5 Best Online Car Buying Sites of 2021, According to Consumer Affairs

Car buying is difficult these days due to chip shortages and rising virus outbreaks in some regions of the U.S. More dealers have shifted toward virtual showrooms and online sales to make their inventories more accessible to everyone. Online-only dealerships have also become popular during the past two years.

Buying a car online is very convenient if you’re set on your choice and don’t need a test drive. Still, some consumers are hesitant to trust online retailers, especially with such an expensive purchase. Here are the top-rated online dealerships, according to Consumer Affairs.

Carvana : car vending

A red toy car on a keyboard symbolizing car buying online
A toy car on a keyboard | Wodicka/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Famous for that spiffy car vending machine, Carvana was rated as the best online auto retailer overall for car buying. Buyers can look at a 360-degree inspection of the vehicle and have a 7-day return window if they aren’t satisfied. Buyers can also rest assured knowing that Carvana won’t sell any cars involved in accidents. 

Carvana still garners some complaints, such as frequent delivery rescheduling. You can pick your car up from a vending machine or have it shipped to your home. However, only certain models qualify for free shipping. The fixed-rate model means vehicles aren’t subject to sudden price hikes, but you also can’t negotiate on Carvana cars.

CarMax: convenient but more time-consuming car buying

CarMax reportedly has the best customer service, with a reasonable return policy and an intuitive website. Regardless of credit profile, CarMax offers financing solutions for every car shopping customer in under 20 minutes. Unlike Carvana, CarMax also allows buyers to have a co-signer or co-applicant.

Wait time to receive your vehicle is typically at least three days, even if you’re a local car buyer. The prices on CarMax also tend to be slightly higher than other online dealerships. Similarly, trade-in values are lower compared to the competition. There’s a convenient online quote tool, but you may have to visit a store to get a more accurate quote on certain vehicles.

AutoTrader: connects to dealership for car buying

While AutoTrader doesn’t sell cars directly, it connects buyers to a network of dealerships across the nation. Because of this, car buying customers are allowed to negotiate prices for better deals. The site updates its listings frequently, and shoppers can track their favorite models on the website or mobile app.

AutoTrader also connects its shoppers to a network of lenders through LendingTree. However, because it doesn’t sell its vehicles, buyers don’t get a guaranteed warranty rate for their purchase. Similarly, most car dealerships won’t accept returns on purchases through AutoTrader.

Tred: buying cars from private sellers

If you don’t want to work with a dealership during your car buying journey, you can connect with private sellers through Tred. All payments are securely processed through Tred with a 60-day money-back guarantee. The website verifies every seller with background checks and thoroughly reviews each vehicle history report for its listed cars.

Tred also offers multiple financing options, inspection guarantees, and extended warranties. Customers can opt to receive a monthly value report with trade-in rates in their area. If you live near the seller, you can even schedule a test drive. However, Tred only provides its services to drivers in Texas, California, Washington, and Oregon.

TrueCar: fast and easy but no negotiations

Like AutoTrader, TrueCar compiles searchable listings to help you locate the best car in your area with less legwork. In addition to the listed price, TrueCar also provides the MSRP and estimated savings of each model.  Every purchase is backed by a 250-mile or 7-day return policy, whichever you hit first.

TrueCar also has its financing and trade-in programs, but you can’t get extended warranties or negotiable pricing. Still, Consumer Affairs says TrueCar offers the best online car buying experience. With more buyers enjoying the convenience of online dealerships, we’ll probably see more contenders in the future.

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