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.
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:
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.
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:
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:
Check out this helpful video from NBC News.
Used Car Pros
Used Car Cons
New Car Pros
New Car Cons
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:
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.
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:
Some benefits of getting a CPO include the following:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here are a few of the helpful features you can find on auto finder sites:
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.
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:
Many car finders and dealerships offer a free vehicle history report with their shopping service, including the following:
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.
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.