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Best Online Car-Buying Sites and Apps

best online car buying sites

Car shopping can be so overwhelming, simply figuring out the right website is enough to put the brakes on any hunt. We sorted the best online car-buying sites into buyer categories. Want to have as little human interaction in the car-buying process as possible? Look at the top sites on this list. Just started scrolling for a new ride? Check out the three sites we recommend for people who are still searching for their perfect car. Or, if you already know which type of vehicle you want and just need the best deal and tools to go negotiate, we have four sites for that plus two mobile apps. Whatever your stage in the car-buying process, here are the best sites we found.

Best car-buying sites for those who want to do everything online
Best car-shopping site for peer-to-peer buying
Best car-shopping sites for those still searching
Best car-shopping sites for value shoppers
Best car-shopping site for people who want new vehicles
Best online car-buying site if you had a bankruptcy
Best car-shopping apps

Best car-buying sites for those who want to do everything online

While flying cars aren’t widely available yet, the future is here in that you don’t have to hit the pavement to find a good used car. There are a few websites that offer a completely online buying experience.

Carvana

Choose your car on the Carvana website, get it financed and have it delivered to your doorstep, all without seeing another human. For those with car-buying anxiety, it may not actually be nirvana, but it may come close.

What we like: There is a convenience and “cool” factor that comes from buying a car completely online and picking it up from a vending machine or having it delivered like you’re a VIP. The information and photos for each vehicle are extensive on Carvana’s website and it offers free Carfax reports. It also has a Fly and Drive program if you live far away from your new vehicle and want to pick it up yourself.

Every Carvana vehicle has a seven-day return policy and a 100-day or 4,189-mile dealer warranty. The site also breaks down the factory warranties on the car: the types it came with and what’s left on them.

Drawbacks: You can’t go see or test-drive a car before you buy it. If you live outside of Carvana’s delivery zones and you can’t go pick it up, you’ll have to pay a fee to have it delivered. If you’re trading in a vehicle, the transport truck that drops off your new car won’t pick up your old one. You have to meet a Carvana representative within one of their local markets. And, while this may be a drawback for only some people, you can’t negotiate price with Carvana.

Vroom

Like Carvana, Vroom promises completely online car-buying. Two things set it apart: Vroom will also buy your car without you buying one of theirs, and all of its cars not only come with a seven-day return period and a short warranty, but also a year’s worth of roadside assistance.

What we like: It only sells vehicles that pass multiple inspections, have clean titles and are listed as accident-free on AutoCheck vehicle history reports, which are available for free. All of its cars come with a seven-day, 250-mile return period, a 90-day or 6,000-mile complimentary warranty and one year of free 24/7 roadside assistance.

Vroom partners with Capital One, Ally, TD Bank and Bank of America to help buyers finance their cars. It also sells extended warranty and GAP insurance.

Drawbacks: Its inventory is smaller — about 2,600 used cars to Carvana’s 11,700, so it may not have what you’re seeking. The delivery fee is $499 anywhere within the contiguous U.S., which is expensive if you live relatively close to its Texas location but can’t pick the vehicle up yourself. If you’d like your car delivered by an enclosed trailer instead of an open truck, the fee is $799, though larger vehicles may not be eligible for enclosed delivery.

Best car-shopping site for peer-to-peer buying

You could use this site much like you would Carvana and Vroom and buy your car without leaving the house. But Shift differs in two big ways: It’s a peer-to-peer seller that also offers test-drives.

Note that other peer-to-peer marketplaces such as eBay didn’t make the list because they don’t focus strictly on autos and you may have to filter out related (but unhelpful to car shoppers) items such as car parts or tools.

Shift

This is a company that facilitates peer-to-peer car buying and selling, but Shift does much more than Craigslist or eBay (though good deals may still be found at those sites, too). It aims to take the risk out of buying from an independent seller and to make being an independent seller easier.

What we like: Before Shift posts a vehicle for sale, its history and overall health are scrutinized thanks to a thorough vehicle inspection. If the car passes, Shift then provides high-definition photos, descriptions and experts who can answer questions and even take the car to potential buyers for a test drive.

You can apply for financing through Shift and have the company handle the paperwork involved in title transfer and vehicle registration.

Drawback: While Shift can ship anywhere in the U.S., you can only test-drive one if you live in one of its seven California locations.

Best car-shopping sites for those still searching

Completely shopping online has its pluses, but it helps if you have a good idea of what car you want. But what if you’re starting from scratch? These sites show you cars from multiple places, greatly increasing the inventory you have to choose from, not to mention a couple of these sites include new cars in the mix. Check these guys out if you’re not sure what car you want, if you don’t know what’s out there or if you want to be able to tell the dealership it better lower the price because you’ve got other options.

Autotempest

For those who want to see a wide selection, Autotempest is a one-stop search engine. You can see new and used cars from dealership websites and used cars from private sellers. It pulls search results from eBay, CarSoup, Oodle, Craigslist and more. You can search in your local area or across the country.

What we like: For every car that turns up in your search, Autotempest shows you the price, mileage and location of the vehicle, along with photos and options for a free vehicle history report and shipping quotes. It also has guides on how to get the best price on a used car and how to avoid scams.

Drawbacks: Make sure you refine your search filters, or you could fall in love with a convertible in Hawaii before you realize you’re going to have to ship it 2,000 miles. Start your search closer to home and expand it as needed. Posts from private sellers can leave a lot to be desired — some lack photos and detailed descriptions.

Autotrader

Like Autotempest, Autotrader functions as a search engine for used cars sold by private sellers and dealers. It features car reviews from industry professionals, a model comparison tool and top 10 lists of new and used vehicles under different price points.

What we like: Autotrader has a large section of auto research and reviews, which includes a couple of cool tools: Its comparison tool lets you put up to five cars side by side while its affordability calculator lets you work backward to get a car’s price range by entering your desired monthly payment and other factors such as down payment, trade-in and APR.

You can also search by listing features, such as who the seller is (private party versus dealership) and whether the listing includes price, photos or a video.

Drawbacks: Top search results are sponsored ads that may not match your search criteria. It can be annoying when the top three results aren’t in your budget. And the car research section has a lot of news which may not be relevant to the regular car buyer. You may have to click around to find news that isn’t for car junkies.

CarGurus

The CarGurus site features certified pre-owned cars in addition to new and used vehicles. Its mobile app has been downloaded one million times on Google Play. And it has user and professional car reviews, previews and test drive reports.

What we like: It clearly marks sponsored listings and then prioritizes the rest of the search results by how well the car is priced compared with market value. It has dealer ratings, a payment calculator tool, a free vehicle history report and links to a map with the car’s location and directions on how to get there. You can also sign up for price-drop notices.

Drawback: Vehicle history reports are summarized for free on the listing, but the full report isn’t free.

Best car-shopping sites for value shoppers

For those who know what they want or just want to be sure they’re not overpaying, these sites not only summarize what’s on the market, but also their market value.

Kelly Blue Book

KBB first became famous as an industry standard for determining vehicle value. You once had to flip back and forth between an inventory site to find a car you like and KBB to find the value — all to see if each car you liked was overpriced. Now, KBB offers the neat trick of showing you inventory, prices and a vehicle’s fair market value in one place. It also has a four-star mobile app for those on the go.

What we like: For each vehicle, you can see the KBB expert rating, the consumer rating and the fair market value, which are all displayed under the seller’s price for easy comparison. You could also show a seller the KBB value and ratings as a negotiating tool. KBB also has an instant cash offer program for individuals who are selling their cars.

The KBB search filters are really sweet with more options than most. For example, you can easily see who’s selling what vehicle for how much and how far away they are from you.

Drawbacks: There are vehicle history reports available, but they’re not free. There’s also a button under the vehicle price to “get a loan,” which presents financing options, which is great, but remember to shop around for a loan and check several lenders, including your bank and credit union.

Cars.com

Like many price-conscious shoppers, you may be wondering how much your neighbors are paying for their cars. Cars.com gives you that information plus a wide selection of new and used cars from dealerships and private sellers. The site has payment calculators and a side-by-side comparison tool, as well as expert review videos, a four-star mobile app and advice articles.

What we like: The search results page lets you know if the car is priced well based on an area comparison with an icon saying “great deal” or “good deal.” The thing that makes this car-buying site stand out is the price map it has for each vehicle. It shows which other cars of the same vehicle model in local and regional markets are priced relative to their mileage and status of new/used/certified. When you click on other points on the chart, it brings up the vehicle posting immediately beside the information of the one you’re looking at so you can compare.

Drawback: Vehicle history reports are available but not free.

Best car-shopping site for people who want new vehicles

Many of the sites on our list specialize in used cars and most show both new and used inventory, but this site is especially well-suited for new car buyers.

CarsDirect

This site stands out by keeping up to date on major manufacturer rebates. CarsDirect tracks the nitty-gritty on cash rebates, including which ones are good for how long on exactly which vehicles.

What we like: Besides tracking cash rebates, CarsDirect has convenient resources. Whether you’re searching for new or used, you don’t have to go hunting for reviews — pertinent news and reviews are right there next to your search results along with featured videos, how-to-choose articles, expert opinions and a “versus” section that links to similar competitor models.

Drawbacks: Because not everyone will qualify for special APR programs, military discounts or student rebates, CarsDirect doesn’t track these types of new-car incentives. You’ll have to visit the manufacturer’s website or a dealer to find out about those incentives, which may add up to be worth more than the cash incentives CarsDirect does track.

CarsDirect also doesn’t show results from all dealers in your area, so check local prices before selecting a CarsDirect offer.

Best online car-buying site if you had a bankruptcy

If you had a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, it can be hard to find financing for a vehicle, or even to know a suitable price range. We found one site that specializes in helping people in any stage of bankruptcy.

National Automotive Brokerage Services

Rated A+ by the Better Business Bureau, NABS specializes in helping people who are going through or who went through bankruptcy to get an auto loan. Apply to NABS, and if they find a lender that works for you, they help you find a car that fits your budget.

What we like: NABS does not charge customers any fees for its service, which includes delivering the car to your door. APRs start at 7.99%. Each car comes with a 30-day or 1,000-mile limited warranty on the engine, transmission and drive axle.

Drawbacks: You have to apply for an auto loan before you know the vehicle inventory available. Because NABS is a broker, it might not offer you the best deal you could get, but, rather, the deal that is the best for them as they are paid by the lenders. Apply to a few other places in order to see what you can get, so no one lender can take advantage of you. It won’t hurt your credit to apply to multiple places within a 14-day window.

Best car-shopping apps

If you don’t have a computer or just like to use your phone for everything, here are two apps that could make car shopping easier without ever stepping into a car sales lot.

Used Car Search Pro

Rated 4.5 on Google Play with 100,000 downloads, Used Car Search Pro is the free app (found on the App Store and on Google Play)  for the company iSeeCars.

What we like: This app prioritizes your search results by price, vehicle condition and seller’s reputation. It gives a price analysis for each car and tells you with a green icon if it’s a good deal based on market value. Its price map shows local prices on the same car model relative to mileage and whether they’re good deals. When you click on other points on the chart, it brings up the vehicle posting as a bubble so you can see the car photo and price.

Like Amazon does with its sellers, iSeeCars has ratings and reviews for each dealership.

Drawback: Vehicle history reports aren’t free.

Autolist

Rated 4.6 stars on Google Play with over 16,000 reviews, Autolist is a free mobile app to search for used cars and trucks. It can be found on the App Store and Google Play.

What we like: Autolist has hundreds of filters, a payment calculator, maps (and directions) of where the cars are, mobile alerts when the price drops on a car, a chart of the price history of the vehicle. It shows a “buyer intelligence” section for each result showing how much more (or less) it’s priced compared with similar listings. You can save your search, create new searches and clearly see which vehicles you’ve already viewed.

Drawback: Carfax reports are available, but not always free.


 

Methodology: In order to be chosen as a best online website, sites generally had to be easy to navigate as well as informative, but each company also had to meet the following qualifications:

  • It could not have its own brand of physical dealerships where consumers can visit and test drive vehicles.
  • Operations could not be limited to one state.
  • Its main value proposition revolves around vehicles.
  • Transparency — websites could not require personal information in exchange for basic vehicle details such as price.
  • It has to sell regular consumer vehicles, not only company fleet vehicles or classic cars.
  • No concierge buying services such as TrueCar and Checkbook’s CarBargins.
 

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