5 essential apps for buying a car

Unless you’re a gearhead, the process of buying a new or used car can be as pleasant as undergoing a root canal. Having a new ride is great. The many challenges lie in getting the car, from researching models and options, to locating the one you want, to haggling over the price. The good news is, we’re in the post-Internet world, with access to cool tools. If you haven’t bought a car in a while, these trusty apps will make you feel as if your previous purchase happened in the Stone Age.

CarMax has lots of pictures, but little to negotiate.

The silky-smooth CarMax app (free for iOS and Android) lets you peruse tons of used cars without subjecting yourself to the pressure of a used-car salesman (cue Kurt Russell). The CarMax chain is like a supermarket for used cars—each car’s flat price leaves little room for negotiation, which is a double-edged sword. No wheeling and dealing here.

The app ties right into the company’s website. You can quickly find the nearest CarMax location, search for vehicles (by make, model, type, or price), save cars you like, and access your favorites later on either platform. Each vehicle has multiple pictures and lots of information on its features, warranty, and used-car history. The app lets you contact the CarMax dealership about the vehicle via cell or email. It also has price calculators to help you figure out how much you’ll be paying in the long run.

The Kelly Blue Book app puts the ultimate car bible on your phone.

But before you even think about stepping onto a car lot, check out Kelly Blue Book for the official value of the vehicle you want. The Kelly Blue Book app (free on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone) squeezes the best parts of the car bible into your phone. It shows the specific value of not only the newest rides but also used cars and even discontinued makes. (Remember Daewoo?) When it comes to used cars, KBB can’t tell you what to pay, but it does show what each model would be worth in excellent condition.

KBB is even more crucial to new-car buyers for its video reviews and its information on incentives. Not just a neutral party, KBB provides relatively long video reviews of the latest vehicles, all baked into the app. Search for a vehicle, and KBB will also give you all the current sales, called incentives, unique to your area. For instance, KBB currently says that several dealers are offering discounts to recent college grads as well as to military personnel—a little piece of knowledge that could save you thousands of dollars.

Edmunds pulls out all the stats.

Along with KBB, Edmunds is the other big authority in the vehicle world, and the Edmunds app (free for iOS and Android) is a great bookend to KBB’s app. Simple and free of frills, the app’s vehicle matrix lets you quickly look up a car’s fair price, find a review, and check availability in seconds. Its super-useful stats include each car’s estimated price of ownership—after all, keeping the engine humming on a Rolls-Royce Ghost is a little more expensive than doing checkups on a Yugo.

The pricing information here is extensive, not only for new and used rides, but for certified preowned vehicles, too. Those are used cars that get the once-over from the manufacturer and then go back on the market, sort of like a refurbished MacBook Air. You pay a little more than you do for a noncertified used car, but you also get a warranty. Edmunds tells you what you should be paying for certified preowned, new, and used vehicles, and has perhaps the most photos of all the apps listed here. You can share favorite vehicles in the app, as well, through an Edmunds.com account or via Facebook.

eBay Motors offers an easy-to-search menu.

Believe it or not, eBay sells cars, too, with a highly rated app to boot. eBay Motors (free for iOS) makes car buying almost as breezy as searching for Beanie Babies. Available vehicles flash by in a slideshow, and you can look up specific rides using the easy-to-use search menu. The gamelike virtual garage keeps your currently owned vehicles, favorites, and correspondence. The rub here is that you’re dealing with the same buying-from-a-verified-stranger dynamics as you are when buying virtually anything else from eBay—albeit with a lot more money.

Even if you’re not in the market for a new vehicle, the multipurpose eBay Motors can come in handy. You can sell your current vehicle here, of course, but you can also buy or sell specific parts (for, say, your 1970 Dodge Challenger) and rub elbows with folks who drive similar cars. The app is as focused on community as it is on the active buying and selling process.

AAA is as easy as car buying gets.

Whereas eBay Motors aims for the broadest car-buying experience, AAA Auto Buying Tools (free for iOS) provides everything you need to purchase a new vehicle specifically through the popular auto club. AAA Auto Buying Tools gives you the 411 on whatever new car you’re thinking of buying, including some basic loan calculators and availability information. You can look up the VIN to learn the history of a particular vehicle by typing in the number or scanning the bar code.

If you’re serious about a particular vehicle, look it up to get the MSRP, safety features, and other data. Everything here is centered on new cars—no classics or rare models—but the ease of buying a new ride is impressive. The app literally offers a big red ‘Buy Thru AAA’ button. Stopping short of having an Amazon-style one-click option, AAA Auto Buying Tools is about as simple as it gets.

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