USAA Car Buying Service Review – Car Buying Made Easy

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USAA Car Buying Service
Buying a car can be complicated and expensive. With so many different vehicles available from the various manufacturers, it can be difficult to narrow down a make and model, select your trim level, choose a color, and finally pick out your car. And all of that needs to happen before you start getting quotes! Then…

Buying a car can be complicated and expensive. With so many different vehicles available from the various manufacturers, it can be difficult to narrow down a make and model, select your trim level, choose a color, and finally pick out your car. And all of that needs to happen before you start getting quotes! Then you need to look at whether or not you should pay cash or finance, consider trade-in values, and shop among the different dealership in your area. And last, but certainly not least, you need to consider the convoluted car buying negotiation process.

With so many variables, it can be difficult to know if you are getting a good deal on the new or used car you are looking to buy.

That’s where the USAA Car Buying Service comes in.

Formerly known as USAA Auto Circle, the USAA Car Buying Service takes much of the guesswork out of the car-buying process. In fact, it makes it downright easy.

USAA Car Buying Service Review

Let’s take an-depth look at the USAA Car Buying Service, including what the offer, how you can score a deal on your next car, how much you might be able to save, and even how you can sell your own car.

How the USAA Car Buying Service Works

First and foremost, the USAA Car Buying Service is only available to USAA members. Membership is free, but it is only available to current and former military members and their families. You can visit the USAA website to learn more about membership, or to become a member. (USAA also offers banking, investing, insurance policies, and many other valuable member benefits – read our USAA review for more info).

The USAA Car Buying Service is run through TrueCar, which is a car buying service that gives buyers a fixed, no-hassle quote from participating dealerships. This makes it easy to shop and compare car prices, print out a certificate, visit the dealership, and buy the car for the quoted price.

The process works like this:

  • You visit the USAA Car Buying site.
  • You search vehicles, including the make, model, and trim level.
  • Choose your new or used car.
  • A Certified Dealer gives you an upfront, discounted price including dealer fees and incentives.
  • You can view a price curve that shows you what others in your area paid for the same car.
  • If you choose to go forward, you print a certificate that guarantees the price on that specific car (or save it to your smartphone app).
  • Go to the dealership, present your certificate, and buy your car.

It’s that simple!

USAA Car Buying Service

The above image shows an example of the price curve you will see on the USAA Car Buying Service website. The MSRP will be listed, along with the average market sale price over the most recent period. The Member Price is also listed. These are actual prices for real sales reported by dealerships.

This is a great visual to help you understand the current market, as well as the potential savings you can have if you purchase through the system.

How You Can Save Big on Your Next New or Used Car Purchase

There are three ways you can save with the USAA Car Buying program: (1) Savings off MSRP, (2) Exclusive USAA Member Bonus Cash Offers, and (3) Loan Rate Discount through USAA.

Let’s look at each of these in more detail:

Savings off Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

The MSRP is the suggested sticker price you see on new cars. It’s important to understand the MSRP is just that – a “suggested price.” Many cars end up selling for below the MSRP. But not all do. Many popular models sell right at the sticker price. (some high-demand or hard-to-find models can actually sell above MSRP, but this is rare).

The important thing here is that the USAA Car Buying Service will bring you a firm sale price without having to go through the negotiation process. If you like the offer, you take it. If not, you can use it as a starting point with a different dealer, or find a different car to buy. This reduces your stress and total amount of work, and can end up saving you money in the process.

How much can you save off MSRP? USAA members saved an average of $3,554 off MSRP on new vehicles during the 2017 calendar year (most recent data).

That’s pretty substantial in my book!

From the USAA website:

Between 01/0½017 and 12/3½017, the average estimated savings off MSRP presented by TrueCar Certified Dealers to users of the USAA Car Buying Service, based on users who configured virtual vehicles and subsequently purchased a new vehicle of the same make and model listed on the certificate from Certified Dealers, was $3,554, including applicable vehicle specific manufacturer incentives.

Exclusive USAA Member Bonus Cash Offers

The bonus cash offers are offered through individual vehicle manufacturers. Not all manufacturers participate, and they can change from time to time. So it’s a good idea to visit the USAA Ca Buying Service to see the most current list.

Which Manufacturers Offer Discounts through USAA?

As of 2018, the list of auto manufacturers that offer cash discounts include:

  • Alpha Romeo, BMW, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Ford, Jeep, Mercedes, Mini, Nissan, Ram, Smart, and Vantage Mobility International, which sells wheelchair accessible vehicles.

Keep in mind this may change.

Loan Rate Discount through USAA

USAA offers members a discount auto loan rate when they buy a new or used vehicle through the USAA Car Buying Service. The current offer is a 0.50% discount on your USAA auto loan when you purchase a vehicle using the USAA Car Buying Service. (Note: terms apply, and this offer is subject to change, so use this bit of info to understand how the process works. You will need to check with USAA for specific information for your purchase).

Like all loans, you will still need to qualify based on your credit score, income, debt to income ratio, and other factors. Still, getting a 0.50% discount  on your interest rate can save you a lot of money over time. So it’s worth looking into.

Of course, many dealerships and manufacturers offer special car loan rates to get buyers in the door. So always compare the USAA interest rate to the one you can get through the dealership. The dealer may be able to offer a better interest rate. Then again, USAA may just come through as the best option.

How Much Can You Save with the USAA Car Buying Service?

This is a great question, and one that is virtually impossible to answer, since each car is different and many factors contribute to the final purchase price of any vehicle – new or used.

Some of the factors that come into play include the vehicle you buy (make, model, and trim level), vehicle demand, your region, your specific dealership, specific manufacturer incentives in place at the time of purchase, whether you are paying cash or financing, whether or not you have a trade-in, taxes, and other factors.

The USAA website shows that USAA members saved an average of $3,554 off MSRP on new vehicles during the 2017 calendar year. This includes applicable vehicle specific manufacturer incentives.

It’s impossible to say you will save a comparable amount, since there are so many factors involved.

But in my opinion, it’s never a bad idea to start the car buying process with USAA and see how it will turn out. You are not obligated to use their service if you decide you want to buy through a different dealership or you find a better deal elsewhere.

The USAA Car Buying Service is All About Convenience

USAA has several programs aimed at helping members save time and money. For example, they also offer USAA Home Circle, which is similar to the USAA Car Buying Service, but for housing. It’s a cool feature and one worth checking out if you are moving.

The USAA auto program makes it easy to search for car prices, select a dealership, and set up a new or used car purchase right from your phone or tablet. In fact, you can do just about everything through the app, from finding your car, locking in a price, securing financing (if needed), and even buying a new car insurance policy.

Many members save money when switching to USAA auto insurance. Of course, insurance rates vary based on many factors, including driving history, age, gender, location, type of vehicle, and more. So it pays to shop around.

How does USAA Auto Insurance Compare? Check out our list of Military Car Insurance Providers for more information.

Should You Use the USAA Car Buying Service?

Like all things, it pays to compare. I used the USAA Car Buying Service to search for my last vehicle purchase. I looked at both new and used vehicles. When comparing new cars, the USAA Car Buying Service compared favorably to several other online car search tools.

The key, I believe, is to first determine the exact make and model you want to buy, then get multiple quotes from different locations. Use this information as your starting point for negotiations. Some dealerships may be willing to offer further discounts, while others may hold firm.

In the end, I purchased a used vehicle. I used the USAA Car Buying Service to look for used vehicles, but the dealership I purchased my car from did not participate in the program (not all dealerships participate). So I didn’t buy my car though the USAA Car Buying Service.

But I like the idea of the hassle free price quote. That would have saved me quite a bit of time at the dealership when I was negotiating my used car purchase.

Will the USAA Car Buying Service Work for You?

I think it can. As I mentioned in a section above, I think using the USAA Car Buying Service as a starting point can save you a lot of time and money in the car buying and negotiating process. At minimum it should help you avoid a nightmare car buying experience.

At the end of the day, you may be able to save a little bit more by spending a lot of time negotiating. Or maybe you hit the dealership up at the end of the month when they need just a couple more sales to hit their sales targets and you can save a little extra.

But if time is of the essence, then I think it would be very easy to do worse if you tried to do it all on your own.

Note: This program is expected to remain in place through September, 2020.

About USAA. USAA provides insurance, banking, investment and retirement products and services to 12.4 million members of the U.S. military and their families. USAA membership is open to all who are serving or have honorably served our nation in the U.S. military – and their families. For more information about USAA, check out this USAA review.

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of The Military Wallet. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free Personal Capital account here.

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  1. Michael J. Chastain says

    Usaa now uses the truecar app. They sell your information online to dealers. I have bought a car through the usaa service 20 years ago and it was great experience. I was able to order a new car and pay just over the dealers cost. Now with truecar the dealership show you what they have in their lots and how much they want for the car. This is not a car buying service anymore. Usaa sold out to true car. Usaa is no longer for the service member.

  2. Clay says

    The USAA Car Buying Service is completely unsatisfactory. I used it some years ago and was referred to a particular individual salas rep within a dealer in my area with a certificate from USAA that was supposed to provide an additional price discount. Perhaps I received a discount compared to a “walk in” customer but, in the world of auto purchasing, it is difficult to tell.

    Last month I registered with the service for a particular make and model of car. This resulted in dozens of emails, texts, and phone calls from sales personnel from every dealer of this make in my area, often from different sales people within the same dealer, who were simply treating me as a sales lead. This useless service does not measure up to USAA standards.

  3. Thomas R. Truxell says

    This month (April 2019) I attempted to use the USAA Car Buying Service website to look for and purchase a new or late model used car. I entered information as to what automobile(s) I was interested in and then hit a prompt for pricing information, which I assumed was to come from USAA on my computer screen. Wrong! Three local automobile dealerships names appeared followed almost immediately by many telephone calls and text messages from those dealerships. Not what I expected or wanted. I eventually got them to stop bothering me and found a used automobile at Enterprise Car Sales which I am now in the process of purchasing with the assistance of a USAA Used Car Loan. Looking through that loan documentation, I saw where users of their car buying service would get a .5% discount on their loan rate. I then called USAA Car Buying Service to tell them of my effort to use their car buying service, to register my dissatisfaction with what I encountered there, and to ask for that loan discount. I was told I could not get that discount as I had not used their car buying service to buy the automobile I am buying. I have been a USAA member for somewhere around 40 years – not good results – I am not happy. Used this service several years ago to purchase a used automobile for my wife with good results. This time, completely unsatisfactory results!

  4. Honest Abe says

    If you are car shopping and not set on a specific year, make, model, then USAA’s car buying option is a disservice. Let’s say you’re looking for a smaller sedan, and want to compare all of the import/domestic options, so you individually click through the options to get dealers quotes on all of the makes/models that fit your needs. Within 24 hours you will have hundreds of emails, calls, and texts from dealers that are 10, 20, 30 miles away or more. Who has time for all that crap??? I went with Kia and they got me a cheaper initial price and reasonable interest rate that beat the USAA .5% discount and adjusted MSRP by over 1,000 bucks over the life of the loan. Going to TrueCar was the worst mistake they could have made. USAA got in bed with the car dealer mafia, hopefully they won’t be swimmin’ the fishes for it…

  5. Tim Reynolds says

    In 2015 while attempting to purchase a new Subaru Outback we explored using the Costco and Consumer Reports Auto Purchasing Programs in order to purchase the vehicle we desired at a discounted rate. We settled on the Costco program which meant we had to purchase in another city at a participating Costco dealership (there was no in-town participating Costco dealership) and found a nice Subaru Outback Limited in that city and placed a $1,000.00 down payment on the vehicle even though it meant our having to drive 60 miles one way to this dealership. Our Subaru finally arrived after a 1-1/2 month wait and when we went to pick up the vehicle the manager of the dealership was incredibly rude to us (I think he wanted our vehicle for someone else) and we ended up not purchasing the vehicle and getting our $1,000.00 down payment back. I called USAA to ask about their buying program and went to the participating dealership in our city. We found a Subaru Outback Limited we MANY more advanced safety options than our initial vehicle priced at $32,700, which was approximately $2,300 less than our initial Subaru purchase and we had the vehicle in less than 3 weeks. Our advice: USE THE USAA CAR PURCHASING PROGRAM.

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