How to Buy a Car at Walmart

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Following a test program that has run for more than a year, Walmart Inc. (NYSE: WMT) said on Wednesday that it is rolling out its car-buying service to 250 of its U.S. supercenters. The company will open CarSaver Shopping Centers in these stores in conjunction with CarSaver, a Miami-based digital auto marketplace.

Walmart has been running a pilot program with CarSaver in 14 U.S. stores in Arizona, Oklahoma and Florida. CarSaver has built a network of certified dealerships, including AutoNation Inc. (NYSE: AN), as well as banks and insurance companies, that give shopping and buying advice to Walmart customers.

CarSaver will staff Walmart centers located near the checkout lanes where customers can get information on the program and advice on buying a car. The centers will be equipped with a kiosk that customers can use to select a vehicle, apply for financing and shop for and purchase insurance. Customers also could use CarSaver’s website or call a toll-free number for help. Walmart also plans to include a car-buying microsite at its main website and launch a purchase program for the company’s employees.

Walmart’s efforts here are pretty minimal and probably won’t have much impact on the company’s top or bottom line. After all, the vast majority of Walmart’s more than 3,500 U.S. supercenter stores will not offer auto sales.

For car buyers, the program follows the process Costco Wholesale Corp. (NASDAQ: COST) uses: the buyer selects a vehicle, gets a price from Costco for the vehicle at a local dealer and then walks into the dealer showroom to complete a no-haggle purchase. CarSaver even includes a lifetime warranty on the vehicles its dealers sell.

CarSaver will lease space in Walmart stores and establish and maintain relationships with dealers. The company also collects a fee of $350 from a dealer when a vehicle is sold. According to CarSaver, its customers save an average of more than $3,500 on the sticker price and an average of $3,900 on repairs covered by the lifetime warranty.

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