Buy a Used Car Online

Buying a used car online is a great way to save money and time, and to avoid the hassle of going to a dealership in person. One of the most important steps in buying a used vehicle online is doing your research to make sure the car is in good condition and that you're getting a fair price. Once you feel confident in your decision, negotiate with the seller to score the best deal. Good luck!


Choosing Where to Buy a Car

  1. Find a local seller if you don’t want to pay a lot in shipping costs. Search surrounding zip codes or cities for the make and model of car that you want so you don’t have to pay astronomical shipping fees. If you choose a seller within driving distance, you can pick up the car in person without getting it shipped.[1]
    • For example, if you want to buy a 2013 Jeep Cherokee and you live in Chicago, search “used 2013 Jeep Cherokee + Chicago.”
    • You can order a used car from anywhere, as long as you're willing to pay more. Depending on the distance, shipping a car can cost up to $3,000!
  2. Look on auction sites or online classifieds for the cheapest prices. Browse sites like eBay or Craigslist where private sellers can list their used cars and where the prices are often the lowest. These sites also allow the most negotiation so you might be able to get the car for even lower than the list price.
    • Cars sell fast on these sites so if you find one you like and it looks legitimate, contact the seller as soon as possible to let them know you’re interested.
    • Know how to identify a potential scam when using online classifieds. Be wary of any deals that seem too good to be true, any sellers who refuse to talk on the phone with you, or any postings without photographs, for instance.
  3. Opt for an online used car retailer to avoid scams. Since buying a used car from a private seller comes with risks, choose a certified online used car retailer if you’re worried about fraud. These sites verify each car, tend to be more transparent, and offer secure payment options.[2]
    • Some popular used car websites include Autotrader, Carvana, and Vroom.
  4. Compare prices on different sites to find the lowest one. Never buy the first car you see, even if you know exactly what you want. Search online for the specific make and model you're interested in and check what other used car retailers sell it, along with their prices.
    • Shopping around prevents you from paying more for something that you could have gotten for less.
    • Avoid any sites that offer prices way below a car's value as that's a sign something isn't right.

Doing Your Research

  1. Ask the seller for a vehicle history report. If you’re buying the car from an online dealership, request that they provide a detailed summary of the car’s past, including repair documents or police reports, in the form of a vehicle history report. Read the report thoroughly to make sure there aren’t any existing problems, like previous damage or insurance claims.[3]
    • The 2 most common vehicle history reports are CarFax and AutoCheck.{{greenbox:Tip: If you’re buying the car from an individual who doesn’t have a history report, check the vehicle’s history yourself. Ask the seller for the 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and purchase a report, which usually costs about $35.}}
  2. Request to see the original title to ensure that it’s clean. Check that the car doesn’t have a salvage title, which means it was once damaged to the point of being totaled but then was rebuilt. Ask for a copy of the original title and make sure there aren’t any liens on it either. Otherwise, you’ll be responsible for paying those off yourself once you buy the vehicle.[4]
    • If the seller refuses to show you the title, be very suspicious and consider taking your business elsewhere.
  3. Inspect the car yourself or ask for the most recent photographs. If you live near the seller, go see the car in person and examine the exterior to see if there are any visible issues, like dents, scratches, or doors that don’t close properly, for instance. If you don’t live nearby, have them send you new, high-quality pictures of the entire outside of the car.[5]
    • Bring a friend with you who knows a lot about cars if you aren’t sure what to look for.
    • Always inspect a car during the day. A bright floodlight at night can make it difficult to see any defects.
  4. Have a third-party mechanic inspect the car. Find a car mechanic near the seller's area who is trustworthy and objective, meaning they aren’t affiliated with the seller, so you know they’re giving an honest report. Ask them to fully inspect the vehicle and note any mechanical issues. A typical inspection costs around $100.[6]
    • Ask the mechanic to look at every part of the car’s interior, including the engine, suspension, shocks, and brakes.
    • If a car has a mechanical issue, it doesn’t mean you have to necessarily turn it down. However, you should ask the seller to repair it or cover the cost of the repair before purchasing the car.

Purchasing the Car Online

  1. Buy your car in the off season for a lower price. If you want a convertible, for example, shop in the winter. If you want an all-wheel-drive truck, look in the summer. You’ll find the best prices in the season when your specific car is in lower demand.[7]
    • You’ll find a greater selection in the off season, too, as more people are selling that car and fewer people are buying it.
  2. Negotiate a fair price based on the car’s value. Most online sellers list a car for a higher price than it’s worth to try to get more money for it. Don’t immediately accept the list price. Instead, research what the market price is for that specific make and model and bargain with the seller to get the price closer to it.[8]
    • One of the most popular pricing guides for cars is the Kelley Blue Book (
    • For example, say something like “I’m very interested in this car, but you have it listed at $11,000. According to the Kelley Blue Book, the book value is only $10,000, plus it needs all new tires. I’m willing to pay $9,500.”
  3. Fill out an online car loan application if you need help with financing. Use the application provided by the retailer or choose a third-party auto loan service to get the right payment plan for your purchase. Submit the application, then wait for approval before you buy the car to make sure everything processes properly.[9]
    • Shop around for different car loan services if possible. Different services offer different terms and interest rates, for example.
  4. Use an escrow service to pay safely if you’re buying from a private seller. Never pay a private seller with cash or a personal check, or you’re at an increased risk for fraud. Instead, pay through an escrow service, which holds your money until all of the paperwork is completed and the title is transferred to your name.[10]
  5. Pick up the car or arrange to have it shipped to you. If you live within driving distance of the seller, set up a time to go pick up the car. If you live far away, choose a car transport service and then work with the seller to determine a pickup time for the shipping company to get the car. Once the car is delivered to you, complete the transport paperwork to finish the purchase.
    • Shipping costs depend on the company you use, how large the car is, and how far the company has to ship the car.
    • A lot of car transport services require you to put a deposit down first. Make sure you inspect the vehicle thoroughly when it arrives to confirm it wasn't damaged during delivery.

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