AutoTrader.com is my go to search tool for locating quality used cars. AutoTrader.com has a great deal of information available on it beyond search capabilities. AutoTrader.com has links to allow you to search for cars for sale, do car research, sell your car, trade your car or locate dealers, loans, and insurance.
In this post I will focus on finding used cars for sale. I will focus on the search criteria available and how I like to limit my searches to yield the best results.
When you are on the AutoTrader.com home page you will see in the top left corner a blue link to “Find Cars for Sale”. Click this link to get started.
You will now be on the Find Your Car page. This is where all the search options will be found. This page is what allows you to take their entire available inventory of cars for sale down to just the cars you would be interested in purchasing.
I will cover the search options from top to bottom of the page. Meaning the search options covered earliest in the post will be found at the top of the search page.
AutoTrader.com Used Car Search page is a series of questions. We will look at each question in order.
1. Which cars are you interested in?
You will want to choose Used Cars.
2, Where will you search?
Enter your zip code and the number of miles you are willing to travel to find a car. I will typically enter 100 miles just to get a good number of cars showing up in my search. For you it will depend on the number of cars coming back in the search.
3. Which body styles are you considering?
In this area, you can limit your search to specific styles of cars. This is shown with pictorial representations to help with the selection. You can limit your search to as many or as few as you choose. to reset select All Styles.
This is a great place to limit your results to just the style you are looking for. If you know you don’t want a convertible or coupe you can eliminate them from your search by selecting the other styles. The same is true for all the other styles.
I typically will leave this option as open as I can to give me the greatest number of results from my search.
4. What makes and Models would you like to see?
Here you have three options. You can limit your search to just the makes and models you are interested in buying. I will often start by leaving these set to any make and any model to get the greatest results. If there are too many results, I will then modify the search to limit it to certain makes or makes and models. If you know you only want to look at certain makes you can certainly start your initial search that way.
5. What year range?
You can limit your search to certain year models. I typically won’t do anything with this search term. The other options chosen will lead me to the car I am looking for. I don’t feel the need to limit the year of the car for which I am searching.
6. How much do you want to spend?
Here you have the option of choosing an upper and lower price range. I would recommend choosing an upper and lower limit to your pricing. For car searches when I am planning to spend under $5,000, I would typically set the lower limit to $1,000 to $1,500 and the upper limit to $5,300 to $5,500. The upper limit will be determined by how aggressive you plan to be in your negotiations. The lower limit will allow you to eliminate the cars that may be in disrepair or too old for consideration.
7. Which sellers do you prefer?
Here you can select dealers and private sellers, dealers only, or private sellers only. I would recommend for a car you are planning to buy for under $5,000 to select only private seller.
8. Need more search options?
Here you are given an option to further refine your search. I recommend choosing to expand the search to allow you to eliminate cars that won’t work for you.
9. Choose your specifications:
I will list the options provided by AutoTrader.com:
Transmission – Automatic or Manual
Engine – 3 to 12 Cylinder, Rotary, or Hybrid
Doors – 2 to 5 Door option
Fuel – Alternate, Diesel, and Gasoline
Mileage – Allows you to limit search based on mileage.
Exterior Color – Allows you to choose up to three exterior colors to further limit your search
You can really limit your search much further using these options. I will use these selectively as I want to see a good number of cars to give me options. I will most often limit only for transmission and mileage.
I do have one complaint for AutoTrader.com. They have very granular mileage increments up to 100,000 miles and then it jumps to anything over 100,000. I view this as problematic because there is a big difference between a car with 101,000 miles and a car with 250,000 miles. I hope AutoTrader.com will address this soon as cars are going further and further.
10. What features are you looking for?
This is an area where you can again limit your search based on your needs or desires. Things like leather seats, sunroof, or CD player.
When trying to find a good reliable car under $5,000 I typically wouldn’t be selecting any of these, but you can play with it and see what works for you.
11. Anything we missed? Enter keywords here.
This is an area where you can further limit your search using terms you want to be found in the cars you are shown. You can separate multiple search terms with a comma. You can also used quotes to limit searches to an exact match. An example might be “new tires.”
12. How do you want your listings displayed?
The options here are With Photos Only, With Prices Only, and With Special Offers Only. Here I will choose With Photos Only and With prices Only. I don’t want to waste my time with a car showing up in my search that doesn’t have a picture or price.
12. Sort by
There are several options here. I tend to choose Mileage Low to High. Other good options are Price Low to High, Make/Model A to Z, and Year New to Old. Some might choose Distance Near to Far, but I would rather find the right car than the right distance.
This finishes the search terms on the Used Car Search page. I would encourage you to play with these a bit and see how many cars in your price range appear in your searches.
I should mention here a little about the format of the page returned from the search.
The top of the page will indicate the number of cars found within your search distance. There will also be a listing of the search options you used. Next, there is a button if you want to modify your search. Lastly, the cars found in your search will be listed.
There are three categories of listings. I will list them below in the order in which they will appear on the page. I will also list their descriptions as defined by AutoTrader.com.
Premium Listings offer the maximum amount of vehicle details, descriptions, photos and seller information.
Featured Listings offer the same types of information as Premium Listings, but are less comprehensive.
Standard Listings are available to private sellers for a small fee and are free to dealerships. They offer vehicle photos, but contain less vehicle information, and minimal seller information.
I will now list how I use this search.
I like to do a used car search with a 100 mile distance, price range of $1,500 to $5,500, mileage under 100,000, private seller, an additional search term of “one owner”, and limit to photos and price only. Then sort by mileage low to high. I am always amazed at how many clean cars this search will turn up.
While writing this post,I performed this search and the result was 8 cars. Using the search terms to limit cars to the few you might be interested in is a benefit. It sure beats paging through hundreds of cars you wouldn’t be interested in pursuing.
Here are two cars from this search.
I don’t know if either of these cars are something I would pursue further. I would need to do more investigation, but I wanted to show you what kind of cars you may find with these search terms.
You can also try varying the terms. Try “second owner” or modify to over 100,000 miles to bring in more cars. Limit to specific models of your interest.
You may need to modify this search to better fit your needs or the availability of cars in your area. These cars may not be the most fashionable, but you should find good reliable transportation. In the end, good reliable transportation is after all what it is really all about.
You want to make sure you or your spouse or your children are able to safely and reliably go from point A to point B and back.
I hope this overview of AutoTrader.com helps you remove one more inhibitor to finding your own cash car. I hope it helps you find a good used car for you or your family.
Question: What car search sites do you like to use and why?