What was Your Experience Like Buying a Used Car Online? Pros? Cons?

If you have bought a car online, what was your experience? Do you have any tips? Regrets? Thanks Car Talkers.

I wouldn’t even bother doing anything with the BBB. The BBB solely looks out for itself and it’s own members. If you pay into them, they give you good ratings. If you don’t they give you poor ratings. They have no power to do anything whatsoever.

If they don’t let you have the car inspected by your mechanic, walk away

I wouldn’t look at a car shipped coast to coast unless it was something special or rare. No need to ship over a Toyota Prius I could find somewhere else in my area let alone out of state.


Thank you.
What has your experience been like buying a used car online?

I haven’t purchased a car online, but if I were going to I would follow what I listed above. I will say this…I don’t have the money to be in the market for a rare/luxury used car, so I would only be looking locally for used cars. I would look online at new cars, though to compare deals between dealerships.

I’ve purchased a couple of vehicles online from Carvana. Smooth transactions and it was easy peasy. I’d recommend Carvana but their prices may be a bit high.

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You are really making this vehicle purchase more complicated than it should be . Forget the long distance shipping . Almost every dealer in the US has touch free delivery or will make appointments for sanitized test drives . Very few dealers have a return policy and not all will let you take it to a shop for inspection .
As for online reviews of local dealers that is only good if there are a lot of bad ones . Dealerships seem to change hands frequently anymore. There is one in my area that has had 3 different owners in 4 years.


In one of the last issues of Smart Money magazine, they published the results of their investigation into the BBB. It was a very long, very detailed article, but the last sentence summed-up the article very well:
Few people have actually been helped by the Better Business Bureau



Unless you are looking for an unusual car, check out the dealer stock near you. The have new and used cars available on line, with pictures and detailed descriptions. They’ve done this for years. I found two cars this way and bought them both.

Carfax is more of a marketing tool. It’s very rare that it accurately describes the complete history. You can’t take comfort in a clean Carfax report.

How will you check the reviews of the business? Remember that businesses pay to have bloggers write good reviews for them. If you see lots of negative reviews for a business, that’s a piece of information. But if the reviews are mostly good, again be careful.

As for the BBB, I agree with the red flags that VDCdriver and pryolord314 noted above.

Do you have a plan for how you will do that accurately from afar? Please do share.

Suppose you get the car and it needs a major repair.

  • Will you then ship it back?
  • If you do ship it back, who do you think will be paying the shipping costs?
  • How do you plan to get the remote business to agree to accept the vehicle back? They have every incentive to say “No!”.

Yes, definitely have a mechanic that you trust and know that will look at it. Don’t even consider buying it without the inspection. But how will you get a mechanic that you trust to check it out when you’re thousands of miles away?

Buying a local used vehicle is a gamble, and that’s where you’re around to help try and mitigate the risks. Buying when you’re remote makes an already risky purchase even more risky.

As others have noted, I would buy locally, and get a mechanic that I personally trust to inspect the car.
All the best.


Thank you
For reasons that I will probably never understand, there are a lot of people who seem to think that The BBB is a governmental agency, and that it has enforcement and/or punitive powers. If somebody wants a legitimate source of information about a business, they should consult their state’s Office of Consumer Affairs. These agencies are usually affiliated with the Attorney General’s Office, and are thus able to push for prosecution of businesses that cheat people.

The BBB is nothing more than an “Old Boys Club” to which members pay dues in order to be listed as BBB members.


What exactly are you trying to buy? A common car, to use as a daily driver? A rare or collectible model? Do you plan to actually drive this car, or is it going to be stored and rarely used?

I’d agree for a normal car just stay local. I don’t know how you could expect to have a car shipped across country and then have a 7 day trial period? It’s just something I would not unless it was for a classic.

The guy that just stained our house showed up with a nice bucket truck and he said they bought it off of EBay for $5000 in Pennsylvania. They took a chance and came out ok because it should have been $15,000. Cost him $1500 to ship it to Minnesota on a flat bed. He seemed to think shipping a normal car from the east coast to Minnesota would be in the $3-500 range, depending.

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I don’t think so. When I moved from IL to AZ in 2007, it cost about $1000 to ship my 2004 Corolla. It was well worth it, because I bought the car new, and it was still worth a lot of money. I’d expect to pay about $1200-1300 today.

I’d go to Autotrader.com and enter your Zip code and other pertinent information like price, type of vehicle, etc. Check the box that says “Show only vehicles that can be delivered.” Choose a reasonable search radius, say 10 mi. (You don’t want them going all over Timbuktu, right?) If you’re in a fair size metropolitan area there are dealers that will bring the car to you and let you examine and test drive it.

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JoeMario hit all the major problems so basically you’d be buying a “pig in a poke”, from an unknown seller, at a premium price (shipping fees), with no practical problem recourse unless you want to fly to attend court.

Two possible exceptions are:
Rental companies like Hertz and Enterprise and National used car companies will generally ship a car to you (at a price), treat it as a local sale and give you a coupe of days to make a final decision but first check their specific policy.
For classic/collectors/specialty cars there are firms that will evaluate the car, handle the paperwork, purchase and shipping (again at a price) but even then you’d be foolish not to make a personal inspection too. Yeah, the costs start mounting up quickly but if you’re looking for that perfect Volvo ES, Saab Sonnet or 1969 Jag XKE and your Tech company just went Public, well what the hell?

The Miata would like a word with her…

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In Central NY some 40 years ago this one dealership always had a great BBB rating. I knew a few people who bought vehicles from them and most has a very bad experience. Seems the owner of the dealership was the president of the BBB. Gee I wonder why his company had great reviews.


Recently I was in the market for used hatchback for my daughter. There was a particular model, year range, and price I was looking for.

I found one at Dealer A, which was basically local, on their website. I reached out them via email and started negotiating. Over the course of several days, we we able to get close to my price for the car…but the dealer kept wanting to tack on things I didn’t want like an extended warranty and gap insurance. Ultimately we weren’t able to make a deal, but all of our correspondence was over email. I never set foot in the showroom, though I did drive over and look at the car on the lot.

I found another car at Dealer B. Reached out to him over email. Within an hour, we’d settled on a price and terms. I drove to the dealer to check out the car. It met my expectations, and we did the deal (paperwork, etc.) within an hour.

So my experience is the online buying process depends on the dealer.

Thank you for participating in the discussion.
“What has your experience been like buying a used car online?”

Thank you so much much for sharing your reply. By sharing your personal experience you answered my question directly. Learning about the experience of others is very helpful. Thank you.