For UK-based fans of all things four-wheeled, or mere mortals looking to buy a used car, Auto Trader, both in its original paper and newer internet incarnation is a lifesaver. Far and away the best place to find ads for used motors, with lots of detail, and decent pictures, the digital versions of Auto Trader have great content, but have never been that easy to use.
For years the site was clunky, slow and prone to random crashes. Then a couple of years ago the firm launched an iPhone app, which promised the earth (including number plate recognition which would verify a car’s indentity and provide performance stats on the model in question) but delivered very little. It was one of most error and crash prone apps I’ve ever used, and garnered both terrible reviews, and fairly rapid uninstallation from just about everyone who tried it.
Now though things are better. The iPhone app is stable, and does what you’d expect it to. It searches the Auto Trader database and displays result. No ridiculous bells or whistles, and thankfully no crashes. It’s now been joined by a proper iPad app, which thankfully is, like it’s smaller cousin, totally free. Fare from being buggy like the first iPhone app, or merely competent like the current iteration, this is one of the best site to app transfers I have ever seen.
The interface is a joy to use, offering quick access to all the usual Auto Trader variables (price, location, model, engine size, mileage etc) from the off. Cleverly the site also shows, in brackets, how many search results your parameters will yield at each stage of the process, so you can quickly see if there are no vehicles in your price range, or if your parameters are too wide and likely to give you thousands of hits.
Once you do hit search you’re treated to a tiled display of lovely full colour pics of your car. You can choose the size of the tiles, with a comfortable range between relatively tidy, and almost screen-fillingly massive. There’s also a slider along the bottom of the screen that shows your current sort method. If, for example, it’s price, you can scroll up or down through the cars by cost, even moving outside the parameters of your original search to see cars that are, say, a bit more or less expensive. You can also easily switch the search order to another parameter, like distance.
Tap a a result and, like the eBay app, a large window quickly pops up with details, a large swipeable slideshow of pictures and links to maps, websites and the like. It all works smoothly and reliably, and makes browsing for cars a joy. The real genius though is the Garage feature. Much like a favourites option, you can save cars into your garage when you find them. At any time you can then switch to view your garage and see the entries for each car. Cleverly though the garage screen allows you to select up to five cars simultaneously. You’re then presented with tabbed stats on each so you can quickly compare insurance cost, economy, performance and other vital details side by side. It makes it brilliantly easy to see which cars do and don’t meet your needs, or in my case help persuade my girlfriend that a BMW 3 series coupe makes as much financial sense as a diesel golf (that took a little creative accountant).
In fact, like eBay, the Auto Trader app is so brilliantly designed that it’s far more of a pleasure to use that the web-based version. If you’re in the market for a used car and live in the UK, or if you just love browsing the market, I really can’t recommend the Auto Trader app highly enough, especially as it won’t cost you anything at all.