Best Places to Find Used Cars Online
One of the best — and easiest — places to find cars for sale is online — on web sites that specialize in listing pre-owned vehicles.
Online used car web sites fall into three categories: 1) Non-dealer sites that sell cars listed by private sellers, 2) sites that only sell dealer cars, or 3) those that sell cars listed by both.
Actually, many of the so-called non-dealer sites actually have dealer cars, thinly disguised as private-seller cars.
Web sites with Cars from Private-Party Individual Sellers
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of classified-ad web sites that advertise used cars for sale by individuals. Here are reviews of some of the most popular sites:
Craigslist.com is one of the best known of all independent national classified-ad sites. They list ads for automobiles and thousands of other types of goods and services. It’s free to sellers and buyers. You can search for cars in most major city areas in the U.S. and around the world. Craigslist is a very basic web site with no bells and whistles and does not offer any help with researching cars, researching prices, nor does it have any kind of buyer protection plan. In fact, scams by fraudulent sellers are very common on this site (see Car Seller Scam) and unless you can find a car being sold locally, you should take extreme caution when buying on this web site.
AutoTrader.com is a popular used car web site and is an online version of the free magazine found in supermarkets and auto parts stores. Although they have thousands of cars, their emphasis is primarily on new cars, and dealer cars. Sellers must pay a fee. It’s a little cluttered and difficult to navigate through all the ads and levels if you only want to see cars from private sellers. They have some basic research tools. Carfax reports are offered but are not free. Watch out for the possibility of scams as described in our article Car Seller Scam. The site provides no buyer protection.
eBay Motors is a very popular site for buying and selling cars. The site is very large and can sometimes be overwhelming. Although the majority of its cars are from dealers, you can choose to only see those from private sellers. Most are sold through the eBay auction process, many have a minimum hidden reserve price, and some as sold with a “buy now” set price. If you participate in a car auction, understand that you are buying a car without being able to see it, inspect it, or drive it. The site doesn’t have a pricing guide, so you are on your own to check market values and make sure you don’t overpay. If it’s long distance, you may have to pay for shipping. eBay has some good buyer protection features — some are free, some you must pay for. AutoCheck® vehicle history reports are offered but are not free.
Other car sites – There are many other web sites that list used cars for sale. Enthusiast sites for particular car makes/models often have a “for sale” section for members. Local newspapers frequently have web sites that contain used-car classified ads. Small towns sometimes have web sites with local ads. Google can help you find local dealers if you include the name of your city in the search. Communities and large neighborhoods can have web sites on which members and guests can post car ads. Hemmings.com lists classic and collector cars.
Web Sites with Cars from Dealers
Although there are hundreds of web sites that sell dealer-owned used cars, only a few stand out.
UsedCars.com – UsedCars.com is the top used car web site with already-discounted cars from dealers around the country. They have been online since 1994 and have the largest inventory of cars. Most of their cars are priced below KBB (Kelley Blue Book) value. You can even check the KBB value right on the site. They show you their “Best Value” cars for each market. And you get a free CarFax report on every car — something that no other used car web site provides. You can also get an instant look at dealers’ inventories of used cars — a great feature that few other sites provide. The site has plenty of research tools and is easy to navigate to find what you want. If you find a car you like, you can make your deal online. We highly recommend this site.
Dealer sites – Most larger used-car dealers have web sites of their own. This includes new-car dealers who have used-car lots as well as independent used car dealers. They often list a complete inventory of available cars and show promotional “specials” with prices. Find dealer web sites in your area by searching online. Many dealers advertise in local newspapers and list the web site address in the ads. Others can be found in free “auto trader” magazines found in supermarkets and auto parts stores.
Other web sites – There are literally hundreds of other web sites that primarily list used cars being sold by dealers. Some of the best known are Edmunds.com, Cars.com, Automotive.com, and CarsDirect.com. Most of these sites are similar to each other, generally have some good research features, offer no special pricing, but can be otherwise helpful in searching for dealer cars in your area.
New-Car Web Sites
Although this article is about used cars, if you are looking for a late model used car, don’t automatically assume you’ll pay less than for a brand new car.
With all the discounts, rebates, cash-back, low interest deals now being offered by desperate new-car manufacturers, it’s very possible to get a better deal on a brand new car than on a late model used car of the same make and model.
It sounds crazy, but it’s true. You owe it to yourself to make the comparison before you make your decision. See Best Car Deals for the latest manufacturer-sponsored new-car incentives and deals.