back to articles | October 09, 2023 | Moses Mwangi

Categories: Auto Loans & Financing

Buying a Car Online vs. Dealership: What's the Difference?

A few decades ago, visiting a dealership was the only option when buying a car. However, today, most carmakers are offering the option of buying a car online, and you can complete the whole process from the comfort of your home and, in some cases, get it delivered.


A few decades ago, visiting a dealership was the only option when buying a car. However, today, most carmakers are offering the option of buying a car online, and you can complete the whole process from the comfort of your home and, in some cases, get it delivered.

Of course, dealerships still make sense if you are looking for a bargaining hand in terms of price or financing. However, shopping for a car online allows you to save time, and you can browse more options, including vehicles from private sellers.

So, should you buy a car online or through a dealership? Here are more details about buying a car online vs. a dealership to help you determine which shopping experience best suits you.

Buy a car online vs. at a dealership

Shopping for a car online means you won't see the vehicle in person before you purchase it. However, it also means you will benefit from the convenience of shopping from the comfort of your home.

On the other hand, buying a car at a dealership means you will see it up close, but you will have to trek to the car lot to purchase it. Here are a few other differences between buying a car online and at a dealership that you should consider as a car buyer.

Buying a car online

Purchasing a car through the Internet differs from other online shopping. You can browse through websites to look for vehicles that match your criteria, compare features and prices, and shortlist the cars you might want to see in person before leaving your house. Here's what to consider when buying a car online.

Find the right site

Begin by looking at different websites and filtering your searches so that only the cars that meet your requirements are displayed in your search results. When deciding which site to use, look for high-quality photos, easy-to-navigate interfaces, and service history. Some of the best places to buy a car online include popular platforms like and Nissan At Home.

Compare prices

Compare car prices with the same or similar make, model, and features across various sites. This will give you the best information whether you purchase a car online or go to a dealership. You will also discover more options and choices when you shop online compared to shopping with just a single dealership.

Figure out the total cost of owning a car

When buying a used or a new car, you are likely to evaluate the sticker price to determine what you can afford. However, when you factor in taxes, auto insurance, maintenance, finance, and fuel, a new car will cost you more in the long run. Therefore, be sure to research other costs related to owning a car. You also want to consider any intangible costs you will incur. A car depreciates as it ages, meaning its value will significantly reduce.

Buying a car at a dealership

If you prefer shopping in person for a vehicle or any other consumer good, buying at a dealership might be the best option. Shopping with a dealership allows you to see the car beforehand while speaking with a salesperson one-on-one to have all your questions answered right away. Here's what to consider when buying a car from a dealership.

Visit multiple dealerships

In order to find the best car at an affordable price, you may need to make more than one trip to the dealer. You should also be in contact with multiple dealerships to see which one can give you the best offer. The most preferred way of contacting a dealer is through email. If you visit the dealership or make a call, they might use compelling sales tactics to convince you to buy a car you aren't looking for.

Know your credit score.

Being aware of your credit score and what is in your credit report can help you secure the best car financing deal available. Visit your bank or credit union first and get preapproved for an auto loan. New car financing and cash deals are usually only offered to buyers with healthy credit scores and top-tier credit reports. Therefore, take some time to correct any errors on your credit report and resolve any defects to get the best possible deal.

Find a good car salesperson

Finding a good salesperson who you can communicate well with and understand your needs is an essential part of buying a car from a dealership. A great sales associate knows their customers' needs and delivers on their expectations. A good car salesperson possesses a professional look, a positive attitude, and a friendly manner. They also have excellent communication, interpersonal, and customer service skills.

Take a test drive

When you buy a vehicle online, you might not get the chance to test drive any cars. However, if you decide to buy at a dealership, take advantage of your opportunity to take a few vehicles out for a test drive before setting on the best car for you. You can learn more from a 15-minute test drive than from hours of research. Pay close attention to your comfort and how well you can see from the car.

Pros and cons of buying a car online vs. dealership

While you might be tempted to opt for online car buying rather than buying at a dealership, both options have pros and cons. Here are the pros and cons of buying a car online vs. through a dealership.

Pros of buying a car online

The main advantages of buying a car online are ease of purchase and direct online purchase. However, there are additional perks of buying your next car online. These include:

Saves time

One of the greatest benefits of buying a car online is that it usually saves time. With the conventional in-person method, you can spend hours negotiating a single transaction. Purchasing a car online can simplify the process, allowing you to complete time-consuming tasks like filling out paperwork at your leisure.

No sales pressure

A pushy salesperson is one of the greatest complaints when purchasing a car. However, when it comes to buying a car online, there is no sales pressure, as the deal isn't shepherded by a sales assistant whose commission and livelihood depend on the deal they make.

Easier to compare cars and prices

Comparison shopping is the key to choosing the right car. Nevertheless, it's truly hard to compare two vehicles on a dealer lot side by side. Online, you can compare features and price ranges for the car you want.

Cons of buying a car online

Buying a car online comes with the benefit and comfort of shopping from home, but there are some notable cons. They include;

Inability to test drive the car

Buying a vehicle without taking it out for a test drive can be risky. When shopping online, you won't be able to see the car in person until you have signed on the dotted line. Unfortunately, without the chance to test drive, you might buy a vehicle that doesn't feel perfect for you.

Less room for negotiation

There is usually room to bargain down the sticker price when buying a car from a dealer or in-person seller. However, some online auto retailers don't negotiate on pricing, meaning the cost a car is listed at is always the price you will pay.

Pros of buying a car at a dealership

Despite the rise of online car buying, most people still buy their cars through dealerships. Here are the pros of buying a car from an offline seller.

Manufactures incentives

In order to sweeten the deal of buying from them, dealerships usually offer promotional finance options or extra rebates provided by manufacturers. Although not every available incentive is the same, most can be used to make a down payment or afford zero-percent financing.

You can negotiate sticker price

It's not unusual for buyers to negotiate a car's price down, whether they are buying from a private seller or a dealer. You may have a better chance to negotiate when dealing with a sales representative in person, potentially saving you a lot of money off a vehicle's sticker price.

Cons of buying at a dealership

Here are the cons of buying a car through a dealership

More time commitment

You can close the deal and have your new car arrive the following day when you buy online. However, buying at a dealership isn't always as seamless. You have to find time to travel to the dealer lot, explore car options, and sit down with a salesperson. This process may be overwhelming and can still leave you without your dream car.

Fewer car options

Dealerships usually offer much fewer cars compared to online sellers. Usually, dealerships sell one specific car brand.

Summing it up

Buying a car online or at a dealership are both great and viable options if you want to become a vehicle owner. However, choosing between these two options can take time and effort. Therefore, be sure to weigh each option's pros and cons before searching for a new car. You should also do thorough research and ensure you buy your car through a reliable site, marketplace, or dealer.