Auto Loans

Finding the Best Car-Buying Service for You

Having someone else find and negotiate your next car purchase may sound like a fantasy. Car-buying services come in many different flavors, from a concierge service that costs hundreds but delivers a car and contract to your door, to free member services you may already qualify for and not know it.  We’ll walk you through the different types and how to find the best car-buying service for you.

Concierge services

Part fact-finder, part advocate, a concierge service can help you buy your next car, but the depth of service depends on the company.

A car-buying concierge service picks out and presents vehicle options to you according to your preferences. Once you choose one, it handles vehicle pricing for your new car and accepts your trade-in, if you have one. It can also provide financing and products like GAP and warranties. And you may never have to leave the house. It can deliver the paperwork and your new car directly to you.

Concierge Car-Buying Services
Company Fee
AAA $225
CarBargains $250+

AAA Banking Auto Buying Service

Available to members in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, North Carolina, Oregon and South Carolina, the AAA car-buying service arranges for test drives and may even take care of your Department of Motor Vehicles paperwork. Members in other states can use AAA’s service, minus the concierge services.

A $59 annual basic membership gives you access to the car-buying service and other AAA benefits, though this fee may be waived for your first year if you buy a car through the service. There is also a $225 processing fee upon successful vehicle purchase through the program. There is no upfront retainer fee.

CarBargains

Like AAA, CarBargains takes your preferences and searches for new cars that meet those requirements. It then gathers bids from up to five dealers in your area and presents them to you. The difference is that it’s up to you to then contact the dealer and finish the paperwork.

CarBargains charges an upfront fee of $250 for a car purchase and $375 for a lease. Subscribers to its parent company, Checkbook, receive a $25 or $35 discount on the fee for a purchase or lease respectively. A one-year Checkbook membership is $28.

Car broker services

Similar to a concierge service, a broker or car-buying agent could help you find a vehicle. Yet, more personalized attention could mean a higher price tag.

Similar to a concierge, a car broker can help you find your vehicle and negotiate for you or give negotiating advice on any aspect of car buying. Yet one may be hard to find. Car brokers tend to be more locally-based than car-buying concierge services. Beware: some used car sales lots call themselves “car brokers.”

Look for a broker who is licensed and make sure any broker you hire is transparent about their compensation. Many brokers receive a commission in exchange for referring clients to certain dealerships. Independent brokers or car buyer’s agents may charge higher fees.

Car Broker Services
Company Fee
Authority Auto $595+
Car Pal $695+

Authority Auto

While Authority Auto’s fees can be expensive (see the chart below), it receives no compensation from dealers and says it can deliver larger savings than what you could negotiate for yourself. If you want Authority Auto to review a deal you negotiated on your own, it will do that for free, but its full service starts at $595 for new cars and $795 for used, going up from there, depending on the retail value of the car you’re considering. This includes negotiating the price of your new car, your trade-in (for an extra charge), financing and any add-ons. The upfront retainer fee is $200, which counts towards the final charge. For every additional car you’d like it to research and negotiate, the fee is $50. If you’d like it to also negotiate your trade-in value, it costs $295.

Car Pal

Car Pal helps buyers find a new or used car, and like Auto Authority, services are on a sliding scale: the more expensive the car, the higher the fee: $695 for cars below $35,000, $895 for cars above $35,000. It also will evaluate a deal you’ve found on your own — if Car Pal can beat it, you split the difference. You could also hire its CEO for a one-hour consultation for $200 or car-buying coaching for $400.

Member services

Companies you may already use might offer a car-buying service as a perk. Many times, the actual provider is one company: TrueCar.

Some businesses, including your bank or credit union, credit card provider or warehouse club offer a car-buying service as a perk to their customers. Many times, these businesses partner with TrueCar.

The benefit of using a member service instead of going straight to TrueCar is that you may qualify to receive added benefits, such as rate discounts. Whether it’s worth joining just for the car-buying service probably depends on the extent to which you’ll use the company’s other services — it might be best to look for an entity with which you already do business.

Car-Buying Services for Members
Company type Fee
Retailers Potentially free; some stores require annual membership
Insurance providers Potentially free; you might not have to be a policyholder
Credit card providers Potentially free; an account is not always required
Banks, credit unions Membership often required
Consumer groups Membership often required to use full benefits

 

Retail stores

Some large stores offer to help you purchase a vehicle. Examples include Costco’s Auto Program, CarSaver at Walmart and the Sam’s Club Auto Buying Program. While you don’t have to pay anything to use Walmart’s service, Costco membership starts at $60 annually and a Sam’s Club membership starts at $45 annually.

Insurance providers

Geico offers car loans, car insurance and car-buying services. Allstate and AAA, as we mentioned earlier, offer a service as well. Though it’s technically a bank, USAA Bank offers insurance in addition to loans: members who purchase a vehicle through its car-buying service are eligible for a 0.5% APR discount on a USAA auto loan.

Credit card providers

The Chase Auto Preferred program and the American Express car-buying service are examples of perks from credit card providers. Dealers that work with Amex will allow you to use your Amex card for at least $2,000 toward the vehicle purchase, which could allow you to obtain reward points. The amount depends on your card.

Banks and credit unions

Credit unions from the national “big leagues” like Navy Federal Credit Union to more local institutions like Suncoast Credit Union, offer car-buying programs to help members and sometimes even have inventories of their own to sell. Banks, including Bank of America and PNC Bank, also offer car-buying services.

Consumer groups

Groups such as AARP and Consumer Reports offer car-buying services plus research platforms that allow you to compare cars of different brands and models.

Online car-buying sites

You could do your own shopping through TrueCar or these other online car-buying sites.

TrueCar

This car-buying referral service lets you search online for a vehicle you want and then refers you to dealerships in your area that may have it, usually at a low, pre-negotiated price. While the service is usually completely free to you, it also functions as a lead generator. Dealerships pay to receive your contact information. You may be able to negotiate a vehicle price just as good or lower on your own.

Carvana

Famous for its car vending machines, Carvana has a “cool factor.” Unlike some of its rivals, you could buy, finance and arrange delivery of your new car all through one company. A downside is that it may be expensive to have a car shipped to you if you live outside of Carvana’s free delivery radius.

Shift

Shift facilitates peer-to-peer car selling with the protection of a third-party inspection, plus photos and detailed descriptions. You may find photos and descriptions when you buy through a classified site like Craigslist, but it’s up to you to do the research and inspections. The main downside of Shift is that test-driving one of its cars may be hard to do unless you live in California or Oregon.

Is a car-buying service worth it?

A car-buying service of any flavor might save you time, effort and, just maybe, cash. Which one you choose depends on your zest for legwork versus your budget.

Pros Cons
Skip the stress and pressure you might feel at the dealership. There’s usually a cost involved when you could negotiate on your own, free.
You could get a better deal than negotiating on your own. The savings might not outweigh the fees.
Maximize the benefit of services you may be paying for already such as a warehouse club. Car selection might be limited to the provider’s inventory.

Benefits of car-buying services

It may be worth it to hire a concierge car-buying service or a car broker if you feel extremely nervous and pressured at a dealership. It might not only prevent you from having to go through the experience, but may also save you money overall. If you aren’t as concerned by pressure sales tactics, a member service or online car-buying site could make it easier to find your car and get a fair price on it, while leaving the rest up to you.

Downsides of car-buying services

On the con side, you may have to pay for the service or be willing to share your personal contact information with dealers before you even test-drive. It is completely possible to negotiate a car deal yourself without assistance from a car-buying service.

Plus, while it may be convenient to take the provider’s financing offer, it’s always a good idea to research your own rates, even if you accept a loan through a car-buying service. You could fill out a single online form at LendingTree and receive up to five loan offers from lenders, depending on your creditworthiness.

 

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