There’s an app for everything today, so why not use them for car shopping?
Shopping for a car online requires diligent research and repeated checking of listings, usually on multiple websites.
Car-buying apps cut out some of that work. They can send mobile alerts when prices drop or new cars surface, and they 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 dealer 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 dealership.
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 by iSeeCars 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 can 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 40,000 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 all of a vehicle’s information at any CarMax dealership.
The app exclusively searches CarMax dealerships, all of which have non-negotiable prices on their cars. 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 location near you, the app provides a no-hassle car-buying experience.
Autotrader searches for new, used and certified pre-owned cars at dealerships near you and saves your selected cars to your My Autotrader profile. Car shoppers get a free vehicle history report on each car, plus pricing information and reviews. The app connects you with dealerships or private sellers by phone or email and lets you share cars you love with friends and family by text.
Edmunds provides expert auto advice website and an arsenal of car pricing tools and calculators. The Buy a Car feature gives a detailed list of vehicles near you that match your specifications — but the research section is where Edmunds pulls ahead of competitors.
Its top-tier car reviews have everything buyers need, and the helpful “costs of ownership” section breaks down expenses, like average fuel and repair spending, for various models. And if you click the app’s “help” section, you can text an Edmunds car-buying expert directly for any questions on car buying or leasing.
5. Car Buying by Kelley Blue Book
Kelley Blue Book is a renowned source 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 access Kelley Blue Book’s car pictures and in-depth videos.
The app is simple to use and has trusted brand power, but it doesn’t have close to all the information its website offers — and it can’t show you local listings of cars you’re searching for.
TrueCar users search for their desired car and get 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 its mobile “price check” feature shows 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 a network of over 13,000 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 people 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 to haggle. Once you’ve decided the price, Instamotor provides calculators to explore auto loan rates, and you can apply for financing through the app. Inventory is limited as the app is just under 2 years old and currently available only in certain cities.
This brightly colored app lists new and used cars for sale near you with an extensive breakdown of the vehicles’ details and features. You can read owner reviews and see estimated car payments. The app also includes dealer profiles and reviews and a market comparison feature, showing how other vehicles are priced in a given area. Turn on the app’s On The Lot tool the next time you’re at a dealership to instantly compare nearby dealership inventory and find special local offers.
Autolist claims to have the “largest selection of cars” to search, pulling from thousands of used car app and dealership listings. But we love its large, high-definition car images to swipe through as you search.
It also includes a Buyer Intelligence section showing how a car’s price compares with others in the area, how long the car has been on the market and its price change history. You can also get alerts when the price drops on one of your favorite listings.
10. Car Buying Guide
This is Consumer Reports’ all-inclusive guide to buying a car. Tastefully designed, the app opens with options to research car ratings, read the car buying guide, price your car or try its loan and lease calculators.
Our favorite feature is the guide’s Ask the Right Questions section, which provides sample questions to ask the seller of your dream car. But this app is purely a guide; it doesn’t have local listings of cars for sale near you. And to view Consumer Reports’ car ratings and road test videos, you’ll need to be subscribed to its website or pay $2.99 per month.
Updated Sept. 7, 2017.