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Since landing myself a new job opportunity 55 miles away (nice career development move!) I have been on the car buying merry go round with a vengeance. Obviously for that distance both fuel economy and comfort are of utmost importance and I am looking for something quite rare - notably a diesel automatic vehicle, budget was stretching to a 3-5yr old vehicle depending on how prestigious a model I elected for, and low mileage was a factor - as I will no doubt be doing 100,000 miles in the next 3 years without doing a lot more than commuting.
In years previous, the autotrader magazine has always served its purpose relatively well, although 500 pages of black and white car adverts could be a little on the tedious side. Like everything, the internet has changed the way we shop for goods, although the jury is still out for me on whether it has actually simplified the process or made it ten times harder!
Without question, however, my favourite site for searching for used cars has to be www.autotrader.co.uk. Essentially the website acts as a channel for distribution for all sellers, trade and private, and therefore this makes the search a lot easier than identifying and searching lots of individual garages. All the big car supermarkets appear to be represented here along with the big dealers. Each advert links directly to the dealer's own website and although the distance to the dealer is given in the basic search results, you can quickly pull up a map to locate the exact destination.
The most prominent feature on the Cars homepage is in fact the vehicle search. The search engine facility is one of the best out there, and was updated with new features as recently as a week ago - the current version is still in Beta mode. While the standard search engine may be adequate, the advanced search option is by far the easier to use as you can narrow it down by almost any criteria. Typically this includes Make and Model, Min and Max pricing, age of car, transmission and fuel options and distance from your home postcode.
What I particularly like about this site is the way the number of cars instantly filters down as you add an option, so you can see which choices are restricting you the most. In my case, I was quite flexible on the make and model, but the diesel and auto were my most important criteria so by selecting those, some budget and geographical restrictions, I was able to see which makes of cars were available and quickly navigate my way to the ones that most interested me - rovers and Kias not being on my shopping list even if they did meet my Diesel auto criteria..!!
If your budget stretches to it, you can search for cars up to £1million in value, and there are in fact 32 cars nationwide that fall between 500K and £1million - although I suspect the Renault Megane diesel currently on sale at 760K is either a typo or someone's idea of a joke…
Of course, www.autotrader.co.uk has always traded in more than just private cars, and there is a separate page for other types of vehicles, including vans, trucks, bikes, motor-homes, boats, and surprisingly, even property.
Possibly the second most important aspect of such a site is the ability to read independent reviews. Autotrader actually offers up three types of reviews. Firstly there are their own independent reviews, although there are only about 100 of these, for the most popular makes and models. Secondly you can search Whatcar reviews, whether they are for new or used cars, and finally there are consumer supplied reviews. These seem to be higher in number, certainly for the models I looked at, however while reviews on some sites can be overly long, many of the consumer reviews consisted of a star rating of the vehicle make/model and a one liner on positives and negatives. I also found that the classification of models needed to be filtered down further - if you search on Alfa Romeo 147s for example you get every derivative all lumped together, which is not what most of the car buying public want to see.
Less valuable to me personally, there are plenty of links to articles about cars in general, advertising, as well as links for HPI type checks. There are also links to the best finance deals, through links with Money Expert.com
If you are a seller, you can get an idea of a likely value through a free Whatcar valuation or for £2.95 you can get a Glass's guide valuation and a downloadable certificate. As a seller you can advertise your car on the website for two weeks for a bargain £17.99, which is not bad value at all.
Generally I have found the speed of the site to be fine, although there were a few minor teething troubles after the changes to the car search engine over the weekend, thankfully these seem to have been resolved fairly quickly. Overall, if you are searching for a car, or want to sell your car, I highly recommend www.autotrader.co.uk as whether you are buying or selling the target audience/available stock is massive via this portal.