Top Online Car Buying Sites To Get The Best Car For You

by Sandra Foyt on January 4, 2012

in Road Trips

DePaula Certified Pre-Owned Classic Cars-8I have a friend who hates car shopping so much that she bought a new car – sight unseen – only using car buying websites.

That’s a little extreme, but car shopping sure isn’t what it used to be. When I bought my road tripping Chevy Suburban way back in 2003, I picked up a copy of Consumer Reports and conferred with a few friends before narrowing down the models I would test drive at the nearest dealership.

Now you can get advice from thousands of friends online, and that’s in addition to limitless research resources on many excellent car shopping websites. Not only can you get a ton of advice, you can also test it out before making a decision.  Because not even the best sounding advice is best for you.

Take the tip we got from our financial advisor. He recommended that we buy a certified pre-owned car on New Year’s Eve when dealers are desperate to get rid of inventory.  Well, I had already narrowed down the short list of crossover family cars, so I was able to go online to compare older models to newer models while digging up best local prices and inventory on both. Very quickly I discovered that local inventory was sparse, with older car models boasting high odometer readings but not significant cost savings over 2012 vehicles. This good advice wasn’t so good for our particular situation.

It’s a brave new world of car shopping when online car buying websites put you in the driver’s seat.

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Best Websites for Car Shopping

Consumer Reports – The granddaddy of car shopping resources is still a great place to learn about car models and to compare vehicles. What I like best about this site is the narrated road test videos that give you an excellent sense of what the car looks like inside and out, as well as how it functions. I also like the ratings & spec sheets – this was the only good place to find ground clearance and storage figures for each car. The drawback to Consumer Reports is that it’s not free. Also, sometimes it’s hard to figure out if you’re getting information for the same model years across the board. For example, the Honda CR-V road test video was for the 2006 model year, and it wasn’t always clear which model year they were using for the specifications.

US News Best Cars – When I started car shopping, and just wanted to know what was available in my price range, US News made it easy. I started by looking for the best cheap cars 2012 and was immediately taken to a ranking of affordable cars, sorted by the kind of car from small cars to affordable convertibles. Beyond car reviews and rankings, this is also a good place to find car deals and local dealer price quotes.

Edmunds – I found a wealth of resources on this site – from car reviews to local inventory searches. One of the most useful was True Cost to Own® which looks at what it costs to run a car for five years; this is great for comparing cars with similar initial price tags. Edmunds also has dealership reviews and a database of auto repair shops by state and county. Also worth checking out are the informative articles on car shopping such as Choosing the Best Vehicle for Carpooling With Kids or How Much Car Can You Afford?

Kelley Blue Book – This is the original source for car values, but now it’s easier than ever to use the online database to discover resale values for vehicles. KBB also provides car reviews, top picks, local inventory listings, and a number of other research tools.

TRUE Car – Discover the best price for your chosen vehicle and connect with local dealers to get the lowest certified price on new or used cars. You can also create a free ad to showcase and sell your used vehicle.

Car MaxIf there were a Car Max nearby, it’s much more likely that I would’ve heeded the financial planner’s advice to get a used car. But not only do they help you buy and sell used cars, the site also provides research resources including car reviews, appraisals, and the Vehicle Recommendation Tool which helps find the best car for your needs.

Car Fax – Avoid lemons, get a vehicle history report that details title problems, ownership history, and accidents or service. The site also features a local used car inventory database that links to car reports, as well as a series of articles on car tips to help you make an informed car purchase.

Top Safety Pick – Before making any final decisions, be sure to check safety ratings and crashworthiness of vehicles and car seats.

Car Seat Data – A must for families with young children, this site features an online database of car seat and vehicle compatibility compiled by Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians. It also has car seat laws by state and other travel system resources.

AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report – It might not hurt to keep fuel prices in mind when decided whether or not to look for fuel economy in your next vehicle.

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Car Shopping for Road Trips Series:

| Sandra Foyt is a storyteller, photographer, and road trip junkie. A veteran of six cross-country road trips, she drove Route 66, the Lincoln Highway, the fossil freeway, the extraterrestrial highway, and even “the loneliest road in America.” Find her on, an award-winning destination guide to extraordinary travel in and from Northeast USA, on her portfolio site at, and in freelance gigs on Family Travel 411, Minitime, Huffington Post, and Matador Network. Email:, Twitter @SandraFoyt.

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