Car-Buying Services: Skip the Dealership Stress

Auto Loans, Loans
Car-Buying Services: Skip the Dealership Stress

If you’ve ever dreaded going to the car dealership, you’re not alone. That’s why services exist that help people buy cars without ever setting foot on a lot.

Once you decide on a car model, car-buying services use certified representatives to do all the searching and haggling for you. And online car shops enable you to buy from your living room couch.

“People hire representation when they’re not an expert in that field … and car buying today is complex,” said Oren Weintraub, president of car-buying concierge service AuthorityAuto.com. “You negotiate price, interest rates or lease rates, the bank fees, and once you get all that done, you’re not finished. … A lot of people are just not prepared to effectively negotiate a car deal for themselves.”

If you want an expert’s help with finding, negotiating and purchasing a new or used car — or you want someone to do those things for you entirely — consider one of the following.

Car concierges

What they do: Auto concierges learn about a shopper’s vehicle needs and preferences then do the legwork. That includes searching dealership inventories, haggling and negotiating extended warranty contracts. Concierges will even have the car delivered to your home or office so you can sign the sales contract.

Car-buying concierge is a highly specialized service that only a few companies currently offer. AuthorityAuto and CarBargains are two.

Payment: Concierges typically charge an upfront flat fee or sometimes a percentage of the amount they save you on the vehicle purchase. This fee depends on the car they’re tasked with finding.

What to know:

  • The fees might be largely offset by the amount a concierge can save you by negotiating.
  • Concierges can purchase your new car, so you never have to visit a dealership.

Club car-buying programs

What they do: Companies such as American Express, Costco and AAA have their own auto-buying programs. Some credit unions, such as Navy Federal, also offer them.

Members input their ideal car model and features online, then the company’s representatives search for a match within their certified dealership network. These approved dealerships offer low, prearranged pricing in exchange for the company’s referrals. Once your representative has found an option, he or she will arrange for you to visit the dealership. You can take a test drive and sign a contract if you think it’s the right car for you.

Payment: There might be a small fee for this service, but it’s often free with membership.

What to know:

  • Your car-buying professional might not find the exact model or color you wanted in the dealership network. You’re more likely to find the car you prefer with these services if you’re looking for a widely available model.
  • Many of these representatives can offer advice about which cars are best in class or suggest vehicles you might not have considered.
  • You’ll still be offered an extended warranty and other additional products by the dealership. But at least the price of the car is locked in.

Car brokers

What they do: Brokers are often former car salespeople, well-versed in the tactics of dealerships. They can operate individually or as part of a large company with multiple agents.

You can hire a broker to search car lots, haggle and buy your ideal car for the best price. You can even hire one to negotiate on your behalf for a car you’ve already found.

Payment: Some brokers charge a small fee or none at all, but they receive an undisclosed commission from the dealership. Buyers should be aware this raises the possibility that some brokers could be incentivized to settle for a higher price or only visit dealerships with which he or she has a good relationship.

What to know:

  • Auto-buying programs and car concierges provide similar services and don’t take money from dealerships.
  • Find trusted car brokers through online review sites, such as Yelp, or recommendations from friends.

Online car-buying stores

What they do: There’s an emerging market of peer-to-peer car-buying websites, including Carvana. You simply go online, browse the virtual car lot, and purchase a vehicle either for pickup or home delivery. This takes as little as a few minutes.

Payment: None.

What to know:

  • Most websites offer no-haggle pricing, though this doesn’t automatically mean it’s a good deal. Check auto-pricing guides, such as Kelly Blue Book or Edmunds, to see if the cost of the car you want makes sense given its mileage, options and condition.
  • There’s usually a seven-day money-back guarantee. This return policy partially offsets the lack of availability of test drives, but some companies are making strides. Shift, a San Francisco startup, can meet you anywhere in the city if you want to take one of its listed cars for a spin.
  • The industry is still new, so these sites have limited inventory and your car choice will be restricted.

Are they right for you?

Visiting the dealership still has some advantages. It makes it easier to arrange test drives and compare models, and dealerships sometimes have the lowest interest rates for lease deals.

Still, although they might have fees or membership dues, auto-buying programs can save car shoppers time, stress and potentially thousands of dollars. If you don’t have the time to search the market for the right car — or you simply don’t want to — it can be a relief to have an expert do the heavy lifting.

Nicole Arata is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: narata@nerdwallet.com.