Auto Loans

Best Online Car-Buying Sites and Apps

Many car-buying websites scream “pick me,” and finding the right one among them can be a matter of trial and error. To save you the effort of getting 10 layers deep into a car-shopping site only to find that it doesn’t offer what you’re looking for, we sifted through dozens of them, picked out nine of the best and organized them so you could go straight to the one that best suits your stage of the car-buying journey.

Kelley Blue Book: Best car review site

KBB is our top pick for when you’re first starting your car-buying journey. It offers industry pricing and reviews from current owners and experts who have driven the cars you’re researching, plus video reviews and competitor model comparisons that might show you a vehicle that better fits your lifestyle.

KBB first became famous as an industry standard for determining vehicle value, back when it was an actual set of blue books available at your local library. Today, other sites offer greater inventory selection from which to buy, but because KBB shows inventory, prices and extensive reviews all in one place, it’s a great car website at which to start.

Pros Cons
  • Expert rating, consumer rating and fair market value in one place.
  • “Cost to own” numbers available on many cars.
  • Vehicle history reports aren’t free.

Autotempest: Best car search engine

Autotempest is a one-stop search engine that pulls in new and used cars from dealership websites and used cars from private sellers advertising on other sites including eBay, Oodle, Craigslist and more. You can search in your local area or across the country.

Pros Cons
  • Vehicles’ price, mileage and location are clearly marked.
  • Sellers may provide free vehicle history reports. AutoTempest links to shipping quotes.
  • Some cars lack photos and detailed descriptions.
  • Must refine your search or the results can include cars from long distances.

CarsDirect: Best for new cars

Like other best car-buying websites on this list, CarsDirect allows you to shop for new and used cars, but this site stands out by keeping up to date on major manufacturer rebates. In other words, if you’re in the searching for, say, a sedan, but aren’t particular about the make, you could look here to find which automaker is offering the best car deals at the time you’re ready to buy. CarsDirect tracks the nitty-gritty on cash rebates, including which ones are good for how long on exactly which vehicles.

Pros Cons
  • Tracks new car cash rebates
  • Pertinent news and reviews are right next to your search results.
  • How-to-choose articles, expert opinions and a “versus” section that compares similar competitor models.
  • Might not show results from all dealers in your area
  • Doesn’t track APR deals, military discounts or student rebates.

CarGurus: Best used car website

CarGurus includes certified pre-owned cars in addition to new and used vehicles, allowing users to filter cars in specific ways we haven’t seen on other sites, including by appearance package or whether they’ve been in an accident or had more than one owner. Its mobile app has been downloaded one million times on Google Play. The research section of its website has user and professional car reviews and test drive reports.

Pros Cons
  • Deal Ratings give a grade for how well the car is priced compared with market value.*
  • You can sign up for price-drop notifications
  • Full vehicle history reports aren’t free

*Dealers add these badges, so it’s always a good idea to do your own research with industry guides like KBB or NADAguides.

Want more? Here is a list of other used car websites, some of which may also offer new cars. We’ll talk more about a couple of these, below.

Shift: Best place to buy from a private seller

Shift aims to take the risk out of independent buying and selling. Yes, there are still the trusty methods of calling the number on a for-sale sign in your neighborhood or answering an ad on Autotrader, Craigslist or Facebook, but there is always some uncertainty when buying from a private seller. Shift hopes to be the safety net between you and that private party. Like Carvana, you could pick, finance and set up delivery of a used car, all online. The difference is that Shift relies on an inventory that comes from private sales, not auctions. This means that Shift’s inventory is much smaller, plus cars are only available in California and Oregon. You could still buy from a distance but you wouldn’t be able to set up a test drive.

Pros Cons
  • Shift inspects each vehicle and provides hi-def photos and detailed descriptions.
  • Car experts are available to answer questions.
  • You can only test drive a car in one of its California or Oregon locations.
  • Shift lists the lenders it works with but doesn’t show possible APRs and financing terms.

Carvana: Best for doing everything online

Choose your car on the Carvana website, get it financed and have it delivered to your doorstep, all without seeing another human. For those with car-buying anxiety, it may not actually be nirvana, but it may come close. Every Carvana vehicle has a seven-day return policy and a 100-day or 4,189-mile dealer warranty. The site also breaks down the available factory warranties on the car: the types it came with and what’s left on them.

Pros Cons
  • Extensive information and photos for each vehicle.
  • Free CarFax vehicle history report
  • You can’t negotiate price.
  • Carvana isn’t transparent about its financing rates.

Used Car Search Pro: Best car-buying app

There are other good car-buying apps, including accompanying apps for the sites we’ve mentioned here, but few are so focused on helping buyers with their minds made up find exactly what they’re shopping for with the help of 59 filters. Rated 4.7 on the App Store and 4.2 on Google Play with over 100,000 downloads, Used Car Search Pro is the free app for the company iSeeCars. The search results page includes a price analysis for each car, which tells you upfront whether it’s a good deal with a green icon, and gives a dealership rating.

Pros Cons
  • Lets you prioritize search results by features, from best deals to the amount of legroom.
  • Ads do take up screen space at the top and bottom of page

National Automotive Brokerage Service: Best if you’ve had a bankruptcy

Other sites help you find a car loan if you’ve been through a bankruptcy, but NABS helps you find both a loan and a specific car that you can afford. It also helps people who are still in the  bankruptcy process. Those seeking low-credit or no-credit financing often turn to “buy-here-pay-here” car lots, which may use predatory lending practices. NABS has no complaints filed against it with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau site, and as of the publication date, it has only a single complaint through the Better Business Bureau, although NABS is not accredited by the BBB.

Pros Cons
  • Free home delivery, except to Alaska and Hawaii.
  • You can’t see vehicle  inventory before you apply.

Autotrader: Best car-selling site

When looking for a new car, there’s a good chance you need to do something with the old one. It’s sometimes easier to trade it in, but you might be able to pocket a little more change by selling it yourself. Established in 1997, Autrotrader is perhaps the grandad of listing sites. By posting on Autotrader, you’re posting your vehicle for sale on Kelley Blue Book, too. You could choose to sell to a dealer, a private person for a fee from $25 to $90 or get an “instant cash offer” for free from KBB.

Pros and cons of AutoTrader
Pros Cons
  • Well-known site with lots of traffic
  • Sell to a dealer, private person or Kelley Blue Book.
  • Multiple ways to upgrade your posting a la carte
  • Sponsored ads can push down your car post.
  • Not free – Posting a car ad costs at least $25 for 30 days.
  • The basic $25 package only lets you post three photos.
Autotrader 30-day listing options and costs
$25 Basic $50 Featured $90 Premium
Photos 3 20 30
10 additional photos $20 $20 $20
See how many people saw your posting Included Included Included
Get ad exposure on Kelley Blue Book Included Included Included
Provide a vehicle history report $15 $15 Included
Supercharger: Get a more prominent listing $10 $10 Included
Spotlight: Get your posting at the top of the page $15 $15 Included

More places to sell your car

Note that many of the selling sites that charge for a regular posting do not charge you to advertise it to dealers. If you need cash quickly or just want to get your vehicle off your hands, posting it to dealers could be a great solution; having multiple dealers give you offers lets you maximize your price. However, be aware that you have much more potential to make more money from your car by posting it for sale yourself. You have to decide whether the work of selling it is worth the money.

Peer-to-peer car-selling sites
Cost to list Websites
Free Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace
$15-$30 CarSoup
$30 CarGurus
$25 – $95* eBay

*eBay charges an additional fee when you successfully sell your car $60 for vehicles priced $2,000 and under; $125 for vehicles priced over $2,000.

Methodology

In order to be chosen as a best online website or app, sites generally had to be easy to navigate as well as informative, but each company also had to meet the following qualifications:

  • It could not have its own brand of physical dealerships where consumers can visit and test drive vehicles.
  • Operations could not be limited to one state.
  • Its main value proposition revolves around vehicles.
  • Transparency — websites could not require personal information in exchange for basic vehicle details such as price.
  • It has to sell regular consumer vehicles, not only company fleet vehicles or classic cars.
  • No car-buying services such as TrueCar and Checkbook’s CarBargains.
 

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