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Car sellers: A buyer's guide to available options

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    When it comes to buying a car, there are so many options to choose from. You’ve got sedans, trucks, sports cars and so much more. Your options aren’t just limited to the type of car you buy either — buyers today have an unprecedented amount of choice when it comes to where they buy their next car. But with so many options of car sellers to choose from, it can get potentially confusing trying to narrow things down and find the right option for you. Let’s take a look at the wide world of car sellers together and help you break things down.


    Perhaps the car seller that you’re most likely to be familiar with is the dealership. Car dealerships have been around for a while, and many salespeople are there to help you get a deal on your next car.

    Dealerships are often affiliated with and authorized by a particular manufacturer, but there are independent dealerships as well. While many people may associate a dealership with a new car, there are plenty of used car dealerships as well.

    Pros of buying from dealerships

    Here are some of the pros and cons of going through a dealership:

    • Peace of mind: Buying from a dealership may mean you’re getting a new or certified pre-owned vehicle that likely comes with a warranty and maybe even a vehicle service contract. Dealerships likely rely on their reputation for business, so you know that new cars will be in “new” condition and used cars are usually thoroughly vetted to ensure they’re in good enough condition to be sold.
    • Latest features and options: Dealerships may offer vehicles with all the latest add-ons like rear backup cameras and other safety features, plus any extra trimmings like leather seats. You may be able to customize the vehicle to your liking and have those add-ons professionally installed.
    • Administrative help: Buying a car involves a decent bit of paperwork that needs to be filled out. Dealerships typically have staff members that may be able to help customers streamline this process considerably compared to doing it on your own.
    • Trade-ins: Dealerships may let you trade in your old vehicle to help offset some of the cost of your new one.

    Cons of buying from dealerships

    Buying from a dealership has its advantages, but it also has potential drawbacks:

    • Less bargaining room: Dealerships have their own costs to consider, and while they do build in some wiggle room for customers to negotiate prices, they may have a set price they typically can’t go below.
    • Physical location: Dealerships are usually visited in person, which can be a slight inconvenience. You’ll need to go there during business hours if you want to truly get a feel for the cars you’re considering. While private sellers pose this disadvantage as well, you may at least be able to arrange a mutually agreeable meeting spot, whereas a dealership has a permanent and fixed location, which may not be close to you.

    Private sellers

    After dealerships, a common option is private sellers. This could be a family member or friend, a total stranger from a “For Sale” ad, or even an actual car auction where sellers put up their car to the highest bidder.

    Pros of buying from private sellers

    • Room to negotiate: Buying from a private seller means you may have a lot more room to haggle than you might at a dealership or showroom. Private sellers typically have no overhead costs they need to factor in compared to a dealer, which could yield you additional savings.

    Cons of buying from private sellers

    • Limited choices: When buying from private sellers, your options are limited to the car that’s for sale. It may or may not have all the features you wanted, and you can’t really pick and choose customizations (until after you take possession of it, at least). To create options, you’ll need to shop between many private sellers, a lot of work and hassle.
    • Potentially undetected issues: When it comes to private car sales, it’s entirely up to the buyer to do their due diligence in trying to find out the vehicle history and getting it checked out by a trusted mechanic to ensure it’s in good shape. This isn’t always easy to do, and undetected issues may present major issues down the road.
    • No warranties: Private car sales by owner are typically considered “as is,” so any issues that arise after the sale is completed are generally considered to be the new owner’s liability. If something goes wrong after the sale, options to get restitution may be extremely limited.

    Online retailers

    A comparatively newer option, but one that’s quickly gaining steam, is buying cars from online sellers. These sellers function in many ways like a virtual dealership, with pages upon pages full of cars to choose from.

    Pros of buying online

    • Convenience: Like many other types of online shopping, buying a car through a virtual retailer offers unparalleled convenience — you can check out the inventory anytime you like, from anywhere you are. Dealerships and private sellers may look at you funny or call security if you show up in your pajamas at 3 a.m., but an online seller will always be open online.
    • Wide selection: Online car sellers often boast a wide selection of cars from all over the country to choose from, while a private seller usually just has one to offer, and a dealership may be limited to a certain manufacturer or whatever’s in stock locally.
    • Competitive pricing: The online retail space is extremely competitive and that applies to cars too. Since price comparisons are literally a click away, online sellers may face additional pressure to keep prices low.

    Cons of buying online

    • Less tangible: Buying a car online is a bit like buying clothes online. You may know your size and what you like, but the delivered product may not be exactly what you were expecting. Because you can’t touch or feel the car or take it for a test drive before you have it shipped out to you, there’s a chance you may end up having to send it back and wait for the next option to arrive.

    In summary

    As you now see, the number of car sellers out there is nearly endless, but they fall into three broad types: dealerships, private sellers and online sellers. Each has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. Some may offer convenience or room to negotiate, while others may offer peace of mind and a smooth transaction. Once you weigh these pros and cons against each other, it may become easier to determine which is the best option for you.

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