Online Car Buying: Not a Distant Reality Anymore

By  //  June 12, 2021

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Not so very long ago, anyone who wanted to buy a car would generally have to visit a local dealer or look for sellers online in the local area. Over the last twelve months or so, online car buying options have increased significantly. Spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, buying cars online is an accelerating trend. 

That’s not to say we haven’t been taking advantage of digital options, but it’s mainly been in the area of research and purchasing used cars. However, now it’s just as convenient to look for, compare and purchase new cars online as well. 

According to Automotive News, online car sales have spiked to an all-time high. In 2019, a mere 2% of new car sales were completed online. Fast forward, and that figure is now 30%.

Auto dealerships have embraced online sales

Auto dealerships were a bit slow in embracing digital technology. However, COVID-19 has kind of forced them to rethink their sales strategies. 

A survey that Cox Automotive undertook at the beginning of 2021 found that 69% of dealers had added online retailing tools in the past twelve months. This enabled them to deal with the pandemic’s constraints and be more competitive with less traditional, high-tech savvy car providers such as Walmart’s CarSaver and Tesla networks.

Cox Automotive has also stepped up to help its dealerships by introducing a Dealer Home Services package. The package was a resounding success, with 4,000 dealers signing up on the first day. According to Cox Automotive Research Senior Manager Rachelle Petusky, 13,000 dealers have signed up for it so far.    

What is involved in buying a car online?

Buying a car online is not as complicated as you might think, and thanks to car shipping companies that provide auto transport services, you can purchase a car from anywhere in the country and have it shipped to your door.

The images you find on the online car-selling websites are better than ever before and of a much higher quality. Live chats, and expert advice tabs are available. Increasingly, it’s also possible to have a video walk-around of the vehicle, both live and prerecorded. A car sales rep armed with a tablet walks around and climbs in and out of a car you might be interested in. At the same time, they’ll walk you through the vehicle’s selling points and even kick the tires if you want.

Other aspects of buying a car that can now be done virtually include:

■ Negotiating the price

■ Finessing the options and add-ons

■ Making an application for finance

■ Appraising trade-in value of old cars

■ Any other paperwork

You never have to set foot in a car showroom if you’d prefer not to. And as has already been mentioned, you can have the car delivered right to your front door with the help of an auto transport company.

If you’re at all worried about purchasing a car sight-unseen, there’s always the option of an at-home test drive. How this works is that a tester model is delivered to you to try out for a minimum of 24 hours. Other incentives for the concerned online buyer include extended warranty periods and longer money-back guarantee return periods. Some of these periods are as long as 30 days.   

What does the future hold for online car buying?

The auto purchase process has been somewhat cumbersome and frustrating for several years. On the other hand, the future is looking decidedly bright for anyone looking to purchase a new or used vehicle. 

Joe Bruzek, the managing editor of the editorial department of, recently wrote an article about his own online car buying experience and how it blew his mind. He bought a Volkswagen Atlas from an out-of-state dealer and said he felt spoiled by the whole experience. The best part of the process was not having to spend hours at the dealership waiting to negotiate the price. Other notable benefits were the easy, emailed price negotiation and picking up his disinfected and plastic-wrapped vehicle.

The automotive selling industry was very reticent, to begin with, but 2020 and all it entailed gave the industry the push it needed to get digital sales up and running. Cox undertook another survey in which 64% of consumers expressed a preference for completing more purchases digitally. A staggering 76% of those surveyed were also open to the idea of buying a vehicle entirely online. 

Regarding Cox’s dealers, 80% say the plan is to keep and augment their digital services. The prediction is that by 2025, four out of ten shoppers will buy their vehicles entirely online.

Whether the upward trend will continue could depend on dealerships continuing with the at-home test drivers and extended return policies. However, it’s possible to buy so many things online now that there’s no reason why purchasing your dream car from the comfort of your home shouldn’t be possible.