Should I Buy a Car With TrueCar?

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TrueCar lets you get fair offers from dealerships without haggling, but is the company legit?

If you’re in the market for a new set of wheels, TrueCar is a service that can help you get car offers before you ever set foot on the car lot. In select markets, TrueCar also offers a completely online car buying experience where you can select a car, finance it, and schedule a home delivery from the comfort of your couch.

Wondering if TrueCar is a good way to buy a car? This review breaks down what you need to know about the service.

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What Is TrueCar?

Founded in 2005, TrueCar is a free car buying platform that lets buyers shop for pricing, discounts, rebates, and incentives for used and new cars sold by certified dealers. The company has a nationwide network of over 13,000 dealers and gets an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

TrueCar’s website works by analyzing car listings to tell you if a car’s price is high, fair, great, or excellent compared to similar vehicles. According to TrueCar, car pricing in the database is updated weekly, and incentives are checked and updated regularly as well.

Car pricing information on the website is meant to help you shop around with less haggling, but keep in mind that the TrueCar price report doesn’t include the cost of documentation and other administrative fees. When tallied up, these fees can increase the total cost of your car.

How TrueCar Works

The difference between TrueCar and companies like Carvana and Carmax is that TrueCar doesn’t sell you cars directly. Instead, it acts as a deal broker getting your contact information and connecting you to dealerships offering cars. If you’re considering TrueCar for your next purchase or trade-in, here’s an overview of how the process works:

If you’re buying a new vehicle

The first step for buying a new car is telling TrueCar the car brand and model you want. Next, choose your trim, style, and package preferences. From there, you can review the car’s Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP), and TrueCar will help you get custom offers from local dealers, which may include incentives and discounts.

The final step of the process is usually handling the logistics of buying the car with the dealership that makes you a deal. However, buyers who live in the Tampa area can use the TrueCar+ car buying service to get financing and buy the car entirely online.

Financing a car online involves a credit application, filling out necessary documents, and customizing payments. Once the paperwork is complete, you can schedule the car pickup. Right now the TrueCar+ car buying service is only available in the Tampa market, but there are plans to expand it to other parts of the country.

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If you’re buying a used vehicle

For used cars, you can search TrueCar certified dealers for inventory by make and model, body style, and price. Plus, there are plenty of additional search filters you can use to narrow down results. For example, you can apply the certified-pre owned filter to show used cars that have passed inspections and come with a warranty and roadside assistance.

Used car listings include the car’s mileage, interior details, and an analysis of how the car’s price compares to other similar cars. You can also review details like the car’s accident and ownership history.

If you find a car you want to buy, you can sign up to get a “TruePrice” certificate, which may include dealership savings. Then you can handle finalizing the deal and signing off on paperwork with the dealership. Buyers who live in the Tampa area can also choose to apply for financing, customize payments, and schedule pickup of a used car online via TrueCar+.

If you’re selling or trading in a car

TrueCar can offer you a car estimate within minutes after you enter your license plate or vehicle identification number (VIN). Then you can get cash or trade-in offers from certified car dealers.

If you’re shopping around and not ready to buy

TrueCar has tools that can help you compare and review cars if you’re still in the research stage and not ready to buy. Plus, there’s an auto loan calculator you can use to estimate what your payment might be for different vehicles.

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Benefits for Military Service Members

TrueCar offers special perks for active-duty military, veterans, and family members. For example, military affiliates may qualify for $500 to $2,000 in bonus cash from certain automotive manufacturers and up to $4,000 to cover auto repair expenses and deductibles. If you have orders taking you overseas, the partnership between TrueCar and Military AutoSource could even help you purchase cars internationally.

Can You Negotiate TrueCar Prices?

TrueCar prices aren’t final, so you are able to negotiate offers with the dealership. But also consider that deals and offers on the website aren’t necessarily guaranteed either.

In some states, TrueCar will list a Guaranteed Savings amount for a car. This is the minimum amount of savings a TrueCar certified dealership guarantees to give you based on the MSRP.

But… there’s a catch: The savings applies to in-stock inventory only. If the dealership doesn’t end up having the exact car you want on the lot when you go for a test drive, the dealer could offer other options at a higher price. Price changes during dealership visits appear to be a point of frustration for some people who have used the service.

How Does TrueCar Make Money?

Using the platform is free for car buyers because TrueCar earns its revenue from dealership partnerships. In essence, TrueCar acts like a middle person listing cars for dealerships, and dealerships pay TrueCar a commission for customer leads and car sales.

Besides earning money from commissions, TrueCar also charges dealerships for different add-on subscription services. For example, dealerships can get increased visibility on the platform for a fee, which works like sponsored or promoted posts on Facebook or Instagram.

While this strategy makes the service free for car buyers, it does put into question who the company serves. TrueCar offers tools for car buyers while also working as a lead generation and marketing tool for dealerships, which could present a conflict of interest.

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The Pros of Using TrueCar To Buy a Car

Shopping for a new car can be stressful, especially in this market where cars have been selling above MSRP. If you need to buy a car, these are the advantages of handling the process with TrueCar:

  • Free to use TrueCar to find cars at a fair price
  • Transparent price ratings tell you when a car is priced higher or lower than average
  • Personalized offers without setting foot on the car lot and speaking to salespeople
  • Offers a Military Appreciation Package for service members, veterans, and their families that may include cash bonuses and various car expense reimbursements

The Cons of Using TrueCar To Buy a Car

While there are many pros of working with TrueCar, there are some potential drawbacks to consider:

  • Inventory on the website may be limited because it only features cars of participating dealer
  • Deals are subject to inventory availability and there’s a chance that the car and deal may not be available when you’re ready to buy
  • TrueCar is a marketing platform that earns revenue from dealerships, so there is an incentive for the company to support the financial interests of car dealerships
  • Online-only car buying is currently only available in the Tampa market

Should You Buy a Car With TrueCar?

TrueCar could be a good place to start your car search because of the convenience it can provide. You can search for cars, look for discounts, and find out how prices compare to other similar cars without the hassle of haggling.

The service is also free so there’s no risk of shopping around with TrueCar. But the fact that TrueCar earns money from dealerships that list on the platform means that dealerships are technically the customers TrueCar needs to cater to in order to stay in business.

Customer reviews of the company have mentioned that the prices on the TrueCar website aren’t always a reflection of what’s actually available on the dealer’s lot. That’s why it could make sense to consider TrueCar as just one of many places to shop around with during the car buying process. Comparing deals across many sites and dealers could help you find the best price.

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About The Author


Taylor K. Medine

Taylor K. Medine is a personal finance writer covering money management topics and finance products. She's written for finance publications such as Credit Karma, CompareCards, and MagnifyMoney. She runs the blog TayTalksMoney, which discusses how Millennials and Generation Z can live an abundant life on a tight budget.


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