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Autotrader vs PrivateAuto—Meetingplace vs Marketplace

When you need to buy or sell a used car online, you could go with a non-transactional marketplace—we call them “meetingplaces” because they lack transactional functionality—such as Autotrader. Or, you could take advantage of PrivateAuto, the world’s first transactional marketplace.

Let’s compare PrivateAuto to Autotrader to highlight the differences between transactional and non-transactional marketplaces. Also, see how PrivateAuto stacks up against other competitors.

What Is Autotrader?

Autotrader is a leading online “meetingplace” for buying and selling new, used, and certified pre-owned vehicles. It was founded in 1997 and has grown into one of the largest digital automotive websites in the United States. Autotrader is based in Atlanta, Georgia, and is a subsidiary of Cox Automotive.

As a non-transactional marketplace, Autotrader does a terrific job of connecting a buyer to a vehicle seller, but it doesn’t provide much value beyond that to get the deal done.

What Is PrivateAuto?

PrivateAuto is an end-to-end platform for private vehicle transactions. PrivateAuto includes a marketplace, integrated banking and payments, in-app messaging, vehicle financing options, and a quick way to e-sign the vehicle bill of sale in the PrivateAuto mobile app.

Because PrivateAuto provides a full suite of technology-driven services to get the deal done, it is a full transactional marketplace—the only one in the world for private vehicle transactions.

PrivateAuto was founded in 2020 and is based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Autotrader vs PrivateAuto

Where PrivateAuto is a transactional marketplace with an entire tech stack to facilitate transactions, Autotrader is a “meetingplace” where buyers and sellers can connect and transact via other channels.

PrivateAuto’s banking integration, PrivateAuto Pay, facilitates instant and free payments up to $1M. There’s nothing else like it in the automotive world.

Here are some other differences between the two platforms.

  • Autotrader offers dealer inventory in addition to private-party inventory, while PrivateAuto is strictly a private-party platform for used vehicles.
  • Autotrader runs ads on its website, whereas PrivateAuto does not.
  • PrivateAuto is free to vehicle buyers. Autotrader has a free tier that allows would-be buyers to browse vehicles for sale, but charges a fee for “advanced search features.”
  • Both platforms charge sellers, but have different pricing models.
  • PrivateAuto has 2 options for sellers: pay now and pay later. Sellers can pay a one-time fee of $90 to list their car, or can opt to pay $150 when the vehicle sells.
  • Autotrader charges $49 for a “basic listing” and $99 for a “featured listing.” To sell a vehicle on its “Private Seller Exchange,” Autotrader charges sellers $99 or .99% of the vehicle’s selling price, whichever is greater.

Autotrader Review

Before the internet, Auto Trader magazine sat near the checkout at almost every convenience store. It was about an inch thick and chock full of vehicles listed in local ads, from cheap cars by owner to offerings from local dealers.

It improved on print newspaper classifieds by having more complete vehicle descriptions,along with a black-and-white photo accompanying each ad.

In 2017, the brand shifted to an online-only car marketplace. Auto Trader is now known as the car website Autotrader.

As far as “meetingplaces” go, Autotrader offers a bit more functionality than other non-transactional marketplaces such as Craigslist.

Autotrader for Sellers

Autotrader charges a fee for sellers to list a vehicle and receive inquiries from potential buyers. Once a buyer and seller make contact, it’s up to them to figure out how to get the deal done off the Autotrader platform.

Autotrader’s $49 ($99 for featured) listing fee is about average. Sellers are paying for access to the platform’s network of buyers; Autotrader’s value-add doesn’t extend much beyond this “matching” functionality.

The platform doesn’t facilitate transactions in the way PrivateAuto does. For example: the ability to counteroffer, accept, or reject buyer offers; the ability to message with buyers without exchanging contact info; the ability to receive funds instantly, anytime, with no limits on amount; verified buyer funds—to name a few.

Autotrader for Buyers

Buyers can browse Autotrader’s extensive inventory, but that inventory is a mix of dealer and private-party cars, with dealer offerings comprising the lion’s share of cars for sale. On the left column of a listings page, users can scroll down to a filter feature for “Seller Type” and select from “Dealer” and “Private Seller,” both of which are initially enabled by default.

Private sellers often offer better value than dealers (who need to make their spread), but the private sales are diluted by a deluge of dealer and partner offerings.

On Autotrader, buyers lack the ability to interact directly with sellers and can’t schedule test drives or send funds via the platform.

Autotrader for Both Buyers and Sellers

As a “meetingplace,” Autotrader connects a seller to potential buyers but doesn’t offer a lot of support for getting a transaction done. Buyer and seller need to exchange contact info, financial info, and other sorts of sensitive information, making them more vulnerable to scams.

Autotrader does not allow buyers to make offers and sellers to accept, reject, or make counteroffers.

Autotrader Pros

  • High vehicle inventory
  • No buyer fees
  • In-app messaging
  • In-app test drive scheduler
  • Integrated financing
  • Verified buyers and sellers

Autotrader Cons

  • No “make an offer” functionality
  • No vehicle history report (some cars include one, others do not)
  • No counteroffer functionality
  • No integrated payments
  • No split payment option
  • Longer transaction times
  • No in-app way to sign documents

PrivateAuto Review

PrivateAuto is a technology platform designed to simplify every aspect of a private vehicle transaction. The PrivateAuto tech stack includes vehicle listings, an instantaneous payment gateway, identity verification for buyers and sellers, scheduling, and messaging. In short, PrivateAuto is a fully transactional automotive marketplace.

PrivateAuto for Sellers

Sellers can easily create a listing for their vehicle and manage incoming offers via their dashboard, with the option to accept, reject, or make a counteroffer. They can chat with potential buyers via the in-app messaging feature without ever giving out their personal contact info.

With PrivateAuto’s ability to verify funds, sellers can stop dealing with buyers who can’t afford their car.

When they accept an offer, the PrivateAuto scheduler allows sellers to arrange a test drive with the buyer. At the time of the meeting, buyer and seller can conclude the entire transaction via the PrivateAuto mobile app, which allows for the following to occur:

  • The app conducts each party through a step-by-step process that includes documentation, title, and payment
  • Both parties e-sign the bill of sale
  • The buyer pays the seller via PrivateAuto Pay and the seller receives the funds instantly, 24/7/365

PrivateAuto for Buyers

Buyers on PrivateAuto can place offers on vehicle listings and communicate with sellers. They can schedule a test drive with sellers and complete the entire transaction at the time of the meeting, including sending unlimited funds instantly and fee-free.

Like Autotrader, PrivateAuto also allows buyers to apply for car financing within the app.

PrivateAuto for Both Buyers and Sellers

Buyers and sellers alike benefit from the security of identity verification, in-app messaging, and instantaneous payments.

PrivateAuto Pros

  • No hidden fees
  • Verified buyers and sellers
  • Option to pay upfront for a listing, or defer payment until the vehicle sells
  • No buyer fees
  • Vehicle advertising available
  • In-app messaging and test drive scheduling
  • Buyer and seller verification
  • Vehicle history reports available
  • Instantaneous payments of any amount, 24/7/365
  • Intuitive mobile app and website
  • Integrated banking system
  • In-app financing
  • E-signing of the bill of sale for both parties
  • Guided walk-through of necessary paperwork for buyer and seller
  • Verification of funds
  • Mobile app for iOS and Android
  • PrivateAuto Pay delivers escrow-like capabilities in the palm of your hand and enables long-distance transactions.

PrivateAuto Cons

  • None: we designed it to have only upside

Autotrader vs PrivateAuto: Pricing

Neither Autotrader nor PrivateAuto have buyer transaction fees. On the sell side, it’s pretty close. Autotrader’s $49 basic listing is cheaper than PrivateAuto, while its “featured listing” is a bit more expensive than PrivateAuto’s “Pay now” option.

For an additional fee, PrivateAuto gives sellers the option to defer payment until a car sells. Autotrader does not have this option.

Autotrader vs PrivateAuto: Advertising

Both Autotrader and PrivateAuto offer vehicle advertising on their website and app. PrivateAuto also offers a detailed vehicle history report (accident history, repairs, and maintenance history), while Autotrader doesn’t.

Vehicle history reports make it easier for buyers to trust that the state of your vehicle is as advertised. Therefore, if you’re looking to sell your vehicle quickly, you’re much more likely to find a buyer if you include a detailed vehicle history report in your car listing.

PrivateAuto also offers a window brochure with QR code so that sellers can drive offline traffic to their listing; Autotrader does not offer anything similar.

PrivateAuto vs Autotrader: Getting to the Deal

PrivateAuto is the clear winner when it comes to sellers and potential buyers interacting prior to the transaction. Both companies verify buyers and sellers to cut down on fraud, but PrivateAuto does much more.

  • Verified funds
  • Buyers can make offers and sellers can counteroffer
  • E-signing documents


Both companies offer financing options via third-party lenders, and both allow would-be buyers to apply for financing directly in their respective app.

Verified Funds

PrivateAuto can verify buyer funds, and sellers can opt to receive offers only from buyers with verified funds. Autotrader has no functionality for verifying funds.


PrivateAuto allows buyers and sellers to message inside the PrivateAuto app without exchanging contact information. Autotrader allows buyers to initiate a message from within the Autotrader platform, which then sends a text message to the seller. Ultimately, buyers and sellers end up exchanging contact info, which results in more risk exposure.


PrivateAuto allows buyers to make offers, and sellers to accept or reject them—or make counteroffers. Autotrader lacks equivalent functionality.


PrivateAuto allows both parties to e-sign the bill of sale via the mobile app; Autotrader does not.

Autotrader vs PrivateAuto: Payment Features

If you want to sell your car and get the money for it quickly, PrivateAuto is the clear winner in the payments arena. PrivateAuto Pay allows buyers to send up to $1M instantly and fee free. Funds appear instantly in the seller’s PrivateAuto Pay account, allowing both parties to function as their own escrow service and even conduct remote car transactions.

Autotrader offers no payment integration. The parties must negotiate payment outside of the platform—a cumbersome and time-consuming process that exposes them to risk. There aren’t a lot of good ways for strangers to conduct a high-dollar transaction, as Autotrader users quickly learn.

With the speed and security of PrivateAuto Pay, PrivateAuto is the only private vehicle transaction platform that allows a seller and buyer to conclude the entire deal in a few minutes when they meet for a test drive.

In addition to being instantaneous, PrivateAuto Pay offers the following benefits:

  • Available on nights, weekends, and holidays
  • Allows for split payments; a buyer can break a payment up between financing, cash, PrivateAuto Pay, and cryptocurrency
  • Allows for full or partial buyer financing that is directly integrated into the PrivateAuto platform

Autotrader vs PrivateAuto: Fraud Prevention

Fraud is among the biggest concerns when shopping for or selling a vehicle online. Both Autotrader and PrivateAuto integrate robust identity verification into their onboarding process for buyers and sellers. This significantly cuts down on scammers, who proliferate on other sites and love to operate anonymously.

Choosing the Best Online Car Selling Platform

The verdict on Autotrader vs PrivateAuto?

Best Platform for Sellers

If you want to sell your car easily, quickly, and securely, PrivateAuto wins out over Autotrader. The security and convenience of PrivateAuto are above and beyond those of our would-be competitors. With instantaneous payments, secure in-app messaging, and buyer verification, sellers have more flexibility and safety on PrivateAuto.

Best Platform for Buyers

For buyers, PrivateAuto’s tech platform far outperforms the Autotrader app.

With split payment options, instantaneous payments, and in-app financing, PrivateAuto’s payment options have no direct competition in the world of private car sales.

As neither company has buyer fees and PrivateAuto offers many more benefits than Autotrader, PrivateAuto wins on the buy side.

What is a Transactional Marketplace?

A transactional marketplace enables a vehicle transaction end to end. It provides tools and technologies to facilitate the various stages of the deal. Where other “meetingplace” sites merely connect a buyer to a seller, a transactional marketplace offers the following functionality:

  1. Listings: list your vehicle for sale or browse cars for sale. All online vehicle meetingplaces have this, and so does a transactional marketplace.
  2. Communicate: a transactional marketplace should have native messaging capabilities to keep personal info private.
  3. Negotiate: a transactional marketplace allows buyers and sellers to easily negotiate with tools to accept, reject, or counter offers without leaving the marketplace.
  4. Sign paperwork: a transactional marketplace facilitates easy electronic signing of documents such as the bill of sale.
  5. Send money: a transactional marketplace integrates seamless transfer of funds as part of the deal flow.

As the world’s first fully transactional automotive marketplace, PrivateAuto sets a new standard for private-party transactions.

Selling Your Car Privately with PrivateAuto

Thinking about selling your car privately? Check out PrivateAuto—the easiest, safest, and only self-service way to sell your car privately. The sales process consists of a few simple steps:

Gather necessary documentation

You’ll need your vehicle title and other documentation. Have all the paperwork you need to sell your car privately handy, so you’re not scrambling to find it at the moment of completing a sale.

Register on PrivateAuto and get verified

To make PrivateAuto a safe place for everyone, we require email, phone, and driver’s license verification, including facial recognition. Get started here.

List your car

Easily create your PrivateAuto listing with our step-by-step guide. Bonus: we include a window brochure with a QR code scannable to your listing.

Set your terms

It’s your car, so you drive the deal! You can control where, when, and who you meet. Decide whether to accept only ID-verified buyers, or buyers with verified funds. Don’t waste your time with buyers who aren’t verified according to your preferences.

Vet incoming offers

Manage offers in one place with the ability to accept, reject, or counter offers within the app. Listing on multiple sites? Filter all communications through PrivateAuto by sharing your listing link on all platforms. Your personal info is protected: no more giving out your phone number or email address. All communication happens in our app.

Choose a buyer

When you find an offer you like, accept it and proceed to the next step with that buyer.

Schedule a meeting

The buyer will want to look at your car. No more back and forth texts. You never have to give out your phone number. Rather, use our handy scheduling feature to schedule test driving and coordinate a time and place for the meeting. (Oh, and you’ll be able to finalize the transaction instantly at the first meeting, FYI.)

E-sign documents

After the buyer is satisfied with your car and the two of you have agreed on a purchase price, you can easily e-sign the bill of sale within our app, from your phone. With our shared documents feature, you can easily locate the paperwork needed after the sale.

Get paid, instantly

Before PrivateAuto, receiving funds was the most stressful part of the entire selling process, especially for any used car sale over $5,000. There just aren’t a lot of good ways to move large amounts of money quickly and conveniently. Those days are over! Verify and receive funds instantaneously with PrivateAuto Pay, our innovative banking integration. Guaranteed funds for transactions large and small.

Transfer title

When you sell your vehicle, fill out the necessary information on the back of the title transfer form and sign the vehicle title in order to transfer ownership of the vehicle to the new owner.

Marketplace FAQ

How many miles is too high for a used car?

How many miles a car can go is highly dependent on the model and the condition that the vehicle is in. Generally, if you’re buying a vehicle with over 100,000 miles on it, it’s best to buy one with a detailed vehicle history report that shows the car’s accident history and maintenance history. Of course, check the deal rating of the vehicle you’re buying to make sure you’re not overpaying.

What is a good price for a used car?

If you are a seller, we recommend using industry-leading resources, such as Kelley Blue Book, to determine real rates and a fair listing price for your used car. You may accept offers on your car, in which case you might consider a slightly higher list price to leave room for negotiation.

As a buyer, we recommend checking the deal rating of the vehicle you’re interested in to see if the price matches the estimated value of the vehicle. Of course, if the vehicle is too expensive for you, you can always wait for a price drop, though we can’t guarantee no one will snag your dream vehicle before you do.

What is a vehicle body style?

A vehicle’s body style refers to the size and shape of the vehicle. The most common car body style is a sedan, and other popular styles include hatchbacks, SUVs, MVPs, pickup trucks, and convertibles.

Is Autotrader trusted?

Yes, Autotrader is a fairly trusted website by both buyers and sellers. However, their platform does not offer many features that ensure the safety of sellers and buyers during the vehicle selling process.

Are Carvana and Autotrader the same company?

No, Carvana and Autotrader are not the same company. Autotrader and Carvana are both vehicle selling platforms with similar features, including car recommendations and reviews. However, Autotrader is a non-transactional marketplace, while Carvana is a digital-first dealership.

Is PrivateAuto trusted?

PrivateAuto is a trusted platform to sell or buy a vehicle. We have several fraud prevention features, which are ideal if you’re a seller receiving large sums of money from a stranger.

With PrivateAuto, you don’t have to request financing in advance, as you can do so after you find the vehicle you are interested in. Therefore, there’s no risk of you changing your mind on a vehicle or waiting for a price drop to get the car you want—though we can’t guarantee the vehicle won’t sell in the meantime.

Does a title transfer need to be notarized?

A title transfer does not need to be notarized in every state, but some states do require a title transfer notarization. States that require a title transfer to be notarized are:

  • Montana
  • Louisiana
  • Arizona
  • Oklahoma
  • Ohio
  • Kentucky
  • North Carolina
  • Pennsylvania

Where is the best place to buy a used car online?

PrivateAuto is the only transactional automotive marketplace and is exclusively for private seller listings. Not only do we only have car listings by owner, but your information is kept safe, sellers and buyers are verified, you can get pre-approved financing for an auto loan, and you can safely buy a used car online.

To learn more about how PrivateAuto stacks up against competitors, see our article on the best websites to buy a car online.