Navigate the Used Car Minefield Online

If you’re looking for a new car, you know that the World Wide Web is an excellent tool for reading up on your chosen models, looking at pictures and reading reviews. Best of all, it means you don’t have to travel miles in all weathers to stand on rainy forecourts discussing fuel economy with a bored looking salesman. But, as we all know, the internet can be a scary place. After all, there are no limitations to what a person can publish, so who do you trust? What happens if one man’s Rolls Royce is another man’s banger?

With a car that’s new, or a used one that’s still in production, the place to start is the manufacturer’s website. These are easy to find by searching for the brand name – the official site is usually the first result. Nowadays, companies have pages suited to certain markets, for example the UK, so only relevant details show. Manufacturer’s sites contain a mountain of information, with every element of a car’s design and specification detailed to the nth degree.

Some of the larger manufacturers have pages on their sites known as “configurators”. These allow you to select a particular model, choose the colour you want it, the interior, and all the options. You can then see a picture and get a price list for the car exactly as you have chosen to design it. A great one to play with is available for the new Fiat 500. You’ll be there for a while – the car has over half a million permutations!

Many people nowadays like to take environmental factors into consideration when selected their potential purchase. Luckily, the internet provides many resources to allow you to calculate a car’s carbon emissions, and of course the dreaded road tax associated with it. The best and most comprehensive of these is based at here.

So, now you’ve whittled your choices down a bit and you know the basics, it’s time to get away from the marketing-speak of the businesses themselves, and start to get some real-life, unbiased opinions. But who can you rely on?

A relatively new site, has emerged with a very comprehensive database of independently reviewed cars.

All the large consumer magazines now have websites on which their reviews are posted. Some of the best include What Car, Auto Express, Autocar and Top Gear . From Maseratis to Metros, you should be able to read all about them on these sites, giving you professional but differing viewpoints. Usefully, the magazines will rate cars on a star basis, allowing you to make side-by-side comparisons with any other models you still had in your shortlist.

But what about real life? How can you find out what these cars are like on a day-to-day basis, not just what they are like for a reviewer who spends a couple of hours on a test route? That’s where forums and owner sites come into their own.

Forums are a great resource, and you should be able to find one tailored to the very model that you are researching. The real value is that they are by their nature interactive, so you can post any specific questions you have, and the (usually) very knowledgeable members will do their best to give you the low down. Some forums deal with multiple brands (such as the ever excellent Piston Heads), whereas others focus solely on one brand (such as the Vauxhall Forums located at here) or on one model (such as the Porsche 911 forums located at here).

Most forums will require you to register, but they are – in the overwhelming majority – free. Their usefulness far outweighs the simple task of registering, and you never know, you might make friends! They are also useful, of course, should you have a question about the car once you have actually purchased it.

By now you have chosen the exact car you want, it’s colour, specification and when you close your eyes, you can see it sitting proudly in your driveway. But where can you go online to actually find such a vehicle?

Again, the manufacturer’s websites all have used car locators. In most cases, the advanced search facility will allow you to find very specific cars, down to their location, colour, price and mileage. Be aware, however, that a main dealer will charge you for the privilege of shopping with them, and the cost of a car from them may be up to a couple of thousand pounds more than it would be elsewhere. For more expensive purchases, the extra expense is justified due to the peace of mind and guarantees that a main dealer can offer, but can be hard to swallow in less pricey cases.

The biggest site for used cars is AutoTrader, located at here. It has recently had an overhaul, and at the time of writing, had nearly 400,000 cars in it’s database. Apart from the very specialist, most things should be found there. A quick search reveals a million pound Lamborghini on the site, so you’d be unlucky not to find what you are looking for! In a similar vein, it is also worth checking both Fish 4 Cars (129,000 cars currently listed) and Exchange and Mart that has 81,000.

Where else then? Well, if you’re feeling brave, you can try the motors section of eBay, which contains both private and trade adverts, some of which are auctions and some classified. Usefully, you can search eBay to see similar items that have sold beforehand so you will have a good idea of price. There is also the possibility that you may bag a bargain.

The magazine websites mentioned previously all contain classified pages, as do newspapers such the Sunday Times. The local press websites can often be a rich source.

The above gives an overview of some of the best of sites available for helping you choose your car. Obviously this is only the tip of the iceberg – the World Wide Web is a vast place – but all the above are trusted and useful. The information is out there, use it, enjoy it and happy shopping.

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