Cars.com Review: 5 Things To Know Before You Buy or Sell

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Cars.com is a popular automotive shopping website you can use to buy certified, used and new cars, research car values or sell your own car. But is Cars.com the right dealer for you?

Team Clark has explored the process of buying and selling vehicles with Cars.com and compared it to other methods to find out. 

In this article, I’ll look at how Cars.com works and what the process is for buying and selling cars. I’ll also look at how you can use Cars.com as a research tool and give you the pros and cons of buying and selling cars there. 

Table of Contents:

Below, you’ll find detailed information about how to get started on the site, how to buy and sell a car with Cars.com and the pros and cons I found when using Cars.com.

How Does Cars.com Work?

According to the website, Cars.com has been in business since 1998 and is a leading digital marketplace and solutions provider for the automotive industry. The company connects car shoppers with sellers.

You can visit Cars.com online or download the app for iOS or Android devices. At the time of writing, the Cars.com app had a 4.8 out of 5 stars from 425.2K ratings on The App Store and 4.3 out of 5 stars from 47.6K ratings on Google Play.

Cars.com doesn’t hold a physical inventory, and it doesn’t own the vehicles listed on its website. Instead, it provides a way to shop for new, used and certified pre-owned cars at several different car lots in your area. Once you’ve found a car that you’re interested in, you can contact the seller directly through the website or app to set up a test drive. From there, you can purchase the vehicle directly from the dealer. 

You can use Cars.com to shop for new or used cars or research the value of a car before you buy or sell it. The website also offers a “Sell My Car” feature that usually allows you to create an online listing. At the time of writing, though, Cars.com was working on improving private seller listings and the feature was temporarily unavailable. Instead, users can schedule in-person appraisals with up to four dealers through Cars.com.

Buying a Car Through Cars.com

Cars.com makes it easy to find nearby vehicles for sale. When you visit the website, you can start searching by make or body style. You’ll be able to indicate whether you’re looking for a new, used or certified car, if you have a maximum price you’re willing to pay and how far away from your ZIP code you’d like to search.

Cars.com search results for a Toyota Camry

Once you’ve entered what you’re looking for, click “Search” to see the results. When I searched for a Toyota Camry near Lexington, Kentucky, the site gave me 61 results. From there, I was able to filter those results by location, car type, year, trim, price, mileage and more. As you browse through the available selection, you can click “Compare” and select up to four cars for a side-by-side comparison. This is a great way to instantly compare safety features, reviews and seller details.

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Some cars are also labeled with one of four badges

  • Great Deal. This badge means that the vehicle is priced significantly below the market average. 
  • Good Deal. This badge identifies cars priced at or slightly below market average.
  • Fair Price. Vehicles priced slightly above market average will have this badge.
  • Well-Equipped. This badge highlights vehicles that include additional features that affect the price. 

Once you’ve found a vehicle you like, you can click on it for additional information. You’ll be able to see the vehicle’s free CARFAX report in addition to its mileage and location, additional pictures, seller’s notes and more. 

Car details on Cars.com

If you want to contact the seller, you can send a message using the tool on the right side of the screen or use the phone number listed to call the seller directly. If you want to send a message through Cars.com, you can enter your name and email address, what you’d like to do (check availability, request a virtual appointment, check home delivery options, etc.) and edit the pre-written message if you want to before sending it. 

Of course, if you call the seller directly, you’ll be able to avoid entering your information online. Note that Cars.com and its sellers/partners reserve the right to contact you for marketing if you use their website to contact a dealership.

The sale of the car itself will take place between you and the dealership.

Selling a Car Through Cars.com

If you’re looking to sell your current vehicle, Cars.com can be a useful resource. From the website, you can click “Sell Your Car” at the top of the screen to get started.

Selling your car on Cars.com

According to the website, Cars.com has discontinued private listings for the time being. But you’ll still be able to find your car’s value by getting a used car estimate. You can also sell your car to a dealer in person using the in-person appraisals tool.

If you’re interested in selling your car directly to a dealer, you can use Cars.com to find up to four dealers, schedule appraisals, get offers, compare them and sell your car at no cost

According to the website, you can pick dealers by rating, location and brand before sending your car’s info in an email and requesting an appraisal appointment. Interested dealers can then reach out to schedule an appraisal appointment with you. Once you’ve collected a few offers, choose the best one and take cash or apply to do a trade-in. 

If you’re interested in scheduling in-person appraisals and selling or trading in your car to a dealership, Cars.com recommends the following preparations

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  • Clean your car inside and out, and replace any burnt-out lights, fuses. Also, top off any fluids. 
  • Take it to a nearby service center for any basic repairs that could increase the car’s value. 
  • Get a free used car valuation from Cars.com.
  • Gather any service records you have and make sure that the title is ready to transfer to a new owner.

Once you’re ready, you can visit the website to get started.

Using Cars.com as a Research Tool

In addition to being able to browse available cars and sell your own car on Cars.com, you can also use the website as a research tool. Whether you’re trying to decide which car to buy or you’re looking to get an estimate of how much your car is worth, Cars.com has resources to help.

You can start by clicking on the “Research” tab at the top of the screen. From there, you can research any specific car model, new or used. You can also scroll down to see different car makes and models. 

The overview of a car provided by the research feature on Cars.com

Once you’ve found a vehicle that interests you, you can see an overview including the expected price range, photos, MPG and more. Cars.com also includes a section highlighting “The Good” and “The Bad” along with a rating out of five stars.

You can also click through “Our Take” for a full review and list of features, “Reviews” for consumer reviews, “Safety” to see recalls and test ratings, “Warranty,” for additional information and “Compare” to see similar cars. 

If instead, you’re looking for the value of your specific car, you can find how much your car is worth with Cars.com. To get started, visit this website.

Evaluating how much a car is worth

There, you’ll be able to look your car up by license plate and state. Alternatively, you can enter your car’s information manually including the make, model, year, trim, miles and location. Then you’ll see your car’s estimated value. When I tried it out for my car, I got an estimated value range with about $3,000 difference between the lowest and highest numbers.

You can also use the website’s car finance calculators to estimate payments and affordability.

Final Thoughts: Pros and Cons

Overall, Cars.com is a good resource to check out whether you’re shopping for or selling a car. Even if you’re just gathering information, the website offers good resources under the “Research” tab including the “Value my Car” feature and the car finance calculators.

When I checked out Cars.com, I looked up the values of a few popular vehicles including my own. I did the same thing on a few competitors’ sites including Edmunds, Autotrader and CarGurus. While there were slight differences in the value estimates, they were all within the same range. For this reason, I feel that Cars.com is relatively reliable.

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When it comes to the actual cars that are listed on Cars.com, you’ll see the price that the dealership is listing on the website. If it’s considered a fair, good or great deal, you’ll see a badge by the listing.

After checking out Cars.com myself, here are a few of the major pros and cons I found with the website: 

Pros:Cons:
Cars.com is a reliable resource for finding vehicle values and additional unbiased research.Cars.com doesn’t have a physical inventory, which means you’ll just be put in contact with nearby dealerships.
You can directly compare prices and features on up to four cars at nearby dealerships with the website’s “Compare” feature.Cars.com doesn’t purchase vehicles directly, and the private listing feature was under construction at the time of writing. But you will be able to schedule in-person appraisals.
You can schedule in-person appraisals at up to four dealerships of your choice if you’re selling your car.Unlike CarGurus, Cars.com doesn’t offer financing. If you want to get pre-qualified before shopping, you’ll have to take care of that on your own.

Have you bought or sold a car with Cars.com? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!

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