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Tired of Sketchy Car Dealers? Here Are 5 Alternatives

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Getting a new car is fun — it’s the whole shopping-for-and-buying-one thing that tends to be stressful and generally unenjoyable. The vast majority of consumers hate negotiating, according to a 2014 survey from Edmunds.com, and that attitude is far more common among younger shoppers, as well. Car owners and shoppers hate haggling so much, 21% surveyed by Edmunds said they’d rather give up sex for a month than have to negotiate over a car.

Given that insight into Americans’ least favorite consumer activities, it’s unsurprising that more and more alternatives to the traditional car dealership have popped up in recent years. Whether or not avoiding the car lot is a smart choice from a buyer’s perspective is debatable, but if you’re looking to make car shopping less dreadful, there are plenty of alternatives. I reached out to members of the Financial Planning Association to ask what dealership alternatives they’ve researched or recommended to clients, and these are some they shared.

1. Tred

This Seattle-based startup takes the car shopping experience online, allowing buyers from anywhere in the U.S. to browse its inventory, make bids in an online auction and arrange test drives for vehicles they’re interested in — it’s like a concierge car dealer.

Marcos Lira, a certified financial planner in San Francisco, came across the company when researching dealership alternatives for a client. What caught his attention is the consumer’s ability to buy a professionally inspected car (and test drive it) without ever having to go anywhere. With the company’s seven-day buy-back guarantee, you can change your mind, and Tred will pick up the car and issue you a full refund (conditions apply, of course).

Like many of the options Lira researched, Tred’s warranty isn’t as appealing as what you’d get by buying a certified pre-owned vehicle like you’d be able to find at a dealership.

“Select vehicles are sold with a free three-month 3,000-mile warranty that covers mechanical repairs on your vehicle at the local service center of our choosing with a $100 deductible,” Tred’s website reads. A certified pre-owned vehicle is almost always going to have a better warranty.


Banking, insurance, cars — military members and their families can cover a lot of their financial needs through USAA, including eliminating the unpleasant task of negotiating car prices.

“The best place we have found is through car buying services, like the one USAA offers to their members,” said Jude Boudreaux, a CFP in New Orleans, in an email. “It really cuts down on the negotiation and hassle, and has gotten some great deals for clients!”

AAA has a similar program (as do other organizations), where it plays the role of middleman between you and that car dealership you want nothing to do with.

3. Costco

Yes, you can buy a car through Costco, because of course you can. Like the USAA and AAA programs previously mentioned, Costco works with partners to get its members low pricing and a “streamlined buying experience” (per its website) when shopping for a new or used vehicle. While you’re on a Costco kick, you can buy all the nifty things you want to outfit the garage that will house your Costco car — heck, you could buy a garage at Costco, should you require it. If you’re looking for that kind of car-buying experience, Costco might be worth considering.

4. Car Brokers

As many people do when finding a new home, you can ask someone else to do all the legwork for you and hire a broker. Give the broker your wish list and price point, and he or she goes out to find options for you to consider.

“Generally they get fleet pricing, so the deal is a good one and you aren’t doing that miserable haggling at the dealership,” said CFP Kristi C. Sullivan, in an email. “Then, you just go to the auto broker’s office, sign the papers, and pick up your car. Painless. The hard part these days is finding an auto broker that isn’t owned by a local dealership. A truly independent outfit is best.”

5. Auctions

On the other hand, perhaps you enjoy unpredictability when making big-ticket purchases, or maybe you have exceptional mechanic skills. You could score a great deal by bidding on a used vehicle and a government or public auction, but your chances of walking away with a worthless mess are much higher than traditional shopping outlets. Depending on the inventory and attendance, you could end up in a bidding war that quickly exceeds the money-saving attractiveness of an auction, so plan carefully before going to one of these things.

Some consumers are more comfortable than others taking a hands-off approach to car shopping, but no matter how you go about finding your new vehicle, it’s important you understand what you’re signing up for. If you need a loan, shop around for the most affordable pricing — the best loan rates are available to those with the best credit scores, so check yours out before you start looking at cars. Don’t overlook things like service agreements and warranties, because you’ll want to know how to plan for regular and emergency vehicle maintenance.

“Consider the overall cost of ownership,” Lira said. “The main thing is to make sure [you] have enough in an emergency account, because if something happened … it would have to come out of pocket to pay for that (if the problem isn’t covered under warranty)”

When buying a car, make sure the vehicle goes through some sort of inspection, that you get an ownership and service history and an estimate on insurance premiums. In some states, your credit standing can affect your insurance premium, which is another reason to carefully monitor your credit scores before making a vehicle purchase. You can get two of your credit scores for free every month through Credit.com to see where you stand, and get a breakdown of what’s affecting your scores.

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