You have more options than ever when it comes to where to buy a car. But, having more options hasn't necessarily made car buying any easier. There are pros and cons for every choice when it comes to purchasing your next vehicle. Whether you buy a car from another person, visit a dealership or buy online, knowing what to expect from each option will help you make the best decision.
At a Dealership
For plenty of people, completing the entire car buying process at a dealership is the least desirable option. Money magazine reported on a survey that found 75 percent of people would rather skip the dealer altogether and handle all aspects of the car buying process online.
While buying a car at a dealership can take a long time and some salespeople are fond of using high-pressure sales tactics, there are some advantages to working directly with a dealer. For one thing, dealerships often have more options when it comes to make and model, as well as available features, compared to a private seller. For example, you'll have more choices in terms of car color and available extras than you would from a private sale. Some dealers also offer a mix of new and used cars.
As Autotrader points out, another benefit of buying a car from a dealer is that many dealerships care about their reputation. If you buy a car and it turns out to have some problems, you can reach out to the dealer about repairs or other assistance. A dealer wants your repeat business, so it is likely to go out of its way to make sure you're a happy camper.
The big downside of buying from a dealership is that people often feel pressured into buying more car than they want or can afford or feel pressure to buy "extras" that just ramp up the price of the car but don't add much actual value. If you are going to visit a dealer to buy a car, Consumer Reports recommends skipping unnecessary extras, as you can usually buy them for cheaper later on. It also recommends skipping the extended warranty, especially if you're buying a car that's known to be reliable.
When you buy a car online, you might still buy it from a dealership, but much of the process that people find so intimidating in person is handled over email or through a website. You can research specific cars, outline what features you are looking for in your next car, then get a general idea of pricing in your area for that type of car. You can then contact a dealer, either directly or through a car buying service, and get an agreement for the car's price in writing. After that, you'll need to visit the dealership to test drive the car and finalize the sale.
If you are in the market for a used car, you might find it from a private seller. A private seller can be someone you know in your regular life or someone who placed an ad online or in your local paper. Kelly Blue Book notes that the risk involved in car buying is at its highest when you work with a private seller.
That said, there are ways to protect yourself and to make sure you end up with a car and that the car you get isn't a lemon. The first thing to do is read the ad or description of the car carefully, paying attention to anything that seems off. For example, a 20-year-old car that only has 10,000 miles probably has something else going on with it. If the car seems promising, contact the seller to arrange a test drive and a chance to thoroughly examine the vehicle, before you hand over any money.
Keep an eye out for rusted areas, pay attention to the wear on the tires and make sure everything in the car works when you look it over. It's usually a good idea to ask the seller if you can bring the car into your mechanic for an inspection. If the seller says no, you are better off backing away from the deal.
Whether you decide to work with a dealer in-person, take the online route or buy a car from a private seller, it's a good idea to get a financing offer first, if you're not paying cash. With pre-approval from your credit union, you know exactly how much car you can afford to buy. You're also likely to get a better rate and loan offer if you shop around and don't wait to get financing from a dealer.