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Important Things You Need to Know Before Choosing a Car Finder

Kaitlyn Short
Kaitlyn Short | Senior Editor

Whether you are shopping for a new or used car, the process itself has transformed in recent years with the help of the internet. No longer do you have to spend a whole day walking around local car lots with a stranger to see different models. For the most part, you can shop for your dream car from the comfort of your own couch with an auto finder website.

A typical car buying process

In general, car buying can seem like an onerous process. To help you understand and see how a car finder can make the process simpler and easier, here is an outline of a typical car purchase:

  1. Compare and research vehicles
  2. Hone in on favorites
  3. Figure out financing (decide if you will trade in and what trade-in value will be)
  4. Locate a local model, test drive, and weigh options
  5. Review price and extra products and services
  6. Review the deal
  7. Complete purchase
  8. Accept final delivery, whether you drive it away or it is delivered to you

Steps 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 can all be done from the comfort of your own home with the help of a car finder site or mobile app like those we have reviewed. From there, you can either head to a local dealership, contact a private seller, or order a car online from sites like Carvana or Vroom.

What is a car finder?

Car finder is a general term to describe a website with a searchable, virtual inventory of cars for sale. Most sites let you search locally (via your zip code), while others facilitate a nationwide search.

Car finder options range from services that focus on one aspect, like CarFax, which serves to help with vehicle history reports, to companies that offer one or more of the following:

  • Pricing guides
  • Expert reviews
  • Consumer/owner reviews
  • Specs, research, and comparisons
  • Top 10 lists
  • Listings for new car
  • Listings for used cars
  • Listings for car parts

These service providers offer resources and tools to help with a variety of vehicle research information. The car finders we have reviewed range from straightforward information and tools for the car buying novice to resources and content for auto junkies.

Many car finders also double as car buying sites. You can use these websites and apps to do the following:

New vs. used car buying pros and cons

Check out this helpful video from NBC News.

Used Car Pros

  • Cheaper cost, lower loan interest
  • Lower taxes
  • Less depreciation
  • Less intimidating financing
  • You can afford a higher quality car
  • Car history check available
  • Avoid models already proven to be expensive to own and upkeep
  • Better car insurance rates

Used Car Cons

  • Someone else’s reject
  • Vehicle history can be lacking
  • Mostly sold as-is (unless certified pre-owned)
  • May need more repairs, lots of time in the shop
  • Warranty is less/left-overs
  • Higher priced financing
  • Fewer rebates and incentives

New Car Pros

  • No history to research, peace of mind
  • New car rebates and incentives like 0 percent APR for a certain number of months
  • More financing options
  • New technology offers safety and entertainment options
  • More fuel efficient
  • Full warranty, you don’t have to pay for repairs for at least three years

New Car Cons

  • Rapid depreciation over the first two to three years
  • Price
  • Big tax
  • More expensive insurance


One element that makes car shopping so intimidating for many consumers is the pricing. Why isn’t there just one price, clearly listed and the same for all customers?

To understand this better, you first need to know a few terms:

  • MSRP: Manufacturer’s suggested retail price, the sticker price on a car
  • Invoice price: How much the dealer pays the manufacturer for the car
  • Destination charge: A fee that the manufacturer charges to deliver a car from the factory to the dealership. Not included in MSRP. Paid by the consumer, to the dealer.
  • Dealer holdback: A fee that the manufacturer pays to the dealer after the car sells

Some car finders help you to avoid negotiating a price with some sort of guarantee, like TrueCar and CarMax. Car concierge or car buying services offer to do the bidding or negotiating for you, for a fee. 

Car buying terms to know

  • Certified Pre-Owned (CPO): A used car with a special inspection and any repairs needed before being resold. It often comes with a certified extended warranty.
  • Dealer Invoice: What the dealer paid the manufacturer for the car
  • Trade-In Values: How much credit a car dealer will give you for your current car toward the purchase of another vehicle
  • Extended Warranty: For more on car warranties, check out our Best Car Warranties.
  • Salvage Title: Means that the vehicle has been damaged or has been declared totaled by an insurance company
  • VIN: Vehicle Identification Number
  • Service contract: Like break-down insurance. Be sure to know whether you have to front the money and then be reimbursed.
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Car Finders Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a used car and a certified pre-owned car?

Certified pre-owned (CPO) cars are used cars that have gone through an extensive multi-point inspection. Criteria may vary by manufacturer. Usually, they will meet the following criteria:

  • Late model, not more than five to seven years old
  • Lower mileage, not more than 60-80k miles
  • Any time-worn or damaged parts are repaired and/or refurbished

Some benefits of getting a CPO include the following: 

  • Extended warranty
  • Bumper to bumper warranty
  • Special services like 24/7 roadside assistance, rental car reimbursement, oil changes, etc.

Basically, after a car is traded-in or a lessor returns a vehicle to the dealer, the dealer inspects and repairs the car. This is done by a mechanic certified by the car’s manufacturer, so the work, service, and “certified” car itself are backed by the manufacturer. Certification specifics vary by manufacturer.

Thanks to this factory certified repair and service, while a used car would only have the remainder of the original factory warranty, if it is even transferrable, a CPO gets an extended warranty.

A certified pre-owned car is a high quality used car with added benefits that offer buyers more peace of mind.

How much does a car finder cost?

Most car finder services are free to shoppers, unless you are posting an ad to sell your car. They serve as a way to connect buyers and sellers.

Will it help me save money?

Car finder sites can help you save money a few different ways. The biggest one is education. You can find resources to find the current local market value of the car in question, as well as what similar cars have sold for in your area recently.

Additionally, when shopping for a used car, it is often helpful to get an idea of how much that model costs on a regular basis. Resources like Kelley Blue Book’s 5 Year Cost to Own Report can help save you lots of money in the long run.

Can I find rebates and incentives?

Several car finders will help you search through location-based rebates and incentives from local dealers, these include: 

How long will it take to buy a car?

Buying a car can be done all in one day, if your financing is easy to figure out. Don’t forget to check out our Best Car Loan Companies.

The length of the buying process also depends on whether you are buying through a private seller or a car dealership. It is generally a quick process with a privately listed car, because you can set up a quick appointment to test the car and then decide whether you want it. It's much simpler. 

Purchasing a car at a dealership can be more complicated. Autotrader suggests that it can be anywhere from two to six hours. If you have all of your paperwork and financing ready, as well as a pre-set appointment, it can take about two hours. If you don't come quite as prepared, it can be more like six hours. 

Do car finders offer any special tools to help with my search?

Here are a few of the helpful features you can find on auto finder sites:

  • Car builder tool: Choose all of the specs that you would like in a car, with fun visuals, then see what is available locally
  • Vehicle history report: Find info about a vehicle’s accident history, ownership, and other useful data
  • Value your car: Find out what your car is worth
  • Trade-In valuation: Find how much credit local dealers can offer towards a new car
  • Model Comparison: Compare different vehicles stats
  • MPG calculator: See how much a car’s fuel economy would set you back as an owner
  • Financing payment calculator: see what your monthly payment will be with an auto loan
  • Taxes and Fees: Figure out what taxes, title registration, and other government fees are applicable when you buy a car
  • Deal Rankings: Sites like iSeeCars, CarGurus, and CarSaver show users nice, color-coded visuals indicating which deals are good, fair, or overpriced

Are all car finders the same?

No. They are not created equal. Many online car sites have a similar collection of tools, but their listings can be very different. Don’t just shop on one site.

Additionally, some car finders specialize in one niche, like ClassicCars or Bring A Trailer, while others just provide general data for popular current and recent models.

What is a vehicle history report, and why would I need to look at one?

A vehicle history report or VIN lookup provides information about a specific vehicle, like a permanent record. You can find information about previous accidents, whether it is a salvage title, or ever owned as part of a fleet. Popular vehicle history providers include: 

  • CarFax
  • AutoCheck

Many car finders and dealerships offer a free vehicle history report with their shopping service, including the following: 

Do I need an extended warranty?

Whether you should purchase an extended warranty or which type of warranty you should purchase really depends on you and your vehicle. Check out our Best Car Warranty Companies and scroll down to see Car Warranty FAQs.

Which car finder is right for me?

Each car finder will have different features and benefits. It’s important to find a resource that will help cover your individual needs and personal blind spots, and doesn’t get ahead of where you are in the process. 

In general, car shoppers should look for a resource with good consumer reviews, a variety of benefits, and several car listings to help you find the perfect car for your budget. 

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