If you’ve ever bought a car, you already know how much of a headache the process can be. Fortunately, there are programs and experts who will do the shopping for you. And you may even already be paying for one of these services!
In this article, I’ll take a close look at a few popular types of car-buying services and help you decide whether or not a car-buying service is right for you.
What Is a Car-Buying Service?
A car-buying service can be a great way to avoid the hassle of visiting dealerships and negotiating car prices on your own. Instead, you can get qualified representatives to look at your preferences and shop for a vehicle on your behalf. If you find a car you like, they’ll connect you to the dealership that offers the best deal or provide upfront pricing that’s almost always lower than the MSRP.
“For at least 90% of people buying a new car, car-buying services are absolutely the way to go because they take all of the drama out of it,” says money expert Clark Howard.
Whether you’re looking to avoid visiting dealerships, hoping to save time or worried about getting ripped off, a car-buying service can be a great way to go. The time and money that you’ll save can definitely outweigh the risk of overpaying, and the service may not cost you anything at all. Unfortunately, not all car-buying services are created equal, which means it’s important to find the best one for you.
If you’re interested in using a car-buying program, consider some of these options:
Your eligibility for each of these services may vary depending on where you live and if the car-buying service is available near you. Also, the average savings I’ve noted below are based on statements from the companies’ websites:
Company Type of Service Cost Type of Cars Average Savings
AAA Free-with-membership (powered by TrueCar) Free with AAA membership New and used $3,123 compared to MSRP
AARP Free-with-membership (powered by TrueCar) Free New and used Varies (up to $2,000 in post-sale benefits)
Allstate Free-with-membership (powered by TrueCar) Free New and used $3,208 compared to MSRP
American Express Free-with-membership (powered by TrueCar) Free New and used $3,272 compared to MSRP (up to $2,000 in post-sale benefits)
Consumer Reports Free-with-membership (powered by TrueCar) Free with Consumer Reports membership New and used $3,189 compared to MSRP
Costco Free-with-membership (independent network) Free with Costco membership New Varies
Credit Unions Free-with-membership (networks and partnerships vary) Free with account New and/or used Varies
GEICO Free-with-membership (powered by TrueCar) Free New and used $3,166 compared to MSRP (up to $1,000 in post-sale benefits)
Sam's Club Free-with-membership (powered by TrueCar) Free with Sam's Club membership New and used $3,445 compared to MSRP
CarBargains Concierge $250 New $1,572 compared to TrueCar
Authority Auto Concierge Varies (a percentage of what you've saved compared to MSRP) New Varies
Carvana Used car retailer Free Used $1,400 compared to traditional dealerships
CarMax Used car retailer Free Used Varies
Below, you’ll find additional details on each type of service as well as a list of auto-buying programs and companies worth checking out.
Free-With-Membership Car-Buying Services
If you belong to a club or bank that offers a car-buying service, this can be a great place to start.
“The one from Costco is one of the most powerful of all of them. It’s really, really clean,” says Clark. “I also really like credit unions for car-buying services. You’re going to get a good price on the car, and they’re going to finance it for you.”
While Costco and some credit unions work only with certain dealerships, many of these services partner with TrueCar. TrueCar is a digital automotive marketplace that connects its members with certified dealerships across the nation. Unfortunately, TrueCar has changed over the years and is now geared more toward lead generation. But these services can provide you with discounted prices without you having to visit dealerships in person.
If you do use TrueCar or a TrueCar-powered service, Clark just recommends setting up a separate email address just for the car buying so that dealers don’t have your regular email. You’ll also want to use a disposable phone number so that you don’t have to put up with spam calls after you’ve made your purchase. You can set up a free number with Google Voice.
If you belong to Costco, a credit union or another club/company that offers car-buying services, it’s definitely worth checking out. These services are typically available for free as part of your membership. Dealerships generally pay a fee in exchange for the lead generation.
Here a few popular retailers, clubs and banks that offer car-buying services:
Below, you’ll find additional information about each service including how to get started and what to expect.
Partnered with TrueCar, AAA’s program lets you purchase your car in person or buy it from home. You can shop for new or used cars online, see what others are paying and get competitive price quotes from local dealers. You may also be eligible for a discount on your auto loan with AAA if you use the car-buying service.
Once you’ve found a car that you’d like to check out, you can connect with a local dealer to test drive it. You can even have the vehicle delivered to your home and complete your paperwork online if the listing includes a “Buy from Home” badge.
If you’re an AARP member, you can check out the car-buying services available on the association website. Also powered by TrueCar, AARP’s program allows members to price a new or used car, connect with a local certified dealer and get upfront discounted pricing.
Once you’ve found a car you like, you can visit the dealership for a test drive. You can also buy it online if it’s marked with a “Buy from Home” badge. If you do purchase a vehicle through the program, be sure to report your purchase on the AARP website. In exchange, you’ll get a free online driving course and up to $2,000 in post-sale benefits.
Allstate is another company on this list that has a car-buying service powered by TrueCar. According to Allstate’s website, customers have saved an average of $3,208 off MSRP on new cars.
To get started, enter the details of the car you’re looking for online. From there, you can browse vehicles from more than 16,000 certified dealers. You can see what others are paying for the car you’re interested in. Plus, you can get upfront pricing including incentives and fees on each vehicle. Once you have the price, you can take it to the dealership during a scheduled test drive. If it has a “Buy from Home” badge on the website, you can also buy the car online.
American Express has also partnered with TrueCar to provide car-buying services to its members. According to the website, cardmembers save an average of $3,272 off MSRP. To get started, you can search for a new or used car online to see what others have paid for it.
Once you’ve found a car you like, you can see the discounted price you’ll pay at the dealership. From there, you can set up a time to test drive the car. Or you can purchase the car from home and have it delivered to you if you see a “Buy from Home” badge” on the website. You may also be able to get additional post-sale benefits worth up to $2,000 when you buy a car and report your purchase.
If you’re a Consumer Reports member, you have access to the Build & Buy Car-Buying Service, which is powered by TrueCar. You’ll also have access to the used car marketplace powered by TrueCar and Cars.com. To get started, simply log in and enter the details of the car you’re interested in. From there, you can customize your preferences, see the average MSRP and market average as well as browse local inventory.
Once you’ve found a used car you’re interested in checking out or entered the details of a new car you’re looking for, you can get your member price. You’ll have to accept some terms and conditions allowing dealerships to contact you, and they’ll reach out with pricing on vehicles that fit your preferences.
If you’re a Costco member, you’ll have access to the company’s car-buying services online. To get started, you can research the vehicle that you’re interested in to see how much others are paying for it and where it’s available. Then, you can connect with the dealership to schedule a test drive.
According to a video on the company’s website, the dealerships in Costco’s network are hand-selected. That means that unlike other companies on this list, Costco’s car-buying service is not powered by TrueCar.
“Costco does it differently,” says Clark. “They select one dealer for each brand in a metro area and that dealer is graded on how they treat the Costco member. They tell you who the dealer is, who to contact at the dealer and there’s a set price. There’s no negotiation, period.”
Still, the dealerships pay a fee for participation, which means there will be no additional cost to you for using the car-buying service. You’ll just save with upfront membership pricing.
Similar to other free-with-membership car-buying services, you can enter the details of the new or used car that you’re shopping for online. From there, you’ll be able to see what others are paying in your area and see discounted upfront pricing. Once you’ve decided on a car that you’d like to test drive, you can head to the dealership with a pre-negotiated price.
Some credit unions even offer additional savings if you take out an auto loan there after using the service. “If you go to a car-buying service at a credit union, you’re going to get better financing as well,” says Clark.
GEICO’s car-buying service, powered by TrueCar, is available for free with an account. You can find a new or used car by browsing local inventory online or by making a specific request. You can compare what’s available by price, year, gas mileage, reviews and more.
If you see something you’d like to test drive, GEICO will connect you with a local dealer. If you decide to purchase the car, you can print an exclusive Price Protection Certificate with the upfront price provided by GEICO and take it with you to the dealer for a hassle-free purchase.
Sam’s Club members have access to the retailer’s auto buying program, which is powered by TrueCar. The service allows members to purchase a vehicle entirely online at a discounted price or set up a test drive and complete the purchase in person with the same savings.
To get started, you’ll have to confirm your Sam’s Club membership online. Then you can search for new or used vehicles or just browse the current inventory. You’ll be able to see what others have paid and get real pricing on actual cars. According to the website, members save an average of $3,445 off MSRP with the car-buying service.
If you’re shopping for a new car, a concierge may be a good option for you. Car concierges are another type of car-buying service generally available online or over the phone. You may have to pay an upfront fee for these services or a percentage of what they save you after the sale.
Still, Clark says this can be a great investment: “I like anything where they are clearly working for you. You’ll decide if you wasted the money, but the odds are they’re going to get you a deal.”
Car concierges are different from car brokers in that they don’t take money from dealerships. Brokers typically take an undisclosed amount from car dealerships; that can mean they lead you only to dealerships where they have relationships (which doesn’t mean you’ll always get the best price). Alternatively, car concierges are more motivated by how much they’re able to save you despite where you decide to buy.
Here are a couple of reliable car concierge services worth checking out:
CarBargains is owned by Consumers’ Checkbook and claims to save customers an average of $1,572 compared to TrueCar. Still, it costs $250 for an in-depth report if you’re looking to purchase a car.
To get started, you’ll provide the make, model and style of the car you’re looking for. A representative will contact at least five dealers near you to get the most competitive pricing. Finally, you’ll receive a report that shows the price commitment and all fees for each dealer, according to the website. From there, you can decide where to make your final purchase with guaranteed pricing.
Authority Auto is a car-buying agency that negotiates prices for new and pre-owned vehicles on a client’s behalf. The cost of the service varies; Authority Auto keeps a percentage of what you save. Still, you will have to pay a $200 upfront initial fee to get its “full” service.
Full service includes a representative negotiating with multiple dealerships to find the best possible deal on a car you like. Authority Auto also offers a free deal review: A representative will look at your pending deal for free and let you know if you can get a better price.
Other Ways To Buy a Car Online
Fortunately, you don’t have to visit car dealerships to get accurate price comparisons anymore. Whether or not you decide to use a car-buying service, shopping for a car online is a great way to get an idea of how much others are paying for similar models and make sure you’re getting the best overall deal.
Here are a couple of the most popular online used car retailers worth browsing:
Carvana launched in 2012 and offers a no-pressure, no-haggle way to buy and sell cars online. While it’s not a car-buying service, it is a great way to find out how much others are paying for a car you’re interested in. Plus, you can look for a great deal yourself while avoiding the actual lots.
For more information on how to use Carvana, how the prices compare to the competition and the pros and cons of online car shopping, be sure to read our review.
Similar to Carvana, CarMax allows you to buy used cars online. You can schedule a test drive at the CarMax dealership. You can also buy a vehicle online and have it shipped to your nearest CarMax location or delivered to your home.
To learn more about how CarMax works, how the prices at CarMax compare to the competition and more, be sure to read our full review.
Car-buying services can be a great option. You can browse available selections across multiple dealerships and get access to upfront discounted pricing in some cases. Additionally, you may be able to purchase the car entirely online and have it delivered to your door.
If you’re thinking about using a car-buying service for your next purchase, here are a few tips:
- Know what you’re looking for, but be flexible. Take the time to figure out your price range, priorities and preferences. Also, know where you can bend a little — maybe on things like color or mileage. This gives representatives a little room to find more options and bigger discounts.
- Try auto buying programs or a concierge service before a broker. While car brokers can get you a great deal, you can find similar savings through free-with-membership programs and car concierges that aren’t taking any incentives from specific dealerships.
- If you use a TrueCar service, use a disposable email and phone number. With TrueCar-powered services, you’ll typically have to check a box agreeing to let dealerships contact you via phone and email before you can see quotes on vehicles. If you do this, don’t use your regular email or phone number! Dealing with all the future spam may not be worth the time you saved using the service.
- Research and price compare. No matter how you decide to buy your car, be sure to shop around for the best price before making your final decision. Also, don’t forget to check reliable resources like the Kelley Blue Book to make sure you aren’t getting ripped off.
If you’re a Costco member or belong to a credit union that offers free car-buying services, start there. Car concierges and reputable brokers are other great options. Finally, if you aren’t sure what you’re shopping for, check out a car-buying website or an online car dealership first.
Have you ever used a car-buying service or website? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!