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Ranking The Best Online Car Dealers

6 minute read

By Lesley Harrison

Key Takeaways

  • Online car dealers can help you find the car of your dreams quickly and easily.
  • It’s possible to buy both used and new cars via online sellers.
  • Autotrader is a popular platform for used cars.
  • Kelley Blue Book is a good starting point for researching a purchase.
  • Autolist and CarsDirect have a wide variety of vehicles available.

It wasn’t that long ago that would-be buyers were forced to go from dealership to dealership when searching for a vehicle. If you wanted a car, you were limited to what was available locally, unless you wanted to call dealers listed in the phone book. Today, thankfully, you have way more options. You can open up an app or website and see nationwide listings, making it easy to find exactly the car you want.

If you’re in the market for a new or new-to-you vehicle, read on to learn more about the best online car dealers available right now.

Buying Cars Online

Online services make shopping for a used or new car relatively simple. You can search for the type of car you want, and many sites also offer the ability to filter by make, model, year and certain features, such as drivetrain. So, if you don’t know much about cars but know you want an SUV with leather seats and Android Auto, you can plug those details into the search page and get a list of SUVs for sale that you can then filter by price or distance.

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A Look at the Best Online Car Dealers

There are many online car dealers to choose from, and they all have some overlap between them. However, as dealers and independent sellers choose to list their cars on more than one service, each tries to fill a specific niche. Americans buy an estimated 39.4 million used cars each year. Online dealers offer consumer reviews and powerful listing features for sellers, as well as a huge variety of vehicles all in one place to make the shopping process a bit easier for buyers.

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1. Cars.com

Cars.com is a popular all-purpose car buying website that features both new and used cars. It’s particularly well regarded for its consumer reviews section, which helps buyers make informed decisions about different makes and models.

The site also offers expert reviews and multicar comparisons, payment calculators and other tools to help make the buying process as simple as possible, regardless of whether you’re looking for a reliable used vehicle or are considering making a brand-new luxury purchase.

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2. Kelley Blue Book

Kelley Blue Book is an invaluable resource for all kinds of car enthusiasts. In addition to being a place where people can browse cars for sale, it’s also the go-to site for learning the market value of a given vehicle.

If you’re buying or selling a used car, it’s a good idea to refer to “the blue book” to get an idea of what a good-condition version of that car would likely sell for. This knowledge can help you in your negotiations. The site also offers other research tools and information to help buyers and sellers.

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3. Carvana

Motorists who are looking for a hassle-free used car purchase may want to consider Carvana. The site has a relatively low number of listings compared to some of the other platforms because it prioritizes quality above quantity.

The cars it lists undergo a 150-point inspection and come with a 100-day or 4,189-mile limited warranty. This compares favorably with many traditional brick-and-mortar dealers. If you’re not sure what car you’d like, you can simply answer a few questions and be matched with something they think will suit your needs.

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4. CarsDirect

If you’re looking for a deal on a certified, pre-owned vehicle but don’t have a great credit rating, CarsDirect could meet your needs. This is one of the oldest, still-running used car search engines, having launched in 1998.

It connects buyers with dealers and has an established lender network to help as many people as possible find and qualify for financing. It also helps buyers find rebates. The downside of this platform is that it doesn’t offer as much variety as modern rivals that include private sellers.

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5. Vroom

For those who are seeking the ultimate in convenience, Vroom may be an interesting option. This service offers contactless car purchases, something that would sound unwise if you were buying from a traditional listing site.

Vroom performs an extensive inspection on each car it lists and gives buyers 7 days or 250 miles to test the car. If you decide you don’t like the vehicle, you can return it during that period, no questions asked.

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6. Autolist

Autolist is a popular car listing site with a mobile app that makes searching for a car incredibly convenient. It has millions of cars listed and makes it easy for shoppers to search for the type of car they want. Buyers can even subscribe to listings to be notified of price drops.

It’s possible to request vehicle reports from within the app, although buyers must pay a fee for this service. The app also offers reviews and how-to guides.

Source: AutoList.com

7. AutoTrader

AutoTrader is a popular app and website with an international presence. It can be used for new and used cars, and has powerful search tools. AutoTrader is popular with both dealers and private sellers, although the fee structure for sellers means it’s less useful for people who are looking for truly bargain-basement vehicles.

However, if you’re searching for a relatively recent used model or a new car, you’ll likely find a huge number of listings to suit you on this platform.

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8. CarGurus

Boasting 5 million listings, CarGurus is worth a look, regardless of what type of vehicle you’re considering. It features new, used and certified pre-owned vehicles and lets buyers filter by make, model, year and price, as well as safety features, driver assists and a variety of other options.

The platform provides price trend information and reviews, as well as a tool to help people prequalify for auto financing. CarGurus is also easy to use from a seller’s perspective, which is one of the reasons it has such an impressive database of listings for buyers to explore.

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Dealers vs Private Sellers

Many used car websites list vehicles from both dealers and private sellers. Dealers usually offer warranties and perform checks on cars before listing them.

While this peace of mind is valuable if you’re on a tight budget and looking for a vehicle at the lower end of the price range, you may find a private seller offers better value for money. However, if you’re an inexperienced buyer, there’s a greater risk of encountering scams when buying privately.

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Protect Yourself When Buying Online

Always do your research before buying a car online. Check the car’s history by looking up the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), and be wary if the car has been involved in any accidents. Don’t buy a car without taking it for a test-drive first. If you don’t know a lot about cars, you may get peace of mind by having an expert look the vehicle over for you. It’s particularly important to do this if you’re buying a car from a private seller, rather than a dealer that offers a warranty.

Keep in mind that you should never wire the money for the car purchase to the seller. It can be nearly impossible to get the money back from a wire transfer if you’re scammed.

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Lesley Harrison

Writer

Lesley Harrison is a technical writer and open source software enthusiast with a passion for all things "data". In her spare time she coaches youth sports and loves exploring the English countryside.

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