Car shopping apps can steer you in the right direction

Oct 5, 2009
Finance

As if finding the perfect car wasn’t stressful enough, now you have to worry about deadly floor mats like the ones that forced Toyota to recall 3.8 million cars. Before the buyer’s paralysis sets in, take a deep breath and consider the truckload of helpful car-buying iPhone apps to assist with all your dealership decisions. […]

As if finding the perfect car wasn’t stressful enough, now you have to worry about deadly floor mats like the ones that forced Toyota to recall 3.8 million cars. Before the buyer’s paralysis sets in, take a deep breath and consider the truckload of helpful car-buying iPhone apps to assist with all your dealership decisions.

On the hunt

First things first: If you’re not sure what model would suit you best, start with the Which Car Should You Drive? questionnaire. In less than ten questions, this free app probes your personality and matches it to a vehicle that would fit you best, complete with a horoscope explanation.

For the latest news from a source you trust, Consumer Reports has a free app with a section dedicated to automobile reviews. But this app only features the last 10 postings from the magazine’s Web site and offers no archive search, so pickings are slim.

When searching for car deals, there’s no shortage of inexpensive iPhone apps and no reason you shouldn’t consult them all. Start with AutoNation (free), where iPhone users can look up vehicles by make and model, get specs and quotes, and value their trade-ins at 250 Auto Nation locations. Car Factor (free) does the same thing, but with up-to-date pricing on more than 2,500 styles from 39 manufactures nationwide. (It also includes a simple loan and lease calculator so you don’t have to leave the app—though those with serious loan considerations should splurge for iLeasemycar Pro ($2.99), the Swiss Army knife of auto finance apps).

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The free iAuto requires Internet connection to find your current location and search online listings posted on Facebook and Oodle for cars in your area. And for $1.99, Find a Car scours other online classifieds like Google Base, eBay Motors and Craigslist for listings nearby—unlike others apps, you have to search one source at a time.

On the lot

If you’re leaning toward a used car, CarFax’s Vehicle VIN Search (free) is probably the most valuable app out there. It lets you check the history of any vehicle you’re considering by running an online “Lemon Check” using the vehicle identification number. The app gives you instant red light or green light on the car’s record that you can save and review anytime. If there are problems, you can always purchase the complete CarFax report for $29 to help with your negotiations.

Professional hagglers make you nervous? Car Buying Handbook provides step-by-step advice about getting a car off the lot without getting swindled. For 99 cents, the app stakes its claim as one “car dealers don’t want you to know about” and includes the ins and outs of talking down the sticker price, as well as tips about various add-on and financing options.

If you still can’t make a decision, all that’s left is Spin Decision (99 cents). This app features a wheel-of-fortune-style spinner that you can customize to solve any internal dilemma. Simply enter your options, give the wheel a flick and let fate handle the rest. 

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Steven Yaccino

Steven Yaccino has written for Esquire and U.S.News & World Report, among other magazines. He is currently freelancing in Chicago.

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