Shopping for your next used car?
Then you probably are spending a lot of time online at used car websites.
About 80 percent of the millions of used car shoppers each year spend nearly two-thirds of their research and shopping time – or about 10.5 hours – on used car websites, such as Autotrader, Edmunds and KBB.com (Kelley Blue Book).
But determining which are the best used car websites that help most may seem as challenging as finding the vehicle itself.
An analysis by Santander Consumer USA identified nearly 100 online research and shopping resources available to the nearly 40 million consumers that shop for used cars in a typical year. The best used car sites were named by 28 sources that listed choices for those most helpful to car shoppers.
But who has the time to look at 100 websites?
Few shoppers look at even a half-dozen of the best used car websites, based on a recent survey, which showed that online shoppers visit an average of about four websites before buying their used vehicle, and that third-party websites typically were the first and last online shopping destinations.
You may use more or less than four of the best used car websites, but you probably still want to know which research and shopping websites are likely to be the most helpful so you don’t waste your time.
Here are our 16 best used car websites in order of how often they were identified in our survey:
The 16 best used car websites
Autotrader CarGurus Cars.com Kelley Blue Book AutoTempest.com CarsDirect Craigslist.org eBay Motors Edmunds.com Carvana Autolist.com CarMax TrueCar.com Vroom Facebook Marketplace iSeeCars.com
Not all third-party websites are right for every search and using the wrong one can waste your time. Our goal here is to help you focus on the best websites for your research and shopping. Here’s what you need to know about the 16 used car websites that topped our survey:
Autotrader* Autotrader is an automotive marketplace with millions of cars listed for sale from thousands of auto dealers and private sellers. The site allows shoppers to search for cars by criteria such as new, used, certified preowned, make, model, body style, color, price, geography and more. Autotrader also flags great prices and good prices, based on Kelley Blue Book. The site enables shoppers to obtain car values and to advertise theirs for sale. You’ll find easy-to-use car payment and affordability calculators and a useful dealer locator. New-car reviews also are provided. (+)
CarGurus* CarGurus is an automotive shopping and research site where shoppers can compare local car listings. The site analyzes millions of new, used, and certified preowned vehicle listings daily to determine each car’s Instant Market Value, then ranks search results according to prices – great deal, good deal, fair deal, high price and overpriced for used cars- and dealer reputation scores. The site enables shoppers to obtain car values and to advertise theirs for sale. New-car reviews also are provided. (+)
Cars.com* Cars.com provides shoppers data, resources and digital tools to make informed buying decisions about new, used and certified preowned vehicles and to connect them with dealers. Search by make, model, body style, color, features, price, deal rating (great, good, fair price) and more. The site offers one of the simplest car affordability calculators we encountered, and an outstanding tool enabling detailed comparisons between several vehicles. New car reviews and videos also are provided. (+)
Kelley Blue Book* Perhaps the best-known auto research website, KBB.com earns its reputation with an array of valuable resources to help consumers research, price and shop for a vehicle. In addition to a comprehensive new- and used-vehicle search function, the site features The Kelley Blue Book Price advisor, which shows what shoppers should pay based on other purchases in their area – the Fair Market Range. It also flags great and good prices and provides expert and consumer reviews, 5-Year Cost to Own information, a vehicle-comparison tool, easy-to-use payment calculator and more. (+)
AutoTempest.com The website combines results from several shopping websites, including other top sites listed here, i.e., Cars.com, CarsDirect, Carvana, eBay Motors and TrueCar.com, and enables easy comparisons with Autotrader, CarGurus, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. The site boasts that “nowhere else will you find more listings in one place,” and backs it up with a search engine that also includes a Car Pricing Tool (new vehicles), Kelley Blue Book reports, eBay actual prices paid, reviews and educational guides.
CarsDirect* While not as comprehensive overall as some other websites, CarsDirect helps consumers “get a great deal on a new or used car by giving [them] up-to-the-minute car pricing information” to inform their shopping. The CarsDirect team of experts analyzes the latest pricing data that allow the site to spot “hot deals and pricing trends” useful to car shoppers. Research make, model, body style, color, features and prices available before heading out to the dealer. New car reviews and videos also are provided.
Craigslist.org Shoppers OK without all the bells and whistles of many other sites on this list may want to Google Craigslist.org. The site is comparable to old-school local classified advertisements, but the search engine is serviceable and covers many cities. Be careful, though, the site doesn’t vet sellers or vehicles, even offering general safety tips for shoppers and advice on avoiding scams. (+)
eBay Motors The well-known auction website functions more like an online classified ad listing for cars and trucks. The eBay search engine provides detailed criteria such as make, model, pricing, location, delivery options and more, as well as a Market Price Analysis that shows how asking prices compare to other prices for vehicles sold on the site. Unlike the previous website, eBay Motors provides seller ratings that may help shoppers decide whether or not to make a particular purchase. (+)
Edmunds.com* Edmunds offers a nationwide database that empowers customers to search a vast inventory of new, used and certified preowned vehicles in their area. The site provides comprehensive used-vehicle search capability and vehicle rankings; reports new-car pricing; identifies highly-rated used cars; flags great, good and fair prices, and offers affordability and loan calculators. Edmunds also provides True Market Value and True Cost to Own on used and new cars, respectively. While a bit overwhelming, the website is worth exploring for the wealth of information it can provide to serious shoppers. (+)
Carvana Perhaps best known for its car vending machines – more than two-dozen nationwide – Carvana’s simple website provides a 100 percent online buying experience, including an easy-to-use “Car Finder” search tool for their high-quality, used-vehicle inventory. The site enables shoppers to browse makes and models, trims, styles, locations and more; sell or trade vehicles; determine payments using the easy loan calculator; apply for financing, and arrange for delivery or pickup at the nearest vending machine. (+)
Autolist.com Autolist boasts that it will help shoppers “find your dream car” by enabling them to “search multiple new and used car websites in one easy search.” In addition to a comprehensive, customizable search tool, the site offers trending searches, as well as searches by price, body style, most popular vehicles, cities and year. Sign up for a free account and you can obtain buyer intelligence that includes a price history, “Listimate” price comparison, price changes history, days on market and a Carfax report. A Resources section offers shopping guides, reviews and vehicle comparisons. (+)
CarMax* Shoppers can find CarMax-certified used vehicles online that are available through 225 stores nationwide. Shop by vehicle price, category, brand, model year, popularity and lifestyle (commuter, eco-friendly, family and outdoor), for example. Although the website could be easier to navigate, shoppers should be able to find car-buying tips and an easy-to-use car payment calculator. (+)
TrueCar.com TrueCar is a digital automotive marketplace offering more than a million used vehicles, as well as new vehicles, through a network of certified dealerships nationwide. TrueCar also is associated with car-buying programs for more than 250 companies, including Sam’s Club. Shoppers can use the search tool to screen vehicles by category, price, brand, model, model year, features and more. The site indicates whether deals are excellent, great, fair or high-priced based on TrueCar’s analysis of millions of used cars available across the U.S. car loan and car lease calculators also are available. (+)
Vroom Boasting that it offers “the better way to buy or sell a car,” the site provides a step-by-step guide for car buyers, from browsing online to starting your purchase, uploading documents and, of course, delivery to your door. The search tool is simple and easy to use, allowing shoppers to sort through thousands of Vroom-certified, low-mileage cars, trucks and SUVs listed with Carfax vehicle history reports and no-haggle prices. (+)
Facebook Marketplace Located on Facebook social media platform, this is basically a classified ad website with a search function that enables shoppers to identify vehicles that meet their selected criteria. But the site generates search results among the best in our survey (see following section). The website may not provide all the details needed to make a purchase, but it does give shoppers a feel for the local market.
iSeeCars.com Although not high in mentions in our survey, iSeeCars.com makes this list because it also gets results for shoppers, which, ultimately, is what this article is about. Besides providing a comprehensive search tool, the site also identifies great, good and fair deals; vehicle prices compared to market prices; condition analyses, dealer ratings, and more. Shoppers also may explore popular searches identified by iSeeCars. And the website produces useful studies from its own car sales data. (+)
* See ranking according to pageviews by eBizMBA.com based on Alexa Global Traffic Rank and U.S. Traffic Rank from Compete and Quantacast (+) Mobile app available in the App Store and/or online
Best online car-buying websites to get results
While the survey is one way to look at the best used car websites for shoppers overall, some shoppers already have done their homework and just want to search for a specific vehicle.
We sampled all the best used car websites in the list above by searching for 2015-2017 Ram 1500 pickup within 50 miles of a specific location in the suburb of a major metro area. Three- to five-year-old models fall in the “sweet spot” of used vehicles with the big depreciation hit having been taken by the original owner and still offering recent features and technology, as well as possibly lower maintenance costs.
That generated this ranking of the 13 best online car-buying sites based on search results shown in parentheses:
• Edmunds.com (664) • iSeeCars.com (447) • Facebook Marketplace (428) • Autolist.com (384) • Craigslist.org (360) • CarGurus (292) • Kelley Blue Book (290) • Autotrader (268) • TrueCar.com (268) • Cars.com (255) • AutoTempest.com (177) • Carvana (172) • CarsDirect (159)
Of course, results may vary depending on where a shopper resides, the specific model they are seeking and how far they are willing to travel from home to purchase a vehicle.
While most vehicle shoppers won’t want to use their average of 10 hours of online research and shopping time based on quantity alone, there’s something to be said for using at least one comprehensive website that provides information on the local market.
Otherwise, choice of the best used car sites depends a lot upon what other information the shopper wants or needs to make the best vehicle-purchase choice to fit their lifestyle.
But, as we wrote at the outset, there are a lot more third-party websites than time to look at them.
The second level of used car websites
These websites range from familiar names such as Consumer Reports to less familiar such as Bring a Trailer, but all were identified less often among the 28 sources in our survey.
• Bring a Trailer Online auction site for vintage and classic cars • Carfax Used car listings feature millions of vehicles with Carfax history reports • Autobytel Shop new cars and inventory comprising hundreds of thousands of used cars • AutoNation New and used cars for sale online from more than 300 retail locations • Car and Driver New-car reviews and lists of 10-best vehicles by categories • Cars for Sale Used vehicles for sale by thousands of dealers nationwide • CarSoup New and used cars for sale with great, good and fair deals identified • Consumer Reports Research, ratings and tools, but you must subscribe to get the best information • Hemmings The largest collector car classified ad website with millions of active buyers and sellers • NADA Guides Research on vehicles, new car prices, used car values, deals and more • RelayCars Virtual reality research website and apps with 360-degree views of many vehicles
Remember, though, this is just the next level of websites identified by our survey from among 28 sources and doesn’t mean they are the only sites that may provide some value. But the remainder of the approximately 100 websites rated only one mention by our 28 sources.
You can find a complete list of our online survey sources at the end of this article.
What the best online car-buying sites provide shoppers
“Unbiased transparency is far and away the most important factor that a shopper wants from a third-party platform,” said a spokesman for CarGurus website.
What shoppers value most from third-party sites
There’s nothing complicated about what shoppers value at third-party websites, suggests Mark E. Roszkowski, chief revenue officer at Vroom: selection and convenience.
“Used cars are all different and buyers appreciate having multiple makes and models to choose from, with varying levels of mileage, options and features. When you give consumers access to thousands of vehicles to choose from, they don’t have to compromise on getting exactly what they want.”
And now, more than ever, he said, “Consumers value the ability to buy or sell a vehicle without ever leaving home. They can shop and transact when it’s convenient for them, not others.”
A spokeswoman for third-party website TrueCar said consumers also want a “personalized experience.”
“Whether it’s shopping from home online or going to the dealership, needing to trade a vehicle or shopping for a used vehicle, consumers like to have options and need a personalized experience,” the spokeswoman said. “A third-party website that can provide consumers that kind of experience without having to visit multiple sites during the process stands out from the crowd.”
“The ability to do everything online is a huge advantage and differentiator,” said Vroom’s Roszkowski. “Brands that offer end-to-end digital retailing – for buying, selling, trading, financing, delivery – are serving a true consumer need for a convenient, seamless experience.”
Petusky of Cox Automotive stated the consumer value proposition in even simpler terms.
“The sites that win are the ones that can meet consumers where they are in their shopping or ownership journey with information that gives them confidence.”
The COVID-19 effect on shopping behavior
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the best used car websites front and center, with sites we surveyed reporting dramatic increases in usage since early in 2020.
And an expectation that the pandemic may have changed the landscape permanently.
“We actually saw record-breaking traffic on weekends as consumers shopped virtual lots online instead of physical lots,” said a report from Cox Automotive. This activity has translated to “real buying actions” with a 360% increase in the number of digital retailing “sends” to sellers on Autotrader.
“iSeeCars.com has seen a significant increase in traffic – 50% to 100% depending on the month – since COVID-19 in response to heightened demand for used cars and for private transportation,” said Blackley.
“Interest in digital retail has surged as the result of the pandemic,” reported CarGurus.
Before the pandemic, “35% of respondents said they were open to buying online,” according to a CarGurus report from November of 2020. “Now, 60% of respondents are open to the idea.”
“Shoppers expected they’d return to their normal shopping habits fairly soon – which most have come to accept is no longer the case,” CarGurus observed. “As the pandemic continues, comfort and familiarity with online tools grows. Now, car shoppers increasingly consider digital retail.”
“Third-party listing sites should have features in place to help shoppers navigate this new COVID-19 environment,” said the CarGurus spokesman, who went a step further. “This includes empowering shoppers to filter for dealerships that provide a variety of safe features, including contactless purchases, free home drop-off, free at-home test drives, private dealer appointments and virtual appointments.”
Third-party car-shopping websites that have been built with a “consumer-centric mindset” are the ones that shoppers will visit regularly as they go through their buying process.
“The average user visits [third-party sites] 12 times before buying, making them the most widely and frequently used auto resource,” according to CarGurus’ 2020 Buyer Insight Report, which analyzed the car-purchasing behavior of more than 3,000 consumers.
“The reason behind this high engagement is because third-party sites … provide a wide variety of pertinent information to help make this major purchase,” said a spokesman.
But the usefulness of the best online car-buying sites goes even further, CarGurus suggests.
“Shoppers today are accustomed to using online to make them smarter shoppers. Whether they’re buying cleaning products or a car, shoppers will dig through ratings and reviews to ensure they’re being treated fairly. Both in terms of price and quality.”
Of course, that takes us back to our original premise: determining the best used car websites may seem as difficult as finding the vehicle itself.
Our lists of the 16 best used car websites based on a survey of online sources and 13 that get proven search results based on our own research should make it a little easier to identify those third-party websites which may be the best used car sites in your search for another vehicle.
Even better if you find three or four of the best used car sites to make your shopping an adventure rather than an ordeal.
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