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How to buy a car online

Buying your new car online is a convenient way to get a vehicle from the comfort of your own home. Find out how below.

Andrew Hurst

By

Andrew Hurst

Andrew Hurst

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

Andrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

Updated|7 min read

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Lots of online retailers and even some dealerships sell cars online, so you buy a new vehicle and get it delivered right to your door.

When buying a car over the internet, doing lots of research ahead of time can make the entire process easier. You should also compare insurance quotes for your new vehicle. In all, you can buy a car online in as few as eight steps:

How to buy a car online

  1. Figure out your budget

  2. Think about the car you need

  3. Get pre-approved for a car loan

  4. Check out the cars available near you

  5. Know your trade-in value

  6. Negotiate your new car’s price

  7. Shop for car insurance

  8. Schedule your new car’s delivery

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1. Figure out your budget

The first step of buying a car online is to figure out how much you can afford to spend on a new or used vehicle. While the newest high-end model might be the most appealing, you don’t want to spend too much and risk not being able to keep up with payments.

Figuring out what you can safely afford to spend on your new vehicle will make the rest of the process of getting a car online go more smoothly. You’ll know whether a lease, car loan, or an outright purchase makes the most sense for you. You’ll also be able to estimate your car insurance budget.

2. Think about the car you need

Not every great car is right for every driver. For example, it makes more sense for a young driver living on their own to get a smaller car than it does for a growing family, who may sacrifice sleekness and opt for a large sports utility vehicle or minivan.

Once you have decided on a few cars that you like, be sure to research each model’s specs (short for specifications) online. It’s possible for one kind of car to have different specs depending on its trim level. This can affect a car’s size, carrying capacity, appearance, and performance.

3. Get pre-approved for a car loan

Getting pre-approved for an auto loan before you buy a car online is a savvy way to get the best price for your vehicle. Once you’re pre-approved for a loan, it means that a bank, credit union, or other lender has already approved your loan and you’re clear to buy a car.

This gives you some leverage when you actually start shopping for a car online. You can negotiate with the dealership or seller knowing that you don’t have to use their financing offers if you don’t get a better deal.

4. Check out the cars available near you

You don’t have to go into a physical dealership to find out which cars are available in your area. It’s common for dealerships to list the cars they have on their lots, and online car retailers like Carvana and Vroom list available cars online too. 

By checking out local dealerships’ sites in your area, you can find out all you want to know about a car you’re thinking of buying online, like its:

  • City and highway fuel economy

  • Transmission type

  • Driveline

  • Color options

  • VIN (if you’re looking at a specific vehicle)

As you find a few dealerships or retailers that offer the car you want, compare the sticker prices. Make sure the price is not too far from the suggested retail price (or MSRP). Once you know the cost of the car you want (and where it’s the cheapest), you can start deciding where you’ll actually buy the car from.

You can also schedule a test drive as you shop local dealerships. If you use a vendor to buy a car online, you can schedule a delivery for your test drive. With smaller dealerships, you may have to make an appointment to try out the car in person.

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5. Know your trade-in value

One important part about comparing car prices online for a vehicle you want to buy is knowing your car’s trade-in value (if you already have a car). 

Your car’s trade-in value is the amount of money that the dealership or retailer will pay you for your old vehicle. You’ll be able to put the money from that sale toward your new car, potentially saving yourself thousands of dollars off the new vehicle’s sticker price.

Keep in mind that you might have to make a trip to the dealership if you’re trading in an old car. Some online sellers will assess your car’s value after you fill out a few questions about your vehicle’s condition, mileage, and other basic details. Others (especially smaller, local dealerships) could require you to come in for a full appraisal.

6. Negotiate your new car’s price

You may still be able to negotiate the price of your vehicle when you’re buying a new car online — and you should as long as that option is available. That way you don’t pay more than you have to. 

There are a couple of ways that you can get a better price on the car you want to buy online. First, once you’ve been pre-approved for financing from a third-party, you can limit (or eliminate) the extra cost of financing that dealership will offer you. 

Second, you can negotiate a lower rate by turning down any add-ons that a dealership will offer that raise the price of your new car. These might include long warranties, security offers, and accessories. Unless you really want them, declining these features can lower the price of your new car by a significant amount.

When is the best time to buy a car?

You might be able to save money when you’re buying a car online if you shop at the end of the month, or around the time when you can get rebates on your purchase. Salespeople may accept lower offers at the end of the month (or sales quarter) to meet quotas.

7. Shop for car insurance

If you already have car insurance on another vehicle, you’ll have to contact your insurance company within a few days of getting your new car. Your coverage will still cover the car you bought online when it arrives at your house, but not indefinitely.

The process of getting covered is different if you don’t already have car insurance. You need to have insurance before you start driving, and if you buy a car online, you may be required to show proof of insurance before you can schedule a delivery. 

You can usually get the lowest insurance rate by comparing quotes ahead of time when you know the vehicle you want. Schedule your policy to start on the day when your car is delivered.

It’s still a good idea to compare quotes even if you already have another vehicle. When you buy a car online and have to add a new vehicle to an existing policy, the cost of your insurance will get more expensive. That means the company you were with may no longer offer you the best rate.

→ Read more about how to shop for car insurance

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8. Schedule your new car’s delivery

After you finalize your car purchase online, you can pick a day to get the car shipped to your home. You can even electronically sign any necessary paperwork if your dealership offers that option.

It’s important to keep in mind that you might have to pay shipping costs if you decide to have the car you bought online delivered. But you can usually schedule a physical pick-up if you want to avoid paying extra for delivery fees.

When should you buy a car online through a dealership?

The best part about buying a car online is the convenience factor. You can browse models, prices, specs, and insurance options online on your own time from the comfort of your own home without worrying about dealing with pushy salespeople in person.

If this appeals to you, then check out whether dealerships in your area have their own websites that offer detailed information about their inventory. You can also buy a car online from an auto retailer like Carvana or Vroom.

Is buying a car on the internet safe?

It’s safe to buy a car on the internet, but you’ll have more security if you purchase vehicles from reputable dealers. For example, it’s safer to get a car from a legitimate dealer in your area, or from a company like Carvana than it is through a private seller who posts a car for sale on social media.

Be wary of offers that sound too good to be true and don’t provide personal information or cash to sellers that you haven’t done any research on. Scammers may steal your identity, post fake car sales online and pocket any down payment you provide, or try to pass off a heavily damaged vehicle as one that’s in good condition.

Can you register a car online?

It really depends on where you live. While you definitely have to register your vehicle with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, states have different laws about the ways you can register your vehicle.

Some states allow you to renew your registration online, either bi-annually or annually. Other states allow you to register your new car if you bought it in-state. Others might allow you to mail-in a registration form. 

Given the number of options available to you, it’s important to check with your state’s DMV office (or a similar agency) before driving your new car.

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How to buy a car online

What is the safest way to buy a car online?

The safest way to buy a car online is by purchasing your vehicle through a reputable seller. It’s common for dealerships in your area to post their inventory online, along with prices and spec information. You can also use an online-only vendor, like Carvana, to buy a car online.

Can you fully buy a car online?

Yes, it’s possible to buy your car completely online without having to visit a dealership. If you’re determined to fully buy your car online, you may have to pay a delivery fee to have your vehicle shipped directly to your home after you finalize your purchase.

What is the best online site to buy a car?

The best place to buy a car online depends on where you live, which dealerships offer online catalogs of their products, and whether any online-only companies sell vehicles near you. If you’re planning to use an online site to buy a car, be sure to research ahead of time to be certain that the company is legitimate.

Author

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

Andrew Hurst

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

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Andrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

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