Buying a car online vs in-person

Check out the pros and cons of an online vs an in-person dealership purchase to find the best way to buy your next ride.

When you're buying a new car, one of the questions to consider is whether you want to do it online or in person. There are pros and cons to each, and depending on your buying style, you might have been doing it wrong all this time.

If you aren't keen on either, you're not alone. "Painful", "confusing", "time-consuming" and "a hassle" are how about three quarters of buyers describe the car-buying experience. Buying online can remove the hassle and cut the time needed to find the car you want, but it can also be a lot more confusing if you don't know what you're doing.

The differences between buying online and at a dealership

The difference between buying online vs in person is mostly a difference in the shopping experience followed by the same buying experience. You'll need to test drive the car, and the end result, driving away in a car that you hopefully didn't pay too much for, is the same either way.

OnlineIn-person at a dealership
  • Going online lets you take your time. Going online lets you do your research, comparisons and bargain hunting at your own pace. It also lets you look over more vehicles more efficiently and do it outside the pressure cooker environment of a car dealership.
  • You don't have to deal with professional hagglers online. Car dealers are professional hagglers. Going online can lead to dealing with someone who knows just as much, or just as little, about cars as you do.
  • You can compare prices more easily online. Want to compare prices online? You can simply search for other cars that are the same make and model.
  • Car dealers have more options. You can get a wide range of extras at car dealers, many of which you can have installed right on the lot.
  • You can get answers to your questions. Whatever might be said about car salespeople, they are experts. If you have questions you can get answers on the spot.
  • Dealership financing. Dealers have financing options that you can apply for when you get your car.
  • Going online takes longer. The flipside is that you can't just grab the car you want and drive away.
  • You don't know who the seller is online. Car dealers also sell online, and you often don't know who the seller is until you're buying.
  • You can't compare prices as accurately online. You can't really see what kind of condition a car is in if you just have a picture and a short description. This makes it harder to accurately compare prices online.
  • Car dealers have overpriced, unnecessary options. Those extras come at a cost, and odds are you either don't need them at all or they're a lot cheaper to get elsewhere.
  • High-pressure sales. This is one of the biggest drawbacks of a dealership. If you can't handle sales tactics well, you might walk away with something you don't want.

There are pros and cons to each method of buying a car, and they largely balance themselves out. You shouldn't buy without a test drive anyway, and so you will almost inevitably buy your car partly in person and partly online. It can be a good idea to get the advantages of each in order to find the optimal deal.

What you can do when you purchase online

When you buy in person, you get efficiency and the ability to ask your car dealer all the questions you need answers to before buying, but that's basically it. By going online first, you can reap even more benefits:

  • Have prices to match. If you can find a new car for a certain price online, or even a used car in equivalent condition, you might have a lot more bargaining power and could even try asking a dealer to price match.
  • Thorough research. Find out how much it usually costs to buy the car you want, and then learn what to look for in a used car and how to pay less for a new car. Many of these tips work both online and off.
  • Filter your search. Imagine walking into a car dealership and telling them to show you only cars of a specific colour, within a specified price range, below a certain number on the odometer and of a certain make and model. Then imagine asking the dealer to line them all up in front of you so you don't have to walk between them. This kind of filtering service is a normal part of looking for cars online.
  • Get more options. When buying from a car lot, your choices are limited to whatever is available on that lot and at any other lot you visit. When you look for a car online, you have a lot more vehicles to choose from and can find cars that closely suit your needs. You can then check those cars out. However, you still have to travel to inspect and purchase these cars, so keep the location in mind when browsing online.

Where can you buy a car online?

The benefits of going online, compared to visiting a dealership, can also vary depending on which websites you're using. Each one is different, and one might suit your needs more than another. The following are some of the sites you can visit:

  • Cars Guide: Content and reviews alongside listings mean it can be useful if you want to research specific cars.
  • Gumtree: A popular place to look for second hand cars and find low prices.
  • Auto Genie: This site lets you enter the type of car you want, and dealers will contact you with their best offer. Once you know what you're looking for, this can bring some of the benefits of a dealership to you.

Car finance online vs at dealerships

Getting a car loan can be quick and easy at a car dealership, but as with many dealer extras, there's a good chance you're not getting the value for money that you could. Once again, going online first and looking for a better deal can give you more bargaining power even if you do end up visiting a dealership.

The trick here is getting pre-approved for a car loan, with due consideration to how suitable the particular loan is for you. With pre-approval in your pocket, you can simply tell the dealer that you have a better finance offer and then see if they're willing to match the terms.

Getting pre-approved for a loan involves knowing what kind of car you're interested in, which generally means going online and checking your options beforehand. Buying entirely offline can bring convenience and efficiency benefits, but will rarely match the value of going online beforehand, even if you do eventually end up buying from a car lot.

Compare a range of car loans you can apply for online

Updated September 21st, 2019
Name Product Interest Rate (p.a.) Comparison Rate (p.a.) Min Loan Amount Loan Term Application Fee Monthly Service Fee Monthly Repayment
5.49% (fixed)
1 to 7 years
Borrow as little as $2,000 at a competitive fixed rate
Finance a new car up to two years old. Competitive 5.99% p.a. rate available to all approved applicants.
5.69% (fixed)
1 to 7 years
Offset your interest with a Car Budget Account.
Take advantage of a competitive rate, pre-approval and no early repayment fees when you finance a car under two years old.
6.99% (fixed)
1 to 7 years
Finance a range of vehicles including cars, motorbikes, boats and caravans.
Apply online to finance a new or used motor vehicle and receive a response in 90 seconds. You will receive a competitive tailored rate of between 6.99% p.a. to 9.99% p.a.
From 4.99% (fixed)
3 to 5 years
Optional balloon payment available to reduce your repayments.
A competitive rate car loan suitable for a new cor used car.
From 5.69% (fixed)
1 to 7 years
Benefit from 5-hour pre-approval.
A competitive rate car loan from RACV with no monthly fees.
8.49% (fixed)
1 to 7 years
Use a new or used car as security.
A flexible loan thats lets you benefit from a car search tool as well as the option to borrow extra for on-road costs.
From 8.49% (fixed)
1 to 5 years
You'll receive a fixed rate from 8.49% p.a. based on the value of your car
Get a competitive rate and apply for a larger loan up to $80,000 when you attach a new or used car as security to the loan.
From 5.71% (fixed)
1 to 7 years
$100 (from $100 to $500)
You'll receive a fixed rate between 5.71% p.a. and 8.66% p.a. based on your personal credit history
A flexible loan to help you finance a car, motorbike or boat up to five years old.
From 7.99% (variable)
1 to 10 years
Your choice between secured or unsecured.
Apply for a loan up to $75,000 and benefit from loan terms up to 10 years.
6.45% (variable)
1 to 7 years
Apply for a loan up to $100,000.
Benefit from a flexible, variable rate to finance a car up to 3 years old with SCU.
6.69% (fixed)
1 to 5 years
Secure this loan with a car and use the funds for any purpose.
Competitive 6.89% p.a. rate available to all approved applicants. Loan amounts up to $60,000 available.
From 5.69% (fixed)
1 to 7 years
You'll receive a fixed rate from 5.69% p. a.
Purchase a new car with this loan and benefit from a fixed rate and no monthly fees. Pre-approval available within 5 business hours.
From 6.99% (fixed)
1 to 7 years
You'll receive a fixed rate from 6.99% p.a.
Finance a used car with NRMA and benefit from a fixed rate term and no monthly fees. Pre-approval available within 5 business hours.

Compare up to 4 providers

Picture: Shutterstock

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Car Loan Offers

Important Information*
Logo for IMB New Car Loan
IMB New Car Loan

You'll receive a fixed rate of 5.49% p.a.
A low minimum borrowing amount of $2,000 that you can use to purchase a new car or one up to two years old.

Logo for Latitude New and Used Car Loan
Latitude New and Used Car Loan

You'll receive a fixed rate of 6.99% p.a.
Apply for a loan from $5,000 to finance a new or used car. Flexible repayments and options to finance a classic car.

Logo for Beyond Bank Low Rate Car Loan "Special Offer"
Beyond Bank Low Rate Car Loan "Special Offer"

You'll receive a fixed rate of 5.69% p.a.
Take advantage of a competitive rate, pre-approval and no early repayment fees when you finance a car under two years old.

Logo for RACV New Car Loans
RACV New Car Loans

You'll receive a fixed rate from 5.69% p.a.
A larger loan of $5,000 or more to help you buy a new or used car. 5-hour pre approval available and no ongoing fees. Note: Product only available to residents of Victoria.

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