If you’ve been shopping for a car online, you may have come across TrueCar. The digital automotive marketplace makes it possible to buy used and new cars, research car values or list your own car for sale online — all without leaving your home.
But is TrueCar the right dealer for you? Team Clark has explored the process of buying and selling vehicles with TrueCar and compared it to other online dealers to find out.
In this article, I’ll look at how TrueCar works and what its process is for buying and selling cars. I’ll also look at how to use TrueCar as a research tool and give you the pros and cons of buying and selling vehicles there.
Table of Contents:
- How Does TrueCar Work?
- Buying a Car Through TrueCar
- Selling a Car Through TrueCar
- Using TrueCar as a Research Tool
- Final Thoughts: Pros and Cons
How Does TrueCar Work?
TrueCar is a digital automotive marketplace that lets you see prices for new and used cars at local dealerships. The online approach lets you quickly compare vehicles available in your area.
TrueCar says it powers more than 250 car-buying programs including those offered by Sam’s Club and American Express. I also checked out the app on The App Store, and it had a 4.7-star rating with 23.5K reviews at the time of writing. On Google Play, the app had a 3.3-star rating and 11K reviews.
TrueCar doesn’t hold a physical inventory, and it doesn’t own the cars that are listed on its website. Instead, you’ll be able to shop for new and used cars across several different car lots in your area. Once you’ve found a car that you’re interested in, you can contact the seller directly to set up a test drive and/or purchase the vehicle.
You can use TrueCar to shop for new, used and certified pre-owned cars or research the value of your own vehicle before you sell it. You can also lease a car through TrueCar or sell/trade your current car. If you’re looking to sell your current vehicle, you’ll be able to get an instant cash quote that’s good for three days at a nearby certified dealership.
Buying a Car Through TrueCar
TrueCar makes it easy to search for cars for sale. You can start from the homepage and choose whether you’re shopping new or used. Then you’ll be able to narrow your search results by brand, type or price.
When I checked out the website, I clicked on “Shop Used,” selected a car brand and then entered the model and my ZIP code. Once you see the results, you can sort them by best match, best price, distance and more. You can filter your results further by body style, years, price ratings and more.
When I searched for a Toyota Camry for sale near Lexington, Kentucky, 157 listings came up.
As you browse through the available vehicles, you’ll see ratings including “High Price,” “Fair Price,” “Great Price” and “Excellent Price.” Below each rating, you’ll see an estimate of how much cheaper or how much more expensive the asking price is compared to the average list price for similar vehicles.
You’ll also be able to see the car’s mileage, distance from you and a brief vehicle history report. Once you’ve found a car that interests you, click on it to see more pictures, features and seller notes. If you’d like to check out the car in person, click “Check Availability” or “Get Your TruePrice.”
To continue, you’ll have to enter some personal information including your name, email address and phone number. You’ll also have to check a box indicating that TrueCar and its partners can contact you. That means you can expect some spam emails, phone calls and text messages from TrueCar and its partner dealerships.
For this reason, be sure you’re really interested in a car before checking its availability. You may also be able to find the dealership’s contact information in the Seller’s Notes section. Getting in touch directly with the dealer could save you from at least some of the spam.
It’s important to note that a vehicle’s estimated price on TrueCar does not include dealer-installed accessories, tax, title, licensing and documentation fees, other state and governmental charges or fees, dealer-locator fees for out-of-stock vehicles or any other applicable charges/fees.
Selling a Car Through TrueCar
If you’re looking to sell your current vehicle, getting a cash offer from TrueCar is a great place to start. You can enter some basic information about your car to get an estimate online. Then, you’ll be able to enter additional details and get a True Cash Offer from a local dealer. That offer is good for three days.
To get started, click on the “Sell or Trade” tab at the top of the page.
From here, you can either enter your license plate number, VIN or the make and model of your car. Then click “Get Started.”
I entered the make and model of my car when I tried out the service. After you’ve entered the details, you’ll immediately see an estimated price range for your vehicle. For a 2018 Toyota Camry, TrueCar estimated a value of $15,650 to $18,050.
After that, you’ll be able to select a few more details about the features and appearance of your car. As you make each selection, you’ll see how the overall quote is affected. For example, the color of my car decreased the value by $150 because it wasn’t in demand at the time. Beyond the color, you’ll also be able to enter the car’s exact mileage and your ZIP code. And you’ll have to answer a few questions about its condition: whether the vehicle has been in an accident, whether it has damage, if it has any modifications and whether any warning lights are on.
If you’re looking to trade in your car, you’ll be able to enter some details about the type of car you’re looking to purchase. This helps TrueCar match you with the best dealership. (If you aren’t looking to trade in your car, you can skip this step.) Then you’ll be able to see your True Cash Estimate and a breakdown of where that number came from.
To connect with nearby dealerships about selling or trading your car, continue by clicking “Get Your True Cash Offer.” When I went through the process, a message popped saying that offers weren’t available in my area at that time but that the feature would be “coming soon.” Unfortunately, that wasted some time, as there didn’t appear to be a way to check the offer feature’s availability before entering all of my car’s information.
Still, this process did give me a great base quote to consider when looking to sell or trade my car elsewhere.
Using TrueCar as a Research Tool
In addition to being able to browse available cars and sell or trade your own car to nearby dealerships with TrueCar, you can also use the website as a research tool. Whether you’re looking to research and compare models, calculate a lease or calculate a loan, TrueCar can help. To get started, click on the “Research” tab at the top of the page.
You can use the tools on this page to help prepare for your next purchase. You’ll be able to see detailed descriptions of every make and model, look at photos and read reviews. When you enter the details of a car you’re interested in, you’ll see its starting MSRP, market average price, the pros and cons, ratings, popular features and more. If you have any questions about a specific car, this tool can help you find the answer.
You can scroll down on the page to see guides to the top-ranked cars and trucks. There, you’ll find top 10 lists for categories including best sedans, best hybrids, best SUVs and more.
Farther down on the page, you can browse new or used cars by brand or answer a few questions to find a car that would best suit your needs. The short questionnaire asks what body style you’re most interested in, which features are most important to you and your desired price range. Once you’ve answered these questions, you can browse listings for vehicles that meet your search criteria.
Finally, you can use the loan and lease calculator to help you figure out your estimated monthly payments. You’ll be able to enter loan details including your maximum total budget, desired down payment, interest rate, trade-in value and loan term.
If you’re looking to lease, you’ll be able to enter the vehicle’s MSRP, your desired down payment, residual percentage, interest rate, money factor, trade-in value and lease term. Then you’ll see an estimated monthly payment based on the information you entered.
Overall, TrueCar is a good resource to check out whether you’re shopping for or selling a car. Even if you’re just gathering information, the website offers great resources under the “Research” tab. You can also use the “Sell or Trade” tab to determine your car’s current estimated value. However, if you don’t plan on purchasing a car you find on TrueCar, avoid entering your email address or phone number to prevent spam calls.
When I checked out TrueCar, I looked up the values of a few popular vehicles including my own. I did the same thing on a few competitor sites including Autotrader and CarGurus. While there were slight differences in the value estimates, they were all within the same range. For this reason, I feel that you’re going to see relatively reliable car values on TrueCar.
When it comes to the actual cars that are listed on TrueCar, you’ll see the price the dealership is listing on the website. If it’s considered a high, fair, great or excellent price, you’ll see a label indicating the rating.
After checking out TrueCar myself, here are a few of the major pros and cons I found with the website:
|TrueCar features listings from other websites including Carvana and Vroom, which means you’ll see a wide selection of available vehicles.||Expect emails, phone calls and text messages about inquiries you make through TrueCar.|
|Price ratings make it easy to see how a car’s price compares to the average list price of similar vehicles.||Dealerships may not have the exact match for the car you are looking to purchase, which means you can get baited into checking out other cars at their lots.|
|Even if you don’t sell to or buy from TrueCar, the website can be a great research tool to figure out how much your car is worth or how much similar cars are being listed for in your area.||TrueCar doesn’t directly purchase used cars, and True Cash Offers may not be available in your area.|
Have you bought or sold a car with TrueCar? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!