Test driving 10 of the best car-buying apps

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The best car-buying apps to help you save money
Image Credit: Dreamstime
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If you’re thinking of buying a car, you should know that the days of driving to multiple dealerships in search of the perfect vehicle are pretty much over. You can save yourself a bunch of time (and money) by using a car-buying app.

We took 10 of the top car-buying apps available for Android and iOS phones for a spin. Below, we’ll talk about some of the standout features in each, as well as some of our picks for the best overall app experiences.

10 top car-buying apps: Shop for vehicles on your phone

Before we hit the road, you should be aware that all of these car-buying apps is that all of them ask for your location and many of them require that you sign up to personalize your car-shopping experience.

1. CarMax

Apple | Android

The best car-buying apps to help you save time and money

CarMax is a well-known marketplace for buying and selling a vehicle. With the app, you get a lot of the same services you would if you were at a physical CarMax. One good thing about this app is you don’t have to sign up to use it.

Features:

  • Lets you see 360 degree view inside vehicle
  • Lets you save cars to compare them to others in your search
  • Lists key features, specs
  • Allows recall lookup

2. Cars.com

Apple | Android

The best car-buying apps to help you save time and money

The Cars.com app is another great car-buying resource. It requires that you sign up if you want to be able to “favorite” the cars you like.

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Features:

  • Notifies you of price drops and has price-comparison tool
  • Lets you filter your search using more than 21 options
  • Tells you whether a car is a “good deal” or “great deal”
  • Allows you to check the vehicle’s availability
  • Lets you call the seller directly from the app

3. Carfax

Apple | Android

The best car-buying apps to help you save time and money

The Carfax app is for used cars only. You have to sign in to use it, but you can get Carfax reports right from the app. This is invaluable for finding out how well your prospective vehicle has been kept and view maintenance records.

Features:

  • Allows you to search vehicles via “Carfax 1-Owner” filter
  • Lets you filter your search by vehicle history
  • Shows you whether a car’s been in accident or damaged
  • Tells you whether it was a personal lease vehicle or had a private owner
  • Provides a scripted email form for you to send to the seller

4. Edmunds

Apple | Android

The best car-buying apps to help you save time and money

The Edmunds app provides comprehensive research on any vehicle you want. Unlike the other apps, this one initially gives you the option to limit your search to one model year at a time.

Features:

  • Lets you how many days vehicle has been on the lot
  • Its Negotiation Insights feature shows you price drops — and by how much
  • Has embedded maps as well as customer reviews
  • Tells you the likelihood of car selling (my test example said “any day now”)

 5. CarGurus

Apple | Android

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The best car-buying apps to help you save time and money

CarGurus doesn’t ask you for your location. It lets you enter any ZIP code and searches from that. Once you select a car, it offers lots of information like dealer reviews, vehicle stats and other details.

Features:

  • Shows you the best deals first
  • Estimates your payments based on various APRs
  • Shows you how many other shoppers liked the vehicle you’re interested in
  • Tells you whether a car is a “good deal” based price difference from previous sales

6. AutoTrader

Apple | Android

The best car-buying apps to help you save time and money

With the Autotrader app, you can list your car for sale and even get an instant cash offer. You have to sign in to access the app.

Features:

  • Shows you seller comments and vehicle features
  • Has an embedded map of where the vehicle is located
  • Tells you whether a car is a “good deal” or “great deal”
  • Lets you check recall status
  • Lets you get instant loan pre-approval via text

 7. TrueCar

Apple | Android

The best car-buying apps to help you save time and money

TrueCar bills itself as the app that will show you “the TruePrice — the Actual Price you will pay at the dealership.” You have to sign in to unlock many of its shopping features.

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Features:

  • Lists good deals as “Exceptional Price”
  • Tells you the “true price” — the price with dealer fees included
  • Gives you a “true price” breakdown and certificate to print for dealer
  • Automatically sends an inquiry to the dealer when you check availability

8. Instamotor

Apple | Android

Instamotor is only available in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Dallas and Houston for now. Before you can search, you have to set a budget, either total or monthly. Then you select your vehicle category (coupes, convertibles, electric, etc.).

The best car-buying apps to help you save time and money

Features:

  • Allows you to get pre-qualified for a loan with no impact on your credit score
  • Shows you “Discover,” “Recommended” and “Recently Viewed” tabs
  • Lets you set up an alert when cars match your query
  • Allows you to make an offer directly from the app

9. Carvana Copilot

Apple | Android

The best car-buying apps to help you save time and money

Carvana Copilot lets you search according to your “lifestyle,” (“commuters dream,” “tech centric,” “family sized,’ etc.) before you begin your search. The app also has suggested filters that will give you search options based on amenities, rather than specific makes and models.

Features:

  • Has a 7-day money-back guarantee that lets you test a car for a week before buying
  • Allows you to get pre-qualified for a loan with no hit to your credit score
  • Allows you to manage vehicle delivery or pick-up

10. Kelley Blue Book

Apple | Android

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The best car-buying apps to help you save time and money

Although technically not a car-buying app, the Kelley Blue Book app is a must-have resource to find good prices on new and used cars. Unlike other apps, this one lists every single variation of a particular model. If you’re a technical shopper who’s into the nuts and bolts of cars, this app gives you intricate data on things like air bag specs and parking sensors.

Features:

  • Has videos that allow you to see cars in action
  • Shows you options like air bags, navigation system and multi-view camera capabilities
  • Shows you a list of nearby dealers
  • Features a “Saved” folder to keep up with cars you like

Here are some of our favorite features on these car-buying apps

To kick the tires on these car-buying apps, I downloaded all of them to see what specific features they had and how to use them. I used the same car — a 2017 Honda Accord — as a prototype to gauge which interfaces were easy to use, which ones had the best images and how the apps’ functionalities compared to one another. Here’s what stood out:

Best views & images

The best car-buying apps to help you save time and money

The 360-degree camera view from the CarMax app was my favorite image functionality. It really allowed me to imagine how the vehicle looks and feels on the inside. The app also offers to reserve the car for you for up to seven days with no obligation to buy.

Best functionality

The best car-buying apps to help you save time and money

The Cars.com app not only has some great premium filters, but the live chat is tops. Instant communication can save a lot of time and I found this to be a great option.

Best interface

The best car-buying apps to help you save time and money

Again, the CarMax app wins with easy-to-identity icons that made it a cinch to find my way around this app and see key features.

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Ease of use

The best car-buying apps to help you save time and money

Hands-down, the CarFax app was the easiest to use overall. Without scrolling, you can see all the major details of a vehicle, including whether it’s been in an accident, its location and if owner histories are available.

Before you shop for a car, Clark says take this important step

This is very important: Before you begin shopping for a vehicle and connecting emotionally to your next set of wheels, money expert Clark Howard says it’s vital that you pre-qualify for financing.

“By doing this, you’ll know how much car you can afford and what type of monthly payment you will have to budget,” he writes.

Another reason you’ll want to secure auto financing first is because it will give you much-needed leverage when it comes to negotiating on price.

Want to learn more about the ins and outs of buying a car? Check out the “Clark Smart” way to purchase a vehicle.

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