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Bottom Line Up Front

  • Buying a car online is becoming increasingly popular thanks to the convenience it offers.
  • If you want a tangible, in-person buying experience, dealerships are still the way to go.
  • The car-buying experience can be just as important as the final transaction.

Time to Read

4 minutes

October 23, 2023

Getting ready to shop for a new car? These days, the buying experience starts online for most people. It’s easy to research different makes and models and get a sense of what you can afford thanks to online tools. It’s so easy, many people are choosing to complete the entire transaction online, rather than venture down to their local dealership. But is this approach right for you?

Shopping for a car online comes with its own set of advantages and drawbacks, just like buying at a traditional dealership. There are some key differences to keep in mind that can affect your experience—and your decision to purchase.

Advantages of buying a car online

You can shop online for just about anything these days, including a car. It’s hard to argue with the convenience of buying online—who can say no to shopping on your own terms? Here’s why so many people are embracing the idea of a digital car dealership:

  • Convenience and accessibility. You can browse a huge range of vehicles from the comfort of your own home, without carving out hours from your day to visit dealerships. With online platforms available 24/7, there’s no need to disrupt your schedule.
  • Price transparency. When shopping online, it’s easy to get a sense of what a fair price for your desired car should be. Tools like Navy Federal’s Car Buying Service, powered by TrueCar®, provide pricing and comparison information.1
  • Reduced sales pressure. With online car shopping, you’re in control of the buying process. You can browse at your own pace, ask questions without feeling rushed, and, most importantly, avoid the high-pressure sales environment of a traditional dealership.

While there are many advantages to buying a car online, there are potential drawbacks as well. The most obvious is the inability to actually see or test drive the vehicle you’re interested in. You’re relying on pictures and descriptions to gauge the condition of the car, which can be risky without buyer protections. Additionally, online negotiations are limited, leaving little room to haggle on price.

Advantages of buying a car in person

For decades, car buyers have enjoyed the convenience of traditional car dealerships. You have the ability to ask questions, see and touch vehicles, and handle paperwork and financing across the desk from a reputable salesperson. Here’s why dealerships are still in business today during the age of online car buying:

  • Hands-on experience. There’s something to be said about being able to physically inspect and test drive the car before you sign on the dotted line. You’re able to fully assess the vehicle inside and out, to see if it’s right for you.
  • Negotiation and incentives. Negotiation is a key part of the dealership experience, and it can help you get the best price, financing terms or potential extras (like an extended warranty or service contract). Love it or hate it, negotiation is a perk of shopping at a dealership.
  • Trade-ins and financing. Many dealerships offer trade-in options that can simplify the process of purchasing a new car. There’s incredible convenience in being able to drive up to the lot in your old vehicle and leaving in a new one!

Keep in mind that while familiar, there are some antiquated steps in buying a car from a dealership. In addition to being more time-consuming, you might also find yourself in a high-pressure sales environment. Plus, you might feel pressured to finance with the dealer, which usually means you’re not getting the best possible interest rate.

Online or in-person? Define your own car-buying experience!

Advantages and disadvantages of buying a car online vs. dealership
Advantages and Disadvantages Online Traditional dealership
  • Huge range of vehicles to choose from
  • Convenience of browsing from anywhere
  • Price transparency
  • Able to inspect and test drive the car
  • Negotiation and incentives
  • Easier trade-in options
  • No test drive
  • Inability to see actual car
  • Little room for negotiation
  • Larger time commitment
  • High-pressured sales environment
  • Fewer vehicle options

While most car-buying experiences start online these days, it’s still your choice about where the transaction actually takes place. Do you want the convenience and quickness of buying a car online? Or, do you relish the opportunity to inspect the vehicle for yourself first?

Whichever route you choose, be sure to take your time, do your research and make an informed decision that works for you. Navy Federal Credit Union is here to help make your car-buying experience the best it can be.

Next Steps Next Steps

  1. Before you start shopping around, get preapproved for an auto loan with Navy Federal Credit Union. Dealerships and online car-buying services both have financing partners, but it’s a smart idea to come to the table with your own financing.
  2. Use our Car Loan Calculator to help you figure out how much car your budget will allow. Having your budget in mind will give you confidence when you search online or engage with a salesperson at the dealership.
  3. New or used? Make and model? Features? Define your car-buying parameters so you have a clear idea of what you’re looking for. This can determine where you ultimately buy your vehicle.



TrueCar operates the Navy Federal Car Buying Service. Navy Federal is not responsible for any offer, purchase, lease, or service provided by or through the Navy Federal Car Buying Service.

This content is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.