There’s an app for everything today, so why not use one for car shopping?
Shopping for a car online requires diligent research and repeated checking of listings — usually on multiple websites.
Smartphone apps cut out some of that work. They can send mobile alerts when prices drop or new cars surface, and have abilities their company websites don’t, like scanning a window sticker or vehicle identification number for price estimates. Plus, you’ll have bargaining power in the palm of your hand when you talk with a dealership or private seller.
Tip: It’s smart to shop for the best auto loan — which you can do online or at your local credit union or bank — before you head to the dealer.
We checked out many of the most downloaded and top-rated car-buying apps. Here are our favorites:
1. Used Car Search Pro
Used Car Search Pro is the dark horse of car apps. It searches 40,000 dealerships and private sellers for cars, and its 59 search filters include every conceivable parameter to find your dream car — even obscure ones like driver height, so you find a car with enough headroom. The app also judges the market value of cars to make sure you’re getting a fair price and even sorts your selected cars by “best deal.”
This app accesses CarMax’s nationwide inventory of 35,000 vehicles. You can get alerted when prices drop, compare up to 10 cars at once, and calculate payments on your phone. You also get free vehicle history reports, and CarMax’s expert and customer reviews. Plus, you can scan window stickers or bar codes to access a vehicle’s information at any CarMax dealership.
Remember, the app exclusively searches CarMax dealerships — which have nonnegotiable prices. If you appreciate upfront pricing, that’s great news. If you don’t mind haggling for the best deal, maybe CarMax isn’t for you. If there’s a CarMax near you, the app provides a no-hassle car-buying experience.
Autotrader searches for new, used and certified pre-owned cars near you, and saves your selected cars into your “My Autotrader” profile. Car shoppers get a free vehicle history report on each car, plus pricing information and road-related car reviews. The app connects you with dealerships or sellers by phone or email, and lets you share cars you love with friends and family by text.
Edmunds is an expert-auto-advice website with an arsenal of car pricing tools and calculators. The shopping feature lists vehicles near you that match your specifications, but the research section is where Edmunds pulls ahead. Its top-tier car reviews have everything buyers need, and the helpful “costs of ownership” section breaks down average costs for fuel and repairs.
Edmunds’ app also informs you of any incentives and rebates, plus provides Lot Buddy — a tool that switches on when you enter a dealership lot. Lot Buddy alerts users of all nearby Price Promise deals, which are special offers through Edmunds’ network of dealers that can save you thousands on the manufacturer’s suggested retail price.
5. Car Buying by Kelley Blue Book
Kelley Blue Book is a renowned resource in the auto world. The website provides a broad spectrum of car tools, but its Car Buying app focuses on reviewing and pricing specific models, and finding dealerships near you. You’ll also have access to Kelley Blue Book’s car pictures and in-depth videos.
It’s important to note the app is simple to use and has trusted brand power, but it doesn’t have nearly all the information its website offers and can’t show you local listings of cars you’re searching for.
TrueCar users search their desired car and receive a price breakdown based on what others paid for the same vehicle. The app accesses dealer, factory and partner incentives, including ones only TrueCar users get. And their mobile “price check” feature reveals TrueCar price estimates simply by scanning the window sticker at any participating dealership. The cherry on top? TrueCar’s app has the best cosmetic design of the bunch.
The app sends your contact information and price quote to their network of over 11,000 TrueCar Certified Dealers, which means plenty of sales calls but also plenty of offers.
Instamotor is a safer, easier version of Craigslist. It’s a private-party market where users can buy or sell used vehicles directly, but the app helps buyers avoid getting scammed. Every listed car gets a free fraud check, recall check and vehicle history report.
Sellers set their own prices, so prepare for haggling. Once you’ve decided the price, Instamotor provides calculators to explore auto loan rates, and you can even apply for financing through the app. Inventory is still limited as the app is just a year old and currently only available in certain cities.
This app compares new and used cars side-by-side, and gives you brief bulleted lists of what experts like and dislike about the vehicle. Use the search filter to get dealership information and find cars listed for sale near you. You’ll also have access to owners’ reviews for particular car models. Additionally, the app provides auto loan and trade-in calculators that show how your payments will be affected by factors such as your down payment and interest rate.
As its catchy name suggests, this app calculates the wholesale price of any used car by scanning its VIN. The best part? It doesn’t have to be part of any particular network — like TrueCar or CarMax’s scanners. The prices are calculated using national car auction data and can be adjusted for miles and condition. All scans are “parked” in your Garage for later viewing.
Wyper is the Tinder of car apps. You “wype” — meaning swipe — through results of local listings of cars that fit your search parameters. The app uses an “interest algorithm” to provide a more personalized sequence of choices over time. Having only launched six months ago, Wyper is arguably too new to judge. But its fun, dating-app-like concept makes it one to watch.
Nicole Arata is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.