The 5 Best Sites To Buy Or Sell A Car Online

best sites to buy cars online
The top sites to buy a car online include classifieds, auctions and aggregators. Jon Riley / Photolibrary / Getty

Buying a car online is a lower pressure environment than buying at a dealership, but the sheer number of options can easily paralyze an unwary buyer. Classifieds sites offer up some great deals on private party sales, but dealer aggregators provide access to the new and used inventories of countless dealerships, and online-only dealers offer a level of ease and service that’s hard to find elsewhere.

Here are our five top picks to buy cars online, with examples from each of the main categories, and a handful of honorable mentions.

  1. Craigslist

  2. eBay Motors

  3. Cars.com

  4. Autotrader.com

  5. Carvana

The Best Classifieds Site to Buy Cars Online

Sites like these are essentially the modern incarnation of newspaper classifieds sections, and many newspapers actually have online classifieds. These sites allow both private owners and dealerships to list vehicles for sale, so if you need to sell your old car after buying a new one, this is a valid option for that as well.

The standouts in this category are Craigslist and eBay, but it’s also worth checking out other online classifieds that operate in your local area.

Buying Cars Online from Craigslist

Why Craigslist made the cut:

  • Massive coverage, with over 700 local sites across 70 different countries, and more than 60 million monthly users just in the United States.
  • Free to use for both buyers and sellers.

Problems you may run into:

  • Less activity in some places means that you may not have a great experience if you live in a rural area.
  • No built-in way to search in multiple locations at once.

If Craigslist looks like a relic from the early web, that’s because it is.

The site has changed very little since it first showed up on the scene in 1995, but that staying power means it has a massive user base, and that popularity makes it a great place to buy or sell a car online.

Craigslist allows both private sellers and dealerships to post listings, and users can choose to view listings from just one or both of these categories. The search functionality does leave something to be desired compared to other sites where you can buy cars online, but it’s very straightforward to use.

When you use Craigslist to buy or sell a car online, it’s important to remember that you’re pretty much on your own. Scammers can and do use online classifieds sites like Craigslist, so always use your best judgement if a listing seems too good to be true or throws up any red flags.

Using eBay Motors to Buy or Sell a Car

Why eBay Motors made the cut:

  • A massive user base means more options if you're a buyer and more eyeballs on your listing if you're a seller.
  • Offers a certified pre-owned program and a buyer protection plan.
  • Listings are free for low volume sellers, and you only pay if your vehicle sells.

Problems you may run into:

  • If you submit seven or more vehicle listings in one year, eBay will classify you as a high volume seller.
  • High volume sellers have to pay to submit listings.

While Craigslist is essentially a giant trove of classified listings, eBay Motors includes both classifieds and the auctions that the site is known for. Search options are more robust than Craigslist, but there is less a local focus. While there is an option to narrow or sort search results by geographic area, your experience will vary depending on where you live.

In addition to searching classified and auction listings for used cars, eBay Motors also allows you to research new cars and trucks through a service called TrueCar. This service allows you to select a make and model, select customization options, and then view prices at local dealerships.

The Best Dealership Aggregators to Buy Cars Online

Dealership aggregators are sites where you can search the new and used car inventories of many dealers at once. These aggregators can usually show you results for local dealers, but they also allow you to expand your search if you don’t find what you want locally.

The main point of a dealership aggregator is to put you into contact with a dealer that has the car you’re looking for, but there is also some overlap between these sites and classified sites. Some aggregators allow private owners to list their vehicles for sale, and there are a few that even pull information from other classified sites.

Standouts in this category include long-time favorites like Cars.com and Autotrader, but newer aggregators are also worth checking out. For instance, Autotempest is an aggregator of aggregators that can search sites like Cars.com in addition to eBay Motors, Craigslist and others. This is all information you can find elsewhere, but the ability to search Craigslist outside of your immediate geographic location is a nice touch.

Buying or Selling a Car Online through Cars.com

Why Cars.com made the cut:

  • Provides listings from a massive database of dealerships in addition to private listings.
  • Offers in-depth research tools and vehicle reviews written by in-house staff.
  • Powerful search functionality.
  • Private sellers can list for free.

Problems you may run into:

  • Free listings only run for 30 days.
  • Free listings limit the number of photos you can post.

While the main purpose of an aggregator is to bring together listings from many different dealers and private sellers, Cars.com also provides a number of research tools.

In addition to a search function that allows you to look for a specific make and model, or enter a less restrictive query, you can read reviews, view statistics like gas mileage, and even view price ranges.

Since Cars.com draws on such a huge database of listings from all over the place, you’re much more likely to find the exact vehicle that you’re looking for than if you just checked local classifieds. You can also check out a Carfax report once you have identified a vehicle that you’re interested in, or move on to contacting the private seller or dealership that posted the listing.

If you need to sell your old car, you can also do that through Cars.com with a free listing that will run for up to 30 days. If you want the listing to run longer, there are also premium packages that include the ability to post additional photos or offer a Carfax report.

Using Autotrader to Buy or Sell a Car Online

Why Autotrader made the cut:

  • Includes listings from a large dealership database in addition to listings from private sellers.
  • Provides a lot of research information to help you find the best vehicle.
  • Partnered with Kelly Blue Book to provide a service that allows you to get an instant cash offer from a local dealership if you are selling a car.

Problems you may run into:

  • There is no way to list your car for free, unlike Cars.com or Craigslist.

Autotrader is another well-established aggregator that provides access to dealership inventories, private listings, and a wealth of research information.

In addition to searching by make and model, you can also specify a general type of vehicle and a feature set.

When you locate a vehicle that you’re interested in on Autotrader, you have the option to call or email the dealership. While there is no integrated contact method, listings do include phone numbers, links to dealer websites, and contact forms.

If you’re interested in selling a car on Autotrader, there is no free option like you’ll find on sites like Cars.com and Craigslist. However, Autotrader does offer a service through Kelly Blue Book that allows you to get an instant cash offer from a local dealership.

If you accept the offer, and the local dealership is satisfied with the condition of your vehicle, you can walk away with a fist full of cash without ever placing a listing.

Buying a Car From an Online Dealer Like Carvana

Why Carvana made the cut:

  • Offers an online-only transaction process, so you don't have to physically visit a dealership.
  • Each vehicle has a list of features and problems so you know what you're getting into.
  • If you live in their delivery area, there is no fee to deliver your vehicle.

Problems you may run into:

  • Delivery fees apply if you live outside their delivery area.
  • Offers a seven day 400 mile return policy, but you have to pay to ship it back.

While aggregators like Cars.com, Autotrader, and Autotempest are able to provide you with a massive number of listings from all over the place, they still require you to contact a dealer outside the aggregator. This is why buying from a local dealership’s internet car sales department can actually be simpler.

When you go through an online dealer, like Carvana, you enjoy the benefits of an online-only transaction without the limited stock that most local dealers have access to. In the case of Carvana, you may even be able to complete the entire transaction online. If you live within one of their local delivery areas, they’ll even drop your car off at your house free of charge.

Outside Carvana’s local delivery areas, a delivery charge does apply. However, they also offer a fly and drive incentive where they reimburse some or all of the cost of a plane ticket to one of their local delivery areas.

Other national dealers, like CarMax, offer differing levels of the same type of service. For instance, CarMax will deliver your car for free if you live close to their Charlotte, NC location. If you live outside that area, they’ll ship the car to a local CarMax dealer where you may test drive or purchase it at your leisure.

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