If you’re interested in buying a car, you might be wondering if you really need to visit a dealership at all in order to do a deal. After all, the pandemic altered the process.
In addition, some car shoppers don’t like the dealership process, whether it’s negotiating with a salesperson, waiting for financing, or spending hours test-driving various vehicles. So, can you complete the entire car-buying process without visiting a dealer? We have the answer.
A Move to Online Car Sales
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a change that was already under way. Many automakers had begun moving toward online sales before pandemic-related lockdowns made it the only way to do business.
As those lockdowns hit, some dealerships responded with much more sophisticated online shopping tools, making it possible for buyers to do much of the buying process from home.
With Some Dealerships, it Takes a Bit of Work
Even with dealerships that lack online tools, you really can do a majority of the car-buying process online or even over the phone. Finding the car of your dreams online can be easy if you use the right tools.
Autotrader can help you with the search by narrowing the field from thousands of local listings. You can browse vehicles that are new, used, or certified pre-owned (CPO) depending on your preference. With the help of Autotrader, you can sort by make, model, body style, trim level, engine size, and even color.
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This saves a lot of time that used to be spent traveling from dealer to dealer looking for the car that’s right for you. To help you determine how much you can afford to pay for a vehicle, try out our car affordability calculator tool.
After choosing a car, you’ll want to research what you can expect to pay for the car.
From there, you can call or email the dealer to start negotiations. While some dealerships might insist that you come in for further price discussions, most will allow you to negotiate the price over the phone or via email if you make it clear that you can’t or don’t want to visit the dealership.
It’s also possible to secure financing online, whether at the dealer or through your own local bank or credit union. In this scenario, the only part of the process you’d have to do at the dealership is picking up the car. Some dealers won’t even require that but instead will drop off the new car at your house.
With Others, it Doesn’t
Systems like Toyota’s SmartPath, General Motors’ Shop.Click.Drive and the Hyundai Drive program allow buyers to complete the entire car searching and buying process without ever setting foot in a dealership.
They coordinate touchless test drives — dealers drop the car off at your home or office and pick it up a few hours later. They’ll deliver the car the same way if you buy it.
The experience can feel less pressured than sitting in a dealership. Cadillac, for instance, offers no-pressure, one-on-one virtual tours of its vehicles. With Cadillac Live, you can ask your questions to an agent who answers them on video, filming from any angle you’d like and showing off features. However, the agent is not a salesperson.
Another option: Autotrader’s Dealer Home Services. This option lets you conduct the entire process from home for hundreds of cars.
Our research shows that buyers prefer the dealership-free experience. A study of buyers during the COVID-19 pandemic found that those who completed most of the process online were happier with their purchase.
We Advise Caution
It’s now possible to buy a car entirely over the phone and online. But the process isn’t right for every buyer. It certainly isn’t right with every dealership, either.
We find the test drive to be an integral part of the car-buying process. While you might read many reviews that say positive things about a car, it’s hard to know how you’ll feel about a certain vehicle until you’ve actually spent some time behind the wheel.
It’s not a good feeling when you discover after signing the papers that you can’t see out the back or that the infotainment system is too complicated.
As a result, we suggest visiting dealers for at least the test-driving process, unless you can work with a dealership that offers touchless test drives.
How to Purchase a Car Using a Buying Service
It’s worth noting that shoppers interested in buying a car can now choose between a few different car-buying services that offer the ability to buy a car without visiting a dealer. These services locate a vehicle for you and deliver it right to your doorstep, cutting out the need to deal with a dealer.
Of course, their cars will be a little more expensive since they’re providing a service. In many cases, you still won’t have the opportunity to test drive the vehicle before deciding on it. But these services can make the process easier for drivers who really don’t want to spend time in a dealership.
As touchless dealership experiences become more common, having a car buying service handle the dealership for you may become less appealing. However, their fixed prices can still make them a useful option for buyers who want to cut out the stress of negotiations.
Read More Stories on the Car Buying Process
- Buying a Car: How Can a Dealer Sell a Car Below Invoice?
- Car Invoice Price and Dealer Markup: Tips for Buying a Car
- Buying a Car with Cash: Everything You Need to Know
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for accuracy since it was originally published. Sean Tucker contributed to this report.