How to Buy a Car Online: 5 Tips

Man in jacket standing next to car.

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Shopping online has become more prevalent in the past few years, primarily because of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can order dinner from a restaurant and buy groceries without leaving your bedroom. Now, you can do the same for purchasing a car. Getting that vehicle you’ve had your eyes on has become more accessible with websites like Carvana. Follow these five tips on how to buy a car online, so you know how to navigate the process.

1. Determine Your Budget

The first step in the process is the same as if you’re buying a car from the dealership. Buying a car is a significant financial investment for most people, so you’ll want to calculate what you can afford. That will narrow down your options and make car buying easier. 

The average monthly payment for a new car is about $667, whereas the average for a used car comes to around $515. Your monthly payment may be higher or lower, depending on your credit score and what interest rate you get. Whatever the monthly cost is, you’ll have to fit it in with other monthly expenses like groceries, rent, credit card bills and more.

One critical thing to know about buying a car online is that you’ll only be able to purchase used vehicles on these websites. If you want to buy a new car online, you could look at Tesla because it conducts direct-to-consumer sales. Other manufacturers may join later, but Tesla is the only company for now.

2. Make a Wishlist

The next step in how to buy a car online is to make a wishlist of your wants and needs in your next vehicle. What do you prioritize most? Potential car buyers with families tend to go with SUVs or vans that can fit many people. Does your heart lie with a particular manufacturer? Do you want a car that you can take off-road? These are helpful questions to ask yourself.

Fuel efficiency and sustainability are on many minds, so automotive companies have started producing more electric cars. If you have long commutes, you may want to consider buying a vehicle with high fuel efficiency. Or, you could ditch the gas pump as a whole and spring for an electric car. These vehicles are easy to maintain and can help you avoid the summer surges in gas prices. 

3. Get Preapproved for a Loan

Before you start searching for deals, getting preapproved for an auto loan is wise. Getting this out of the way can save headaches later down the road. During this process, a lender will review your credit report and see what your history looks like. Then, the lender will tell you how much your loan will be and what the interest rate will be. You should be able to get loan preapproval at the bank or credit union if you already have accounts set up there.

4. Search the Online Car Dealerships

Once you get the loan preapproval, the rest of the car-buying process online becomes more manageable. You have more leverage with a preapproved loan, so the dealerships must consider what the bank gave you when determining the price during negotiations. Now, you can search various websites to find the best deal. 

The most popular online car dealerships are websites like Carvana, CarsDirect and Autotrader. Suppose you’re wondering how to buy a car online without bargaining. In that case, these websites are excellent for you because they offer a set price. Other advantages of these car-buying websites include exhaustive inspections, vehicle history and warranties of three months or more. Some websites will deliver the car directly if you live in the designated area for deliveries. 

5. Take It for a Spin

When you decide on your car, you have the option to take it for a test drive. This process is a bit different for vehicles purchased online than the in-person experience. If you’re sure about the car you want, you can buy it without a test drive. Many car-buying websites have a return window of seven days, so that can serve as your test drive to determine if it’s the right car for you. 

Some manufacturers allow you to test drive cars before you buy them. For example, Hyundai has a program called Shopper Assurance. This program will have a salesperson bring the vehicle to your home so you can test drive it. Not every automaker has a program like this, so you may need to go to a dealership and ask to test drive a specific model. 

How to Buy a Car Online Safely

It seems as though a lot of stuff has moved online. You may have started working remotely during the pandemic and never went back to the office. Shopping online has become much easier, even for financial investments like a new vehicle. When your friends see a truck deliver your new pride and joy, they’ll ask how to buy a car online for themselves. Tell them to follow these five tips for online car shopping.

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