By Jason R. Rich
Unless you're a true car enthusiast who is also good at crunching numbers, and you understand the tricks many car dealerships use during the sales process, chances are you find shopping for a new or used car to be a bit intimidating. After all, you want to wind up with a reliable car that best meets your needs without paying too much for it, or winding up with a financing deal that you can't ultimately afford.
Before setting foot into a car dealership, do your research! Know what you can afford, understand exactly what you're looking for, know whether or not you'll qualify for a loan, and determine how much you should be paying for the vehicle you ultimately want. Thanks to the Internet, much of this research can be done in just minutes.
If you're an iPhone or iPad user, however, in addition to being able to access car- and finance-related websites, you have access to a wide range of apps that can make shopping for a car much easier. And best of all, you can use these app and online-based tools before you leave home and while you're actually visiting dealerships.
Ten Car-Related Apps That Help You Save Money
When it comes to shopping for a new or used car, you'll definitely want to have at least one or two of the following 10 apps (listed in alphabetical order) pre-loaded on your iPhone or iPad before you head out car shopping.
From the publishers of AutoTrader.com (and the operators of the popular website), this free hybrid iPhone/iPad app will help you search for new and used vehicles in your area, map out local dealerships, and perform a handful of other useful tasks while you're out car shopping.
One unique feature is the ability to scan the VIN barcode of any vehicle and instantly search for similar cars near you. This feature utilizes your iOS device's built-in camera.
Car and Driver Buyer's Guide (Free)
From the publishers of Car and Driver magazine (which is also available in digital format for easy reading on your iPhone or iPad), this app allows you to access detailed reviews of new cars and learn about their pertinent features. You can search vehicles by make and model; or browse the database by vehicle type, price range, or fuel consumption. From each new car listing and review, you can obtain base price information, editor's ratings, vehicle specs, and learn what other vehicles are similar.
This is a great tool to help you narrow down your car selection, even before you leave home and start visiting dealerships.
Car Negotiator ($1.99)
Many people wind up paying too much for a vehicle, or taking on a car loan they simply can't afford. This simple-to-use app helps you crunch numbers relating to a car purchase or auto loan, and quickly change variables, so you can determine exactly how much you'll wind up paying. The app includes a car loan calculator that takes into account tax rates and other variable costs that people often forget to include in their calculations. In addition, the app walks you through the car purchase negotiation process, tips you off about common mistakes to avoid, and allows you to keep detailed records about each car and dealership you visit, so you can compare deals in seconds.
The Loan MentorLoan Calculator, Analysis & Comparison ($ .99), Car Loan Dashboard ($ .99), and Automobile Car Loan Calculator ($ .99)
Apps for iPhone and iPad are sold separately from the App Store. Each offers a handful of tools to help you accurately and quickly crunch numbers associated with a car loan.
The Cars.com website offers a comprehensive set of online-based tools you can use as you shop for a new or used vehicle. This free app makes many of the website's tools available to you while on the go. The app also has an integrated loan payment calculator and tools for helping you determine how much you can really afford before taking on a car loan.
Using the Cars.com app, you can easily search for vehicles based on make, model, price and/or location.
One of the most trusted sources for researching car pricing has its own website (Edmonds.com) as well as its own hybrid iPhone/iPad app. Using this app, you can access car pricing information, do research about vehicles based on make and model, and also access dealership inventory data.
From the app, you can utilize Edmund's proprietary True Market Value pricing, which will help you find the exact car you're looking for at a local dealer, and suggest a price you should negotiate toward with your selected dealer.
The Edmunds app currently works for any new vehicle make and model, and also allows you to research cars by make/model, price range, vehicle type, features and/or location. Once you use the app's touch-screen interface to enter exactly what you're looking for, the app will display a list of search results indicating which nearby dealerships have your desired car in stock. Of course, you can then use your iPhone or iPad's Maps functionality to get driving directions to that dealership, or contact the dealership with the touch of an on-screen icon.
Using this app on your iPhone or iPad that's connected to the web, you can search through thousands of ads for new, used, and certified pre-owned vehicles, and research nationwide availability for the exact vehicle make and model you're looking for.
Each listing includes multiple photos, extended information about the vehicle, pricing information, and the ability to contact the dealer or seller from your iPhone by tapping on the phone number. Not only can this app help you find cars you're interested in to test drive but it can be used to help you negotiate pricing because you will know exactly what's available at other dealers in the area.
Kelley Blue Book (Free)
When it comes to figuring out exactly how much you should be paying for a new or used car, one of the most respected authorities is Kelley Blue Book, which has its own hybrid iPhone/iPad app. Using this app, you can research pricing data from anywhere in just seconds. Having accurate pricing data at your fingertips puts you in a much better negotiating position with any dealership.
In addition, this app gives you access to a comprehensive new and used car dealership directory, plus it grants you access to detailed reviews of new and used vehicles.
New Car Models2012 Cars (Free)
This interactive car buyer's guide offers detailed previews and reviews, including video features, of many of the most popular new car models for 2012, including vehicles from Acura, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Infinity, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo.
Basically, this app offers a collection of slick videos and other promotional material about the new vehicles, all accessible from a single hybrid iPhone/iPad app.
VIN Report (Free)
This app is extremely useful when shopping for a used car. Instead of relying on a potentially fraudulent vehicle report provided by the dealer, this app allows you to purchase and access CarFAX® and AutoCheck® used car reports for any vehicle (based on its Vehicle Identification Number [VIN]).
These reports allow you to quickly determine whether the used car you're looking at has been involved in any major accidents or insurance claims. You can also see a listing of past registered vehicle owners and determine whether the vehicle may have had its odometer rolled back.
The app itself is very easy to use. Simply type in the vehicle's VIN and choose whether you want to purchase an AutoCheck or CarFAX report for that vehicle (separate fees apply). The reports get downloaded and displayed on your iPhone or iPad screen in seconds.
Volvo S60 and The Honda Automobiles App for iPad (Free)
While some car manufacturers want to make you visit a dealership to learn about their newest vehicles, a few cutting-edge car companies, including Volvo and Honda, offer slick interactive apps instead. These apps allow you to have a unique virtual test drive experience, plus access detailed information about specific new car models. This is a relaxing way to learn about new car models from the comfort of your home, office or favorite beach chair, before heading out to the dealerships.