Not so long ago, the only way to buy a used car was to either visit a dealer or buy from a private seller. You could either subject yourself to the typical high-pressure, high-stress used car dealer experience (this is 2020, seriously??), or interact with a total stranger (sketchy and often times awkward). Those are both not great options to have!
Now you of course have an alternative .. buying a used car online. Let us look at where these cars come from, who you can buy from, +/- on buying a car online, and some tips for having a successful online car-buying experience.
“Buyer beware” also applies to online sales
Used cars can come from many sources. While some may be local trade-ins, many used vehicles also come from auctions, and may or may not have been well-treated by their previous owners.
Be aware that used cars sold online will receive varying degrees of reconditioning before they are offered for sale. Private-party and older, less expensive dealer-inventory used cars are likely to be cosmetically clean but may have serious underlying mechanical problems. Newer vehicles that are not Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) may or may not be in good mechanical condition. Note that CPO is simply a term each dealer applies to vehicles that meet certain criteria that may or may not have to do with the quality of the vehicle. For instance age and mileage play a role but not necessarily how hard it was driven!
Where to buy a used car online
Just about every buyer first searches for a vehicle online and many are pulling the trigger on a purchase sight unseen. Simply browse through the vehicles on a seller’s website, select the vehicle of your choice, arrange financing, and voila … take delivery.
There are two different types of online car sellers. They are:
- Online sites that display vehicles from dealers with physical locations, as well as from individual sellers. Think Amazon or Kayak.
- Online-only app-based sellers who own their inventory, who may or may not have a retail location, and who will deliver their cars to you.
Online car-buying display sites
Sites which offer both dealer and private party used vehicles include:
- eBay Motors
- Autotempest.com (aggregates other online car-selling sites)
- Hemmings.com (for classic cars)
- Bringatrailer.com (for special interest and classic cars)
- Model-specific and enthusiast forums (such as VWVortex, FerrariChat, Corvette Forum, Bimmerpost, and many more)
Online-only app-based sellers
These used car sellers have their own vehicle inventory, which you can browse by downloading each one’s proprietary mobile app. After selecting a vehicle, it can be delivered right to your door. Because you can’t test drive their vehicles in advance, these app-based sellers have a short-term money-back guarantee, so that you can return a vehicle if it is not to your satisfaction but with strings attached (see below). These direct-to-consumer sellers include:
- Carvana (offers pickup from the infamous “car vending machines”)
Here are more details on the app-based sellers:
Where do their used cars come from?
- Carvana: Auctions and private sellers
- Vroom: Auctions, private sellers, and dealer
- Shift: Mostly from private sellers
Are the cars reconditioned and/or repaired?
- Carvana: Every vehicle undergoes a rigorous four-step inspection process (mechanical, test drive, any repairs done, final inspection)
- Vroom: Every vehicle has a clean accident history and meets rigorous testing standards
- Shift: Every car must pass a 150+ point inspection
What types of cars are offered?
- Carvana: A wide variety of makes, mileage, and price points
- Vroom: Primarily upscale cars priced around $30,000
- Shift: A wide variety of makes, mileage, and price points
Do they take trade-ins?
- Carvana: Yes
- Vroom: Yes
- Shift: Yes
What is the return policy if you don’t like the car you selected?
- Carvana: 7 Days
- Vroom: 7 Days or 250 miles
- Shift: 7 Days or 200 miles
Are there any fees or charges involved if you return a car within the allowed period?
- Carvana: You must pay the shipping/delivery fee if applicable
- Vroom: You must pay the delivery charge
- Shift: No
Pros of buying a car online
There are some definite advantages to buying a car online. They are:
- Easy, quick process, without spending hours in the showroom under high pressure trying to negotiate a fair price
- No need to deal with the “finance guy” who wants to sell you expensive extra product add-ons
- Return policies are offered by many sellers but come with restrictions
Cons of buying a car online
There are also some disadvantages to buying a car online. They are:
- No way to test drive a car before you buy
- The quality of the photos may be poor, making it difficult to see the actual condition
- Price negotiation may not be possible
- Potential paperwork difficulties, especially if the car comes from out of state
- There may be shipping costs (and shipping time) if you purchase a car located far away
- Possible difficulties in getting problems fixed without a local service facility
- No way to inspect a car before you purchase it
Tips for buying a car online
If you plan to buy your next used car from an online seller, keep these tips in mind for a better ownership experience:
- Do your research up front and know what the car you plan to buy is worth. Don’t pay too much!
- Request Vehicle Records (Dealer Intake Report, Service Records, Carfax, etc.) and be sure that the title is free and clear.
- Understand any warranty coverage that the vehicle may come with.
- Get a pre purchase inspection from POMCAR!
POMCAR has your back when you buy a used car online!
When buying a used car online, you should always make your purchase contingent on it passing a POMCAR pre purchase inspection. In the case of app-based sellers with a money-back guarantee, simply set up a POMCAR inspection right after you take delivery.
POMCAR will send a qualified technician to thoroughly check out your prospective purchase. Our technician will perform a comprehensive 270-point inspection which will cover:
- The car identity, details and mileage
- Tires and brakes
- Exterior and undercarriage
- Electrical and lights
- Road Test
- Fluid checks
- Diagnostic scan for error codes
Following our inspection, POMCAR will provide you with a detailed report of the vehicle condition and safety related systems, including photos of any noted problems. Once you review your POMCAR report you can drive with confidence – or avoid a problem vehicle, depending on the results!
To set up your POMCAR inspection, get started here. Have fun shopping online for your next car and remember – POMCAR has your back!