Buying A Car Online Vs. Buying A Car At A Dealership

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Buying A Car Online Vs. Buying A Car At A Dealership

Written by Lisa Rennie
Fact-checked by Caitlin Wood

Updated August 2, 2021

Buying A Car Online Vs. Buying A Car At A Dealership

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Auto Buying A Car

You use the internet to shop online for a variety of consumer products, like clothes, household products, and even groceries, so why not shop online for a new car?

There are so many online portals available for you to browse and shop for a vehicle, though buying a car this way might be something you may want to get more familiar with, considering the magnitude of such a purchase. Let’s get into more detail about buying a car online versus through a dealership to help you decide which shopping experience is better suited for you.

Buy A Car Online Vs. At A Dealership 

Obviously, shopping online for a car means you won’t see the vehicle in person before you buy it, but it also means you benefit from the convenience of shopping from home. On the other hand, shopping for a car at a dealership means you’ll be able to see the vehicle up close, though you’ll have to make the trek to the car lot to shop.

Buying A Car Online 

Buying your car via the internet is not unlike other types of online shopping. You can peruse websites to look for vehicles that match your criteria, compare prices and features, and make a shortlist of cars that you might want to see in person before you leave the house.

Start off by looking at different websites and filtering your searches so that only the cars that meet your requirements come up in your search results. Then, you can compare prices. 

By arming yourself with different prices you’ve come across for the same make, model, and features as the vehicle you’re interested in, you’ll have more negotiating power when wheeling and dealing at a dealership. You’ll also come across far more options and choices when you shop online versus shopping with just one dealership. That way, you can find the dealership that offers the best prices for the same car.

You’ll also want to do some research on other costs related to owning a car, such as insurance, registration, the type of gas that the car would need, and so forth. 

Buying A Car At A Dealership 

If you’re the type to prefer to shop in-person — be it for a car or any other consumer product — then perhaps shopping with a dealership may be best for you when you’re in need of a new vehicle. Doing so will allow you to see the cars upfront while speaking with a salesperson face-to-face to have all your questions answered on the spot.

That said, you may need to make more than one trip to the dealer, and you may also find yourself hopping from one dealer to the next in order to find the best car at the best price. 

If you decide to take this route, be sure to do a quick online search before you leave your home to get somewhat familiar with what the going prices are for the specific type of vehicle you’re looking for. That way you can be armed with information and be in a better position to negotiate. And don’t miss out on your chance to take a few cars out for a test drive before honing in on the car that’s best for you. 

Pros And Cons Of Buying A Car Online 

There are a few perks and drawbacks to buying a car online that you should consider before choosing which route to take.

Pros

  • Less pressure. Since you’re not speaking directly with a salesperson face-to-face, you won’t have to deal with any aggressive sales pitches to get you to buy the first car you see. Instead, you can shop around for vehicles and compare prices and specs at your leisure without any pressure from anyone while doing so.
  • Convenient. You don’t have to leave your home to look around for a new car, which can help save you a lot of time and hassle. Rather than physically taking yourself from dealership to dealership, you can do all that “legwork” from your computer and only make the trip to a car lot when you’ve zeroed in on a car you’re interested in. 
  • Research and compare prices. Comparison shopping has never been easier thanks to the internet. And there are some websites that allow you to plug in the features and price range of the car you want, which will then populate a list of vehicles that match your criteria for easy comparisons. 

Cons

  • Can’t test drive the car. Buying a car without taking it out for a test drive is a bit risky. If you want to take the car out for a spin, you’ll need to physically make it out to a car dealership. 
  • It may be hard to reach the seller. You may find it difficult to get a hold of the seller, in which case a bit of back-and-forth messaging may be involved, which can make the process cumbersome. 
  • Hard to understand the car’s condition. Without physically seeing the vehicle in person before committing to buying it, you may be putting yourself in a riskier position to purchase a vehicle that may have certain faults you may not be comfortable with. 

Pros And Cons Of Buying A Car At A Dealership

Like buying a car online, you’ll also want to take some time to understand the pros and cons of purchasing a vehicle at a dealership.

Pros

  • Negotiate with the dealer. There may be limited opportunities to wheel and deal online when buying a car remotely. On the other hand, you may have a better chance to negotiate when dealing with a car salesman in person.
  • Add features. Car dealers may offer many extra features as incentives that you can take advantage of right away, which is not likely the case when shopping.
  • Get financing. If you need some help covering the cost of your vehicle purchase, dealers typically offer many financing options that you can apply for if you buy a car in person.

Cons

  • Sales tactics. Buying in person will mean you may be subject to a pushy salesperson who is working hard to earn their commission on the sale of a vehicle.
  • Pressure to make a decision. If you’re unable to deal with sales tactics very well, you could find yourself buying into something that you ultimately don’t want. 
  • Can be more expensive. You may find that buying online is cheaper, as there are many deals to be had among various sellers. At a dealership, they may throw in some unnecessary extras that may be cheaper elsewhere.

Where Can You Buy A Car Online? 

There are several places to look online if you prefer to buy your next car remotely:

CanadaDrives 

Search thousands of certified cars online and complete your purchase from wherever you are. The entire process, including payment and the signing of any contracts or agreements, can be completed online. Your purchase will also come with a 30-day warranty, a 7-day money-back return policy and same-day delivery in select provinces. 

Moreover, unlike other online car buying platforms, CanadaDrives offers online car financing through its partners. One of the most unique features that make Canada Drives stand out is that they allow clients to qualify for financing prior to choosing a car. Doing so, allows them to offer their clients a selection of cars they are pre-approved for, thereby avoiding any heartache caused by an inability to qualify for financing. 

AutoTrader 

One of the more well-known online car shopping websites out there, AutoTrader makes buying and selling a car in Canada easy. With a few clicks of your mouse, you can search for both new and used cars (including certified pre-owned vehicles) according to your preferences such as the car mileage, age, model, colour, price and other criteria. 

You can even find other vehicle types, including boats, motorcycles, snowmobiles, and farm equipment on this site. Plus, you can download the AutoTrader app on your mobile device to make shopping for a car even more convenient. Not to mention, they also have helpful features like price alerts, new listing notifications and a save your search option.

CarPages 

Find cars that match your criteria that are close to your location using CarPages’ geo-targeting technology. The site only allows government-registered dealers or identity-verified individuals to sell, so you’ll be dealing only with reputable sellers. CarPages also has its own app for both Androids and iOS. 

Moreover, like Canada Drives, you can use the site to get pre-approved for a car loan before you start your search for your next car. This ensures that the car you select is one that you can afford. Whether you’re looking for a new or used car, you can filter your search results (by price, mileage, or location) to match your preferences. If you have any questions or concerns about the car, you can also ask the sellers and get answers directly from the source.

Unhaggle 

Instead of spending time perusing the internet in search of the best deal for a car that matches your criteria, Unhaggle will bring the deals to you. Simply enter the details you’re looking for, determine the average price for the car based on your criteria, look over a dealer’s cost report, then be part of a reverse auction whereby dealers put in bids for you to purchase a car from them, not the other way around. Then, Unhaggle will send your request to the top dealers in your area who will offer their best prices.

Car Gurus

This dealer-only app will pull up a list of vehicles that match the specs you input. This means you’ll only get a list of options from different car dealerships, not private sale vehicles. While this may mean you’re missing out on some deals, Car Gurus makes up for it with its extra search capabilities. Through it, you’ll be able to filter by the car’s safety rating, cabin size and fuel economy, which is hard to find. Moreover, it will even provide you with a price rating of each vehicle based on what other dealers are charging. Car Gurus can also provide you with an average breakdown of the amount you’ll pay for your car every month to help you budget accordingly.

Check out our full round-up of the best car buying apps in Canada

Lookout Buying A New Car? Do You Need A Warranty?

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Should You Buy A Car Online Or At A Dealership? 

So, which route should you take when it comes time to start looking for a car to buy?

Buy a car online if you: 

  • Like more options and want to scope out all the available deals. 
  • Like comparing prices of many cars to find the lowest price tag.  
  • Are looking for a specific car, which you’ll be able to do more easily online by narrowing your search by make, model, etc.
  • Don’t want to be pressured by any aggressive sales tactics.  

Buy a car with a dealership if you: 

  • Want to take the car out for a test drive before negotiating and agreeing to purchase. 
  • Want to negotiate the price rather than settle for the price advertised online. 
  • Have questions and want to speak to an expert. 
  • Want to build a relationship with a dealer, which can come in handy if you are planning to buy more than one vehicle over the next few months or years. 

Buying A Car Online Vs At A Dealership FAQs

Are there any good car buying apps in Canada? 

Yes, there are several apps available that will help you find your next car online, including CarGuru, AutoTrader, Unhaggle, and Used.ca, to name a few.

What is a car loan broker?

A car loan broker acts as the middleman between lenders and borrowers to help find a car loan that best suits your needs. A lender is only able to offer you the loan products that it has, whereas a car loan broker works with a variety of lenders, so there are far more products to choose from. 

If I submit multiple online applications to different lenders, will it affect my credit?

When a lender or creditor pulls your credit report to see what your credit profile is like, this is known as a “hard inquiry” and can temporarily pull your credit score down a bit. Multiple “hard pulls” for the same type of loan within a short period of time won’t have a more severe effect on your score and won’t penalize you for trying to find the best loan product.

Is it smart to buy a car online? 

Buying a car online can be a smart move if you’re looking for efficiency and want to avoid negotiating with a dealer. With online car buying, the process is often faster and simpler as online salespeople usually provide quotes right away, giving you the opportunity to pick and choose which online dealer offers the best deal. 

What extra fees can you expect when buying a car at a dealership?

Dealerships tack on numerous fees that can add to the total cost of your car. These include car preparation fees, application processing fees, and vehicle accessory add ons like extended warranties. Be sure to read your contract carefully prior to signing. 

Final Thoughts

These days, you have options when it comes to how you want to buy your next car. And while you can always take the traditional route and buy at a car dealership, you also have the option to purchase online. Be sure to weigh the pros and cons of each before deciding how to embark on the search for a new vehicle.


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Lisa has been working as a writer for more than a decade, creating unique content that helps to educate Canadian consumers. She specializes in personal finance, mortgages, and real estate. For years, she held her real estate license in Toronto, Ontario before giving it up to pursue writing within this realm and related niches. She enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience in real estate and personal finance with others. In her spare time, Lisa enjoys trying funky new recipes, spending time with her dog, and of course, revelling in the joy of family.

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