The world of car buying has changed significantly in recent years, thanks to the pandemic and advances in technology. Just a few years back, buying a car online seemed like a fantasy, and no one expected to get out of a car purchase without spending hours at the dealership. Now, you can buy a new or used car without leaving your couch, but there are still several steps and plenty of paperwork involved in the process. Here’s an overview of how to buy a car online.
Decide how you want to buy a new car online
You’ve got several options to buy a car these days, including online. Several major retailers offer no-touch, remote car-buying, and many can finance and get your paperwork done without you ever going to a dealership. If that’s not appealing, many dealership groups can work with you remotely and may be able to help with some of the process, such as shipping. While it’s possible to buy a car from an individual remotely, it’s best to have a person you trust who can help facilitate the purchase with the seller. There are some extra steps involved with buying from an individual that can be a real hassle if you’re not prepared for them.
Get your finances in order
Before you start shopping, you’ll need to determine your budget and ensure you can afford the car you want. It’s also a good idea to review your credit score ahead of time to identify any issues or incorrect information you didn’t know about ahead of time. This is the time to set a maximum budget so that you don’t get too focused on monthly payments or get sucked into conversations about expensive add-ons like extended warranties and protection plans.
Once you’ve figured out the budget and are comfortable with the numbers, you must apply for car financing. How and where you do this is up to you, but you have a few great options that aren’t tied to the dealer you’re working with. Check with local credit unions and banks for rates and incentives, especially if you’re already a member or customer. Some offer “blank check” financing that lets you pick the vehicle and terms and hand over a certified bank check to pay. Others might have more favorable interest rates or terms than dealer financing. However, if you’re buying a new car and want the best deals, financing offers from vehicle manufacturers can sometimes be a fantastic way to save money on your loan.
Speak with the seller
After figuring out your budget and finances, it’s time to start a conversation with the dealer or seller. The process with dealers generally involves an initial inquiry, followed by some questions and back and forth on the vehicle and its condition. If you’re confident that you’ve found the car you want, you can start talking about price and any rebates or incentives that may be available for that model.
Buying a car online is convenient, but you still have to complete the same steps as if you were shopping in person. Depending on how advanced your dealer is, you may be able to complete paperwork using DocuSign or another digital signing service. Still, in some cases, you’ll have to wait for documents to be mailed back and forth. However, don’t sign on the dotted line until …
This one’s a biggie. If you’re buying a used car online, even from a major car dealership chain, getting a pre-purchase inspection from an independent shop is a good idea. Used cars can come with many issues, some of which aren’t apparent without a detailed inspection. A reputable, experienced mechanic can save you thousands in repair costs with a simple inspection that generally costs less than $200, depending on the vehicle. You’ll want to ask them to check for signs of abuse or damage, run diagnostics and determine if the vehicle has any active error codes, and make sure that the condition is as you expect. This is an important step, and we recommend never buying a used vehicle online without it.
It’s also worth asking the dealer for a CarFax to learn more about a particular car’s history and find any potential red flags. If the dealer doesn’t provide a CarFax or other similar history report, it’s possible you can pay for one yourself.
How to buy a car online and have it delivered
Decide how you want to take delivery of your new car. If you live close enough to the seller, a road trip to pick up your new ride is the cheapest and most straightforward way to take delivery. If you need to cover longer distances, you can fly out and drive it home, or you can arrange shipping. Some dealers can help facilitate the process, but in many cases, you’ll be on your own to contact a shipping company and work out the details. Open truck shipping is the cheapest solution, but you may want to look at covered or enclosed shipping if you’ve just bought a brand-new or classic car.
If you do choose to ship the car, it’s essential to be diligent about checking its condition when it arrives. You’ll need to make sure the vehicle is exactly as you expect and that there have been no changes to its condition during shipping. The vehicle will be dirty when it arrives, even if it was shipped in an enclosed truck, because dust and other dirt can easily get into the trailer.