You know exactly the kind of car you want to buy, and you’ve picked your favorite color and the specific options you need. What you might not realize is that you’ve created a “Frankenstein” car. This is car lot lingo for a vehicle that’s put together from so many different and unusual choices that it’s unique and, in fact, might not exist.
When you’re trying to find a car — the one that meets your exact needs and preferences — you might have to be flexible. But if your car does exist, here’s how to find it.
Search tools to find a car
Back in the day, you might have strained your eyes skimming newspaper classified ads for the car of your dreams. Those ads are now digital, and you can search them using different criteria and, sometimes, keywords. Better yet, if you don’t find what you want locally, you can search nationally and internationally, although shipping becomes an added expense.
Many websites list used cars. Most also have their own smartphone apps, and each attracts its own type of seller. Here are four good ones:
- Craigslist: Because sellers can post ads on this site for free, it tends to be best for low-end cars in your area. There are lots of fly-by-night sellers and scammers, though, so proceed with caution.
- AutoTrader: This site began as a print listing of used cars and has grown to dominate the online classified business. Sellers pay to list cars, so you’ll find a solid list of mid- and high-end models. AutoTrader lets you filter your search by year, make, model, price range and features, and you can now find new cars listed by dealers.
- EBay Motors: Collectors and average sellers, both private parties and dealers, list cars on this giant auction site. In recent years, it has trended toward a more traditional classified advertising model, with asking prices and the ability to make a lower offer. EBay also offers some accountability because buyers rate sellers, making it easy to see if the one you’re dealing with has a good track record.
- CarMax: You can easily search the entire inventory of this national used car chain, which offers no-haggle pricing. If you see the car you want, you can have it shipped to a store near you for a fee.
Additionally, most new car dealerships post all their new and used cars on their website. In some cases, you can search the entire inventory of a dealership chain, such as AutoNation.
When all else fails
If you’re not finding what you want, some sites let you set an alert that will notify you if someone lists a car that matches your criteria. Another approach is to search Google, putting in “For sale” and the name of your town or city, followed by the year, make and model of the car you want to buy. Then skim the results for actual listings, rather than manufacturer ads.
When you find the car you want
Before you run out to test drive the car you’ve seen online, make sure it’s still for sale.
Buying from a dealership: If the car is on a dealership lot, the listing usually includes a stock number or VIN. Have this handy when you call, and ask the receptionist for the internet sales manager.
Private party sales: Run a vehicle history report before telephoning the seller. Most ads come with a link to it, and if not, many listings require the VIN. If the report looks good, call the seller and verify the information in the listing. While you get answers to your questions, you’ll also feel out the seller and how the car has been maintained. If the seller has all the records and readily answers your questions, you can proceed with the test drive with more confidence.