With car-buying apps you can load up an app on your phone to compare models, financing, prices, dealerships and much more.
But with so many apps, it can be tough to find the most trustworthy ones and a platform that suits your needs. We compare dozens of car buying and vehicle research apps and narrowed it down to eight trustworthy applications.
8 best car-buying apps
- Best for financing a car online: Carvana
- Best for selling a car quickly: CarGurus
- Best for preplanning a dealership trip: CarMax
- Best for car reviews: Edmunds
- Best for researching car values: Kelley Blue Book
- Best for checking vehicle history reports: Carfax
Best for financing a car online: Carvana
Carvana is an exclusively-online dealership. In the last few years, it's gained notoriety as a one-stop-app for researching, comparing and financing vehicles all online.
Carvana sells used and new cars, and you can trade in your vehicle as well. With an account, you can “favorite” cars for quick comparison and get an estimate for your trade-in. Each vehicle is photographed multiple times — exterior and cabin — and any imperfections are clearly noted. After you complete a purchase, you can track your delivery, get recall notifications and make monthly payments all through the app.
Carvana's financing options are decent, though it features a very high maximum rate at a staggering 27.9%. However, the income requirements are very low, only requiring $4,000 of annual income.
Best for selling a car quickly: CarGurus
CarGurus lets you browse new and used car listings at dealerships in your local area. And you have the option to list your car for sale directly on the app — a feature that many car buying apps lack.
While CarGurus doesn't have any actual inventory, it showcases listings from dealers near you and includes important vehicle information, such as accident history, days on the lot, price changes and more. You can also opt in for push notifications for things like price drops and new listings.
CarGurus uses an algorithm to rate listings to let you know if it believes the listing is a good deal or not. CarGurus states that its algorithm is so detailed and rigorous that only 30% of vehicle listings on the app are actually rated as “good deals.” If you see something you like, you can apply for CarGurus “Finance in Advance,” which is its auto loan prequalification that offers rates and monthly payments.
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Best for preplanning a dealership trip: CarMax
CarMax used car financing
CarMax is a national used car buying service with an app to help the process. Compare up to 20 cars at once in the app and save searches to keep track of your favorites. When you find the one, schedule an appointment with one of the 200 dealerships nationwide from the app.
You can browse a car's information and CarFax report directly on your phone with its Scan and Shop feature. And if you're on the fence, share results with a friend or CarMax associate to get a second opinion.
However, you're limited to the CarMax inventory. It may be extensive, but you won't find every vehicle in your area. You won't be able to negotiate prices, either — what you see is what you get. But with a quick financing process and an inventory of over 40,000 cars, it may be worth skipping the traditional dealership and avoiding the haggling process.
Best for car reviews: Edmunds
Among vehicle specialists and expert reviewers, Edmunds is known as a trusted authority in nearly all-things cars. Shoppers can use its powerful search engine to locate vehicles in their area, read thorough reviews on countless models, and read up on car-buying and financing advice.
If you're torn between a few models, Edmunds' expert reviews and testimonials can offer valuable insight before you step foot in a dealership. Edmunds features studies, pricing insights, car values, rankings, news and even reports on the latest manufacturer deals and leases.
Best for researching car values: Kelley Blue Book
Kelley Blue Book offers the easiest way to compare car values. While car experts state that Edmunds uses one more factor when comparing car values, KBB's value estimator is simple to use, and overall, KBB features the easier-to-navigate interface due to its simple design — Edmunds can be a little intimidating to anyone that's not a car enthusiast.
The app design is basic and clear, but you may find more information on the actual KBB site. The app won't help you find your dream car at a dealership, but it can help you see what a fair purchase price would be for any new or used car you're interested in. Each model has a dedicated page covering the car's value, basic features, consumer reviews and a KBB expert review.
Best for checking vehicle history reports: Carfax
CarFax is the most well-known source for vehicle history reports — and its app makes it easy to look at the history of used cars in your area. It allows you to filter cars based on reported accidents or damage, the number of previous owners, how the car was used and its service history.
Each listing offers a free CarFax report along with pictures of the car and dealership contact information. You can even estimate your monthly payment for each car to ensure it fits your budget.
But it lacks calculators and overall reviews for specific models. So if you're hoping to find the best deal out there, it may be worth downloading an app like Edmunds or KBB to look at comparable listings in your area.
Best for seeing prices in your area: TrueCar
TrueCar lets you view what other people paid for similar cars, new and used. You can shop by brand, compare model trims and view TrueCar's best-rated vehicles. When you select a car, TrueCar shows you a personalized offer from a dealership that includes taxes and fees, which means less guessing on the final price. And when you're ready to sell your car, you can get an estimate and skip the trade-in hassle at the dealership.
It works with over 16,000 dealerships nationwide, so it can give you an accurate idea of what you should be paying for your car. And it also works with organizations to help you find special deals and discounts you might qualify for. However, your contact details may be shared with these dealerships and organizations, so be prepared for sales calls.
Best for checking safety ratings and recalls: SaferCar by NHTSA
The National Highway Traffic Safety Association, NHTSA, created the app SaferCar. The NHTSA enforces vehicle performance standards and partners with state and local governments to help prevent motor vehicle accidents. The SaferCar app was made to notify users on automotive recall information. You can also view NHTSA 5-Star Safety Ratings of vehicles in the app.
The SaferCar app lets you enter in a vehicle identification number (VIN) to check for recalls. The app can also store your entered VINs in a “ virtual garage” if you want to stay up-to-date. You can enter in other vehicle-related products like trailers and car seats to be informed on recalls, safety callouts, installation tips and view safety ratings.
However, the app needs to run in the background of your phone at all times if you want to be notified of a new recall.
How we picked the best car buying apps
We analyzed a number of factors while choosing the best car buying apps of 2022.
Factors include reputation and authority, user reviews, number dealership connections, inclusion of expert vehicle reviews, financing options, typical number of car listings, cost of the app, ease of use, design, speed while using the app, number of features and overall functionality.
How to prequalify for a car loan
Auto lenders are likely going to care most about your income, work history, credit score and debt-to-income (DTI) ratio.
Applying for a car loan is simple, in most cases. You’re likely to need a valid government ID, a few months of pay stubs, proof of employment, proof of residence and proof of auto insurance.
Some general requirements for an auto loan include:
- Income and work history. Often, auto lenders require you to have full time employment, and a work history without large gaps between employment. Some auto lenders accept self-employment or 1099 income, but generally, lenders prefer employees with predictable monthly income.
- Good credit. Many lenders consider a credit score above 670 to be “good.” However, there are also bad credit auto loans with more flexibility in credit score requirements.
- Low DTI ratio. Your DTI ratio is your income compared to your monthly expenses. The lower your DTI ratio, the more available income you have. Many auto lenders look for a DTI ratio below 45%.
Do I need a down payment for a car loan?
It’s not always a requirement, but often, it’s a wonderful idea to have one.
If you have bad credit, plan for a down payment requirement — bad credit auto lenders commonly require at least 10% of the vehicle’s value. If you’re aiming for a new vehicle, having a 20% down payment is often advised, largely due to the fact that brand new vehicles can lose anywhere from 10% to 30% of its value within that first year of ownership.
Just a few of the benefits of down payments on a car loan include:
- Increases approval odds. Bringing cash to the table tells a lender you’re financially stable enough to save up for a down payment, showing willingness to pay. The cash down also lowers the amount you need to finance, further increasing your approval odds.
- Less interest charges. The less you borrow, the less interest you’ll need to pay over the course of the loan. As a bonus, you qualify for a shorter loan term, possibly getting you a lower interest rate as well.
- Lowers the car’s LTV. LTV is loan to value ratio. Ideally, lenders want to lend you an amount that’s equal or less than the vehicle’s value. If the car you want to buy is priced higher than its actual market value (according to the lender, anyway), then having cash to put down on the car lowers the LTV and increases approval odds.
- Stay above water. If you owe more than what your car is worth, it’s called being underwater or upside-down on your loan. It also means you have no equity, and if you were to sell the car for its value, you’d likely still end up owing money to the lender. You also can’t refinance a loan that’s underwater, either. Having a down payment can help keep you in an equity position over the life of the loan.
Where can I find a car loan?
Auto lenders are a dime a dozen, and there are five main categories of auto lenders.
- Direct lenders. These lenders include banks, credit unions and some online lenders. Direct lenders hand you the money for the vehicle “directly,” hence the name. Most borrowers use direct lenders for vehicle financing. However, direct lenders tend to prefer good credit scores, often 670 or higher, but they’re also known for competitive rates.
- Captive financing. Captive financing or “manufacturer lending institutions,” include lending arms like Ford Credit, GM Financial and Porsche Financial services. However, these lenders tend to prefer top-tier credit scores and focus on new vehicle lending and certified pre-owned programs. They often have the best deals when it comes to rates and leases.
- Dealership financing. The term dealer financing is thrown around a lot, but it means one of two things: The dealer is the lender, or the dealership is signed up with indirect lending institutions. Dealership financing is convenient, since it allows you to get a loan and vehicle in one place, but like captive lenders and direct lenders, expect to need a decent credit score with this route.
- Connection services. There are auto lender connection services, which are often free, just requiring your information. These platforms look for a dealerships or lenders in your area that you might qualify with. There are also connection services that help bad credit borrowers locate subprime lenders, such as CarsDirect
- Buy here pay here (BHPH) lots. Also called tote-the-note dealerships or in-house financing, these used car lots are known for skipping the credit check when you apply for a car loan. Since these dealerships aren’t associated with manufacturers or need to rely on third-party lending institutions, the dealers are the lenders themselves and set their own terms. However, know that lenders that skip credit checks often have very high interest rates, and you’re limited to used vehicles.
Compare car loans
Car buying apps can be a valuable resource in a vehicle research process. However, you’ll still need to do some legwork in finding a lender that suits your needs. Compare the best seven auto lenders of 2022 before you head to a dealership.