Where Is the Best Place to Buy a Used Car Online?
From Craigslist to Facebook Marketplace to Carvana to all the other car marketplaces, what sites offer the best car shopping experience?
The team at PrivateAuto researched that question and here is what we found:
- Some online marketplaces create a better car buying experience than others by offering tools and benefits that help get the deal done safely and securely.
- The best used car deals come from private party car sales and not dealerships.
- Most car sites make it hard to narrow your search to vehicles listed by private sellers.
Here’s a look at some of the most popular online car shopping sites:
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.
Its popularity as a print publication carried over to the new digital format. Most days, Autotrader lists over 3 million new and used cars for sale in the US alone.
The website’s search function displays a list of banner ads of new and used cars for sale, each with a photo and a brief description.
The asking price is visible on the right-hand side of each listing. Above that, you might see the Kelley Blue Book logo and ratings for “Good Price,” “Great Price," “Fair Price.”
- For car buyers, Autotrader has helpful loan payment and affordability calculators.
- They have reviews of hundreds of cars and trucks.
- They have many “10 Best” lists, such as “10 Best Used Cars Under $12,000” and “10 Cheapest Pickup Trucks of 2022”
- The site features research articles on nearly every new, certified pre-owned, and used car imaginable.
- The site does not facilitate scheduling a test drive; instead, car buyers and sellers must coordinate outside of Autotrader, which involves sharing personal information.
- Autotrader does not allow buyers to make an offer on a used car; they can only accept the asking price or move on.
- Car buyers need to share private information, such as email or phone number, to contact sellers.
- Most used car listings are from car dealers rather than private sellers.
- It’s hard to narrow your search to used cars from private sellers only.
- Ratings reference a generic Kelly Blue Book market value for a particular year, make, and model—but may not accurately reflect the quality of the car.
- A used car listed on Autotrader may not have an AutoCheck history report.
- Autotrader does not offer a way for buyer and seller to e-sign the bill of sale.
- The site does not allow buyers to apply for used car financing within the Autotrader ecosystem. Instead, buyers must coordinate with third-party lenders and sellers in a cumbersome three-way process.
- Autotrader does not have a scheduling feature for test drive meetings, meaning that buyers and sellers will need to do a lot of back and forth to coordinate. Also, they will need to exchange personal contact info.
- Autotrader does not feature a payment gateway, meaning that buyers and sellers are left figuring out how to do the deal outside of the website.
Overall Autotrader Evaluation
While Autotrader’s online car marketplace is a big improvement from the paper classifieds of old, it lacks a lot of important features available on other platforms.
You can do a lot better with a platform that goes beyond merely connecting buyer and seller. Look for a car marketplace that gives you the technology to get the deal done (hint, hint: PrivateAuto).
Kelley Blue Book
Les Kelley opened Kelley Kar Company in 1918. At the time, the Model T Ford only came in black. When Kelley began buying used Model Ts and painting them pink, his car sales went through the roof.
In 1926, Kelley published the first Blue Book. It was so named because of the blue cardstock cover. The Kelley Blue Book has since become the definitive source for car valuations.
The KBB website really shines in the expert information it provides.
● Expert car reviews
● Top 10 lists
● Best cars by type
● KBB awards
● Best car buys
● Best resale value
● 5-year cost to own
● Online tools and car loan calculator
● Car dealership price quotes
● Check credit score
● Car insurance information
KBBs downsides are pretty much the same as Autotrader’s. In the realm of car marketplaces, it’s a bit of a clunker.
Overall KBB Evaluation
With all respect to KBB’s legacy as a provider of stellar vehicle information and valuations, its vehicle marketplace is rather vanilla and outdated. Car lovers should continue to use it as a trusted resource, but should opt for more user-friendly, tech-driven solutions when it comes time to buy or sell a used car.
The eBay Motors online marketplace has a massive inventory of cars listed. This auction site is a definite heavyweight in the car buying arena.
Nearly every kind of car or truck can be found on eBay Motors, from luxury and sport cars to vintage and classic cars.
eBay Motors Pros
- eBay offers a wide selection of cars for sale.
- They feature many unique vehicles and classic cars.
- Car buyers can filter used cars by local dealers and private sellers.
- eBay features a list of carriers who can ship the car to you after you buy it.
- Paid listings include a vehicle history report
eBay Motors Cons
- It’s not at all intuitive to narrow your search to used cars by owner—you have to scroll down and click “More refinements.”
- Not all cars have vehicle history reports.
- eBay is an easier car site than most for scammers. Many car buyers have fallen victim to sellers listing inexpensive cars they don’t own. They will try to get you to pay off the eBay platform with gift cards or wire transfer.
- Neither car sellers nor vehicles are verified, which increases the chances of getting ripped off.
- Because eBay Motors is an auction site, you have no guarantees of getting the car you want.
Overall eBay Motors Evaluation
eBay Motors has a wide range of cars. From cheap cars to luxury vehicles, nearly-new to well-worn, they have it all. Whether you’re looking for classic cars or pickup trucks, you’ll find it all on eBay Motors. Unfortunately, they lack the tech infrastructure to make the buying experience seamless. The site is also plagued with scams.
There are more secure, faster, safer, and more convenient options.
CarGurus is yet another car marketplace. For the most part, it’s fairly vanilla, without much to differentiate it from Autotrader and other competitors. One differentiator is their integrated payment gateway, CarGurus Pay—though it has its limitations.
CarGurus lists new as well as used vehicles for sale, with a mix of dealer and private seller inventory.
When you search the car listings on CarGurus, many many will show “Fair Deal” or “Great Deal.” These ratings reference how the listed price compares to CarGurus own valuation, which they term “Instant Market Value” (IMV).
- CarGurus does driver’s license verification to help eliminate scammers.
- The site will update you via email or text message if a seller lowers the price on a car you’re watching.
- Their CarGurus Pay offers a way to pay a vehicle through a secure funds transfer (subject to limitations).
- Listings for used cars aren’t always accurate.
- It’s difficult to narrow your search and filter for used cars by owner (filter out dealer inventory).
- A buyer can only contact the seller by sharing personal information such as phone number and email address.
- Buyers are unable to make offers on used cars; they can only accept the listed price.
- The site does not offer a vehicle history report.
- CarGurus does not offer easy financing within their platform.
- CarGurus Pay has a $25,000 transaction limit.
- CarGurus Pay is available in select states only.
- CarGurus Pay takes 1-3 days for funds to clear.
Overall CarGurus Evaluation
With CarGurus Pay, CarGurus stands out from other car buying sites a bit. As a payment gateway, it’s limited by geography (not available in all states) and by funding amount (limit $25K), but at least CarGurus HAS a payment gateway.
In all other aspects, CarGurus is yet another non-remarkable online car website and marketplace.
PrivateAuto is the only platform exclusively for private car sales that uses technology to make used car transactions fast, easy, and safe. We create a user-friendly car buying experience so far beyond our competitors that we're in a league of our own.
Our payment gateway works across the US for instantaneous and secure transfer of funds, anytime. Our scheduling tool lets buyers and sellers schedule test drives and inspections. And all of it happens right in the PrivateAuto app without the exchange of any personal information.
Vehicle History Reports
PrivateAuto is partnered with AutoCheck. They provide the most complete vehicle history report with data from Experian.
You get a full picture of a car’s past:
- reported accidents
- reported stolen
- branded title (total loss, storm or flood damage, fire damage, salvage, etc.)
- title liens
- odometer discrepancies
- maintenance records
- rental car use
Secure and Instant Payments
There aren’t a lot of great ways for two strangers to transfer large fund amounts quickly and securely. PrivateAuto Pay changes all that. It is the only way to instantly and securely transfer large sums of money in a private car transaction.
- Available in all US states: no matter where in the US you’re buying or selling a vehicle, PrivateAuto Pay will work for you
- Split payment options: seller and buyer can opt to split up payments between crypto, cash, and PrivateAuto Pay
- Large fund transfers: PrivateAuto Pay allows you to transfer up to $1,000,000, which is more than enough for most used vehicles
- Remote transactions: a buyer can do an over-the-phone deal with a seller in another state via a third-party agent who can be on-site and verify the pertinent details.
- We keep your private info safe when you buy used cars online on PrivateAuto.
- We verify IDs, emails, and phone numbers of buyers and sellers.
- Our in-app scheduling feature lets buyers and sellers schedule test drives without exchanging personal info.
- We allow buyers to make offers on cars.
- We allow sellers to accept, reject, or counteroffer buyer offers.
- Buyers can apply for financing within our app.
- Buyers can contact sellers, request more info and photos, and negotiate—without sharing personal information.
- Our integrated banking solution, PrivateAuto Pay, allows instantaneous funds transfer anytime. It is available across the US.
- An AutoCheck vehicle history report is included when private sellers have a Premium listing.
- Buyers can schedule a mechanical inspection with an ASE certified technician straight from the PrivateAuto platform.
- Buyers and sellers e-sign the bill of sale (customized for their state) within the PrivateAuto app.
None. We built our platform for the ultimate used car buying experience.
Honorable Mention: Other Platforms
There are many other websites for buying and selling cars. Here are a few more we can compare.
Bring a Trailer
Like eBay Motors, Bring a Trailer is an auction site with a nice inventory of classic and custom vehicles. It has the same drawbacks of other marketplaces; while it brings buyers and sellers together, it doesn’t provide tools to help them get the deal done seamlessly. Read our PrivateAuto vs Bring a Trailer comparison article to learn more.
Like many classifieds sites, Craigslist connects buyer and seller, but doesn’t offer solutions for messaging, payment, and other aspects of a vehicle transaction.
Carvana is an online-first car dealership. While they do offer convenience, they make their money by selling high and buying low. Sellers are likely to pay more for used cars, while buyers are likely to receive less. See our full comparison of Carvana and PrivateAuto for more.
As we report in our comparison of KSL and PrivateAuto, local car classifieds sites such as Salt Lake City’s KSL Cars don’t offer much convenience, nor do they have many security precautions.
Used Car FAQ
Is it a good idea to get a used car?
Yes, it can be a better idea to get a used car instead of a new car because you can save money while getting more value. Many used cars for sale are still in excellent condition. Browse our used vehicle listings for some of the best used cars from private sellers.
Where is the best place to buy a used car near me?
PrivateAuto is a safe and secure nationwide marketplace platform to buy used cars online and shop locally. You can even apply for financing right in our mobile app.
Where is the best place to buy used cars under $5000?
You can find vehicles under $5,000 by using the price filters on most car buying websites.
Is Carvana a good place to buy a used car from?
Since Carvana is a dealership, their used car prices are typically higher than what one can find going directly to private sellers.
Is Edmund’s the best place to buy a used car online?
Edmunds is owned by CarMax and is like many of the other online marketplaces. Their website is primarily dealer ads which make it hard to narrow your search to used cars by owner. Here are 5 things you need to know about buying a car from Edmunds.
Where is the best place to buy a used car online?
Unlike other online car marketplaces, PrivateAuto is a car website exclusive to 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 safely buy a used car online. See how PrivateAuto compares with competitors.
Are used car prices negotiable at dealerships?
You can try to negotiate car prices at dealerships, but it’s often tricky to talk a dealer down on a used car price. At PrivateAuto, all cars listed are from private sellers, so it’s easier to get a better deal on a used car. With our secure platform, buyers can contact sellers and negotiate the car price—without exchanging personal information.
Is it better to buy used from a dealership?
No, it’s not always better to buy a used car from a dealership. Dealers usually have higher prices and fees that are hard to negotiate.
Many people buy a used car from dealerships because they can get financed and feel it’s safer. On PrivateAuto, you can get financing and a great user experience while buying a used car from owners. Schedule test drives and inspections with our easy and safe communication system, get a car loan through our mobile app, and browse local listings with our search tools.
Do I need to get a personal loan to buy a used car from a private seller?
Depending on your personal financial situation, you can opt to pay up front for a used car, or get a used vehicle loan.. With PrivateAuto, you can buy a used car online from a private seller and apply for pre-approved financing right in our app. Be sure to check your credit score to see the best loan rates you can get, and use our auto loan calculator to see what monthly payments fit your budget.
Should I use my Roth IRA or life insurance policy to buy a used car online?
You should speak to a financial advisor about your personal finances and retirement planning before tapping into your life insurance policy, Roth IRA, or mutual funds to purchase a used car. PrivateAuto provides third-party financing for buying a used car through our mobile app, so you don’t have to worry about using your own retirement or savings account if you don’t want to.
See the following car research guides for buying used cars through private party sellers.