the NICB checker to make sure it’s not stolen.

You’ll also want to document the full details of your transaction in writing. Ask the seller to show you the vehicle’s title and make sure that their matching name is on the document. Always get the car professionally inspected before you commit to buying it.

2. Consider additional shipping costs

Many car dealerships that operate exclusively online will ship a car to your home, frequently free of charge. However, if you purchase a car online from an out-of-state dealership, you may have to hire an outside shipping company. When searching for an automobile shipping service, your first priority is to find one with good reviews.

Access Auto Insurance advises readers to check if a shipping company will transport the car to their area. Ask the company what it charges for shipping, including any extra fees. Confirm when the car will be picked up and how long it should take to arrive at your home.

3. Don’t forget shipping security


Here are the Advantages of Buying a Used Car Online (and Some Disadvantages)

Cars are expensive purchases, so you don’t want to skimp on safe transportation. If you want your car to arrive in the best condition, work with a shipping company that provides enclosed transport. Your car will be shipped in a walled-off trailer with complete protection against the elements.

Every car shipping company should also ask the dealership to sign a bill of lading. This confirms the vehicle’s condition before it arrives at your home. If the car is damaged before or during transit, that document will help you get your money back.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

A dealership’s pictures often don’t tell the whole story about a car, so don’t hesitate to ask for any additional details. A dealership associate might be more than happy to give you a “walkthrough” of the car via a video call.

Though there are some exceptions, you usually can’t test drive a car you bought online before it’s delivered. With that in mind, check that the dealership has a return policy good for at least seven days. This should be enough time for you to detect any noticeable performance issues and have the car returned.