Auto Tech

The 10 best car-buying apps

More than just apps, these are 10 ways to streamline your new- or used-car shopping experience.

Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

If you're considering walking into a dealership or browsing the classifieds to buy a new or used car, truck, SUV or even motorcycle, there's a better way to maximize your search time. Conventional vehicle shopping isn't dead, but it can be made better thanks to multiple solutions populating your phone or smart device's App Store and Google Play. These tools are designed to save you time, hassle and most importantly, money.  

Here are our favorite apps that strike stress from the vehicle acquisition equation, and some of them are even fun to explore. We've got something for everyone, from the enthusiast looking to buy that obscure modern classic to someone who simply wants to get from Point A to Point B with their very own set of wheels.

TrueCar

With TrueCar, you can walk into a dealership already knowing what you will pay for a car. You'll also know how your price compares with other folks who bought the same car, so you'll never have to ask your friends, "Do you think I got a good deal?" Even better, you'll never have to hear your friends say, "Man, you got hosed!"

TrueCar gets its pricing data from more than 15,000 dealers throughout the US, and according to the company, users typically save more than $3,000 off a new car's MSRP. The app can also help buyers searching for used cars. TrueCar says more than 3 million vehicles have been sold to its members through its network of dealers. The TrueCar app is free on on the App Store for iOS and Google Play for Android.

Fair

If the commitment of buying or leasing a car has you flummoxed, but you need something longer-term than car-sharing or renting, Fair might be the solution. Fair is a program somewhat like a lease that connects you with used vehicles only, none of which is more than six years old or has more than 70,000 miles. Most cars are just a couple of years old and come from dealerships rather than private sellers.

Simply download the app, scan your driver's license for prequalification, select the car you want, connect your bank account, sign for the car, and then have it delivered, or pick it up at a local dealership.

After an initial "Start Payment," which is similar to a down payment, your regular monthly payment includes a warranty, routine maintenance and roadside assistance. You can even bundle insurance into your monthly fee if you wish. Once you're ready to walk away, give a five-day notice and return the car. You can even trade into something nicer or less expensive, if you wish.

Right now, Fair is only available in 14 major US cities, but more places, such as Austin, Texas, are scheduled to come online soon. Fair is free on the App Store and Google Play.

AutoGravity

If you're the type of person who looks at a car purchase in terms of monthly payment amount rather than total MSRP, check out AutoGravity. In fewer than 10 minutes, you can open the app, search for a new or used car, match with a dealership and apply for financing. Oftentimes you'll get finance offers from multiple lenders and with that, you can determine whether a vehicle fits within your budget. In addition to purchasing, this app works for new-car leasing and used-car financing as well.

Right now, AutoGravity is available in all US states, except Nevada, and is free on the App Store and Google Play.

Car Payment Calculator Mobile

Maybe you're in a more preliminary stage of your car search and you're not quite ready to apply for financing. Car Payment Calculator Mobile has you covered. With this app, you can get a pretty good idea of what your monthly loan payment will be thanks to the inclusion of parameters such as trade-in value, sales tax, amount owed on trade-in and dealer fees.

Lease calculations are a breeze, too, thanks to your ability to input the money factor and residual value as a percentage or dollar amount. The app will also display your cumulative lease payment total.

I ran through one loan and one lease scenario on the app and saved each one of my calculations, at which point the app notified me I would need to pay to unlock unlimited saves of my loan or lease entries. The full version of the app will run you $2.99 in the App Store. There is no direct Android equivalent, but Car Finance Boss Lease and Loan Calculator on Google Play is free and is highly rated.

BRZO

Craigslist is great for searching for used cars, but it has its limitations. Maybe you want a 10-year-old, low-mileage Toyota Corolla in a specific color and transmission combo. BRZO can pinpoint you to that exact vehicle and, if it isn't available, you can bookmark your search and return to it later. The app can also give you a better idea of what to pay when you do find the car you're looking for.

BRZO is also a boon for enthusiasts. If you're looking for something uncommon, like a 2003 BMW 540i with a six-speed manual and Sport Package, instead of spending mountains of time searching multiple cities and filtering through garbage results, use the BRZO app to search nationwide, state by state or even internationally.

There is one major flaw with BRZO, however. It's only offered for iPhone and not Android. The app's creator says on the BRZO website, "From time to time we do get requests for Android versions, but not enough to justify the implementation." Perhaps more potential Android users need to be the squeaky wheel.

BRZO is $9.99 in the App Store, but when you consider the thousands you could save by using it, it's worth all 999 pennies. Plus, it periodically goes on sale for much less. Check out BRZO in action above.

Autolist

If you've ever hit up Kayak.com to search for a flight, then you'll be familiar with how Autolist can match you with a used car. The service allows you to search across numerous web platforms, all from one app to find the right vehicle.

On top of that, you can bookmark your searches, track their price changes, see how prices compare among similar cars and narrow your search with hundreds of filters. Autolist is free on the App Store and Google Play.

Go

An important part of the car-buying process is finding out the estimated cost of your insurance. An (iPhone-only) app called Go allows you to scan your license to get a quote within five minutes, thus saving you time populating pages of paperwork, which especially comes in handy if you're running quotes on multiple prospective vehicles.

Within three minutes, the app was able to give me a rate estimate (displayed as an app widget). The final step connected me to a live agent, but that call was placed after office hours. Had I received insurance through Go, I'd be able to make monthly payments via Apple Pay.

It's worth noting that apps from major insurance companies like Geico and Esurance allow you to get quotes for prospective new vehicles, too, so if you're not keen on switching insurance providers, you may be able to use your insurance company's app.

You can download Go for free on the App Store. The company has yet to offer an Android version.

Blinker

Car selling is actually Blinker's party piece, but it's no one-trick pony. The app also allows you to buy a used car from another private party and apply for financing. You can even refinance your current vehicle through the app.

Blinker uses image recognition tech for its three major functions. Take a photo of the car you're selling or refinancing, and the app will fill in your vehicle's basic details, or snap a photo of your driver's license to apply for financing within the app to buy a car.

But Blinker is likely the best app you can use to sell your car by virtue of how easy it makes the whole process. First, the app is safe to use, as it authenticates the identities of every one of its sellers and buyers and cross-references that data with ownership records. Once you buy or sell your car, the app assists with title transfer and payment, as well.

All of Blinker's features are currently available in California, Colorado, Florida and Texas, but at the moment, you can only refinance cars in Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Nebraska, New Mexico, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Blinker is free on the App Store and Google Play.

CarMax

CarMax

The CarMax app is connected to the company's dealer network consisting of more than 50,000 used vehicles for sale.

Adam Ewing/CarMax

With abundant search filters, a payment calculator, in-app finance qualification, bookmarked searching and search alerts, CarMax's app is just as robust and easy to use as any of the apps on this list. Where CarMax stands out, however, is with the additional services this used car dealer network offers, including no-haggle pricing, a five-day money-back guarantee and a free appraisal for your current vehicle.

Throughout the company's 24-year history, CarMax has shipped more than 1 million vehicles between its stores, so if you locate a car that's many states away, CarMax can arrange to transfer it to your local dealership for your inspection and pickup in exchange for a reasonable fee.

The CarMax app is free on the App Store and Google Play.

eBay

While there's no specific eBay Motors app, searching for a car inside the eBay app is so simple, there's really no need for a separate application. Simply enter the type of vehicle you're searching for in the app's search field and a broad assortment of results pop up.

Once your search is populated, you can tap on the filter button in the upper-right corner of your screen to narrow your search for specific model years, transmission type, mileage, location and more. Once you've found the car you want, place your bid or hit "Buy it Now," and you're off and running.

Compared with searching for a vehicle on eBay's website, the app is actually easier to use. It's also free on the App Store and Google Play