The 5 Best Online Car Buying Sites of 2021

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George Arkin
George Arkin is an experienced writer focusing on online car auctions and the full car transportation process.
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Digital Age technologies have radically transformed how we do everything. From hosting virtual business meetings to purchasing cars through online dealerships; computers and the internet have revolutionized our world.

When it comes to the best online car buying sites, companies rely on intelligent search engines. These search engines help customers compare multiple vehicles in their price range before making a purchase.

Such cutting-edge tech proves convenient and highly efficient. No wonder the number of online automobile dealerships has surged in recent years! Yet, the best brands come with unique features, setting them apart from the competition.

As a result, not all car dealerships are created equal. How do you find the best one for your needs? Keep reading as we take a look at the five best online car buying sites on the market today.

Criteria Used to Assess the Best Online Car Buying Sites

Before we dive into our picks for the top five online car websites in the US, let’s briefly examine the factors considered when assessing each company. The factors we considered included:

  • Website design
  • Integrated tools
  • Search tools for car browsing
  • Helpful information
  • Customer service
  • Access to financing information
  • Options provided by the website

As we look at the best car buying sites in this article, we’ll consider these factors. Of course, car buying sites rank differently when it comes to how they meet consumers’ needs. And some factors prove more important to consumers than others.

That said, each of the five online car sales brands we chose offers a user-friendly experience, from car searching to final sales. Some of these sites have been around for years and may not prove as high-tech as others.

Of course, you don’t need all of the bells and whistles to find the perfect ride. And isn’t that ultimately what you’re after? The perfect ride for you?

So, we put the overall customer experience ahead of factors such as cutting-edge sites in our final comparison.

A Caveat for New Car Buyers

We also need to discuss a caveat of the online vehicle purchasing process. Currently, you can’t purchase a new car entirely online in the United States. That is unless you’re buying a Tesla.

All 50 states have regulations prohibiting manufacturers from selling directly to consumers. Why? Because this is considered illegal competition with these manufacturers’ franchises.

How does Tesla get around these regulations? By being the only American manufacturer not to have any franchisees.

In other words, while you can complete an entire car purchase for a used vehicle online, don’t expect to do the same with a brand new car from a manufacturer.

When you purchase a used car, make sure you carefully read all of the contract details. That goes for information about fees associated with the purchase, too. These fees often include delivery charges and other related expenses.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of purchasing a car online, let’s take a closer look at our top five picks for online car dealerships.

1. Carvana

If the idea of getting a car from a vending machine floats your boat, then Carvana’s the brand for you. Located in select cities, it’s one of the best online car shopping sites out there.

Why? Because the company continues to bring its high-tech car vending machine dream to life. And a growing number of consumers love what the company does.

How does it work? Consumers start by navigating the site, a simple process, where they’ll gain access to more than 23,000 cars and trucks in stock. Cars come with Carfax history reports, which means you know what you’re getting into before making a purchase.

What’s more, cars get stored in a reconditioning center where they’re certified and thoroughly inspected. In other words, quality matters with Carvana. Brand facilities aren’t open to the public, so you must search the website.

But you’ll enjoy a wide selection of automobiles, making it well worth your time. Once you’ve found your dream car, it’s as simple as having it delivered by a reputable, professional auto shipping company.

Or pick your car up from one of the brand’s many car vending machines. This second delivery method proves the most colorful and fascinating way to savor the Carvana experience.

THE ADVANTAGES OF CARVANA

What are some of the benefits associated with using Carvana? You can fill out all needed paperwork directly at the website, and the company offers free delivery to most major cities.

That said, you should consider making your own auto shipping arrangements. You’ll retain more control over the type of shipment and the quality of the company employed. You’ll also have the ability to shop around for a better deal.

You don’t need a minimum credit score to apply for Carvana financing, and you’ll only risk a soft credit inquiry to get started.

What’s more, if you’d like to experience the car vending machine but live out of town, Carvana may subsidize your airfare.

THE DISADVANTAGES OF CARVANA

If you don’t make much in the way of a minimum income, Carvana won’t work for you. You must earn a minimum of $10,000 per year to apply for financing.

Who else might not appreciate the Carvana experience? Ultimately, any person who doesn’t feel comfortable making a car purchase sight unseen. Fortunately, you have seven days to return the car if it’s not satisfactory.

2. Carfax

One of the most trusted names in vehicle history reports is Carfax. But many people don’t realize that this brand also hosts a thriving online car marketplace.

Carfax’s digital dealership enhances the reach of more than 30,000 physical locations nationwide. What’s more, the website has integrated with Facebook Marketplace bringing greater transparency and confidence to online car buying.

THE ADVANTAGES OF CARFAX

Besides its stellar reputation, Carfax manages a simple yet effective online car dealership. Each vehicle listed on the site comes with a Carfax Vehicle History Report.

We also like the Carfax History-Based Value feature, which lets you see a car’s worth before making a purchase. You can sign up through the site for email and text alerts, which you’ll receive when cars you like get listed.

THE DISADVANTAGES OF CARVANA

Carfax is an old website, and it can feel a bit clumsy to navigate. It doesn’t boast all of the bells and whistles of other sites, but it still delivers. That said, you won’t get much in the way of original search features.

But if you’re content to look for cars via model, make, body type, color, ZIP code, price, and quality, you’ll do fine. For anything more granular than that, you’ll need to find another platform.

3. Autotrader

Launched in 1997 as an online review site, Autotrader is also a marketplace that offers various certified pre-owned, used, and new vehicles. These cars come from dealers and private sellers, which provides you with a broader selection of merchandise.

The website has won several awards over the past year, including recognition from Dealers’ Choice Diamond Awards, J.D. Power Associates, and Information Week.

THE ADVANTAGES OF AUTOTRADER

If you’re looking for a sleek and modern website that’s cutting edge, Autotrader’s the platform for you. Its homepage integrates excellent reference materials and tools such as Kelley Blue Book.

You can search via the most traditional filters as well as add-ons like trim packages and other variables. You’ll also find plenty of helpful information and research that you can use to buy a new car.

Because there are many car dealers on the site, expect a higher level of professionalism overall.

THE DISADVANTAGES OF AUTOTRADER

What are the downsides of using Autotrader? Sometimes having access to so many options can feel overwhelming. If you don’t understand how to narrow the filters to optimize searches, you could end up with too many results.

You must also contact multiple lenders on your own to secure financing. This reality makes for a time-consuming and clunky process that many users don’t relish.

4. CarsDirect

Since 1998, CarsDirect has offered vehicle-buying services to the public. In the process, it has earned a reputation for excellent customer service and industry leadership.

The company has received recognition through the receipt of numerous industry awards. These include PC Magazine’s “Top 100 Classic Website,” Time Magazine’s “50 Best” websites in the world, and PC World’s “Top Site for Buying and Selling Anything.”

THE ADVANTAGES OF CARSDIRECT

What do people like about CarsDirect? This no-frills website is excellent if you have bad credit or minimal credit history. And because you’re shopping online, you never have to deal with awkward situations when your credit report score comes up.

You’ll also find it easy to save car searches via the website. That way, you can access and refine them later.

THE DISADVANTAGES OF CARSDIRECT

CarsDirect ultimately permits you to interact directly with dealerships. For this reason, the services you enjoy will vary. You may also need to send multiple emails or phone calls before getting matched with the car of your dreams.

Because the platform is a direct marketplace, you must negotiate with lenders through individual dealers. The same goes for securing a reliable car shipping service.

Without a thorough understanding of how vehicle relocation works, you could end up with a less-than-satisfactory car moving experience. Or you could even risk a damaged car during the delivery process.

The best way to avoid these potential risks? By understanding how to avoid damage during car transportation. That way, you can secure the best auto moving company possible at a reasonable rate.

5. Vroom

Are you looking for a website that offers no-haggle pricing and easy financing? Then, look no further than Vroom. The company lists approximately 5,000 cars, and you’ll enjoy finance options through more than a dozen banks.

Although Vroom isn’t the most extensive online seller, it offers consumers a broad slate of high-end, clean automobiles.

THE ADVANTAGES OF VROOM

What do we love about Vroom? For starters, the company provides consumers with a seven-day test period. During this time, you can return any car purchased, no questions asked.

What’s more, cars come with 90-day, 6,000-mile limited warranties. This policy goes for used cars, too. Automobiles sold on the site come with clean titles, a car inspection, and a Carfax Vehicle History Report.

You’ll also be pleased to know that the vast majority of vehicles offered through Vroom are low-mileage. Many still fall under their original manufacturer’s warranty!

THE DISADVANTAGES OF VROOM

What turns some customers away from this website? Vroom tailors its services specifically to the sale of newer vehicles. As a result, you must have good credit to get financed through the platform.

Although Vroom doesn’t stipulate a minimum credit score requirement, be prepared to look at other sites if your credit isn’t something to write home about.

What’s more, if you can’t pick up your newly purchased vehicle in Houston, get ready to pay $499 per vehicle for standard delivery. If you go the Vroom route, you should shop around for better auto transport rates.

The Five Best Top Car Websites

Whether you’re looking for no-haggle pricing through Vroom or forgiving financing through CarsDirect, there’s an online car dealership for you. Use the information above to help you decide which of the best online car buying sites is right for you.

Once you’ve decided which site you’d like to use, what’s next? Start looking for your dream ride. At the same time, don’t forget to research your options regarding auto shipping companies.

Not sure where to start? We’ve got you covered. Keep reading to learn about seven critical factors that impact a car shipping quote and how you can get the best service possible.

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