J.D. Power play: The third-party websites to use for car shopping


So many websites to use for car shopping and so little time.

It’s what you may feel like if you’re beginning a search for another vehicle.

But since most shoppers start – and many finish – online, we set out to help you get to the most useful third-party websites based on J.D. Power’s U.S. Automotive Website Evaluation Study Cross-Device.

Fortunately, the results are less cumbersome and more easily understood than the title of the report.

websites to use for car shopping

The J.D. Power research identifies which third-party websites, such as Edmunds.com, Kelley Blue Book, Autotrader, TrueCar, Cars.com, Carfax and others, provide the best experience for vehicle shoppers based on survey responses from 4,392 participants – half desktop users, half smartphone users.

The top winners combining results from the last two years: Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds.com and Carfax for smartphone users and Cars.com for desktop users.

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Consumer satisfaction scores actually were higher for the smartphone experience, according to Power, with an industry average of 782 out of 1,000 points, compared to 765 average for desktop experience.  In fact, “overall satisfaction with using third-party automotive websites on a smartphone has shown significant year-over-year improvement compared with the desktop experience,” said Power.

Generally, third-party websites that were rated highly by desktop users were ranked below industry average for smartphone users, and vice versa, except Autoblog, which finished last among both groups.

Here are the results from 2018 and 2017 for both smartphone and desktop users:

  • Kelley Blue Book “ranks highest in overall satisfaction with automotive third-party smartphone websites,” repeating from 2017, according to J.D. Power, followed by com and Carfax, with Car and Driver, TrueCar and Cars.com rated above industry average. Edmunds and Carfax also scored top-three results in last year’s survey – in the desktop rankings.
  • For desktop users, Autotrader ranked highest in overall satisfaction for 2018, followed by TrueCar and com, with CarGurus, Carfax and Edmunds.com rated above industry average. It was the second-consecutive year Cars.com finished top-three in the desktop rankings.
  • Last year, Kelley Blue Book beat out CarGurus, The Car Connection and seven other sites above the industry average of 766 for mobile users, while Cars.com finished atop the desktop rankings, followed by Edmunds.com, Carfax and eight other sites rated above the industry average of 767.

“Five years ago, we would have been amazed to see higher satisfaction for vehicle research and shopping on a five-inch screen,” said Amit Aggarwal, senior director of JDP’s digital practice. “Year over year, smartphone users are visiting more content areas to configure vehicles, compare vehicles, search for inventory, view technical specifications and more.”

Power, which provides consumer insights, advisory services, data and analytics about the auto industry, ranked fewer third-party sites in 2018 compared to last year.

Besides the rankings this year, Power also had some advice for vehicle shoppers based on their survey:

  • Employ the full range of services and options the website offers, including comprehensive vehicle viewing information, intuitive dealer locator and inventory search tools.
  • Take advantage of the websites that include both new and used vehicles in their inventories, and allow you to initiate the buying process online.
  • Look for vehicle reviews on the website – from consumers, experts, and dealers.

The breathtaking number of automotive websites can be as confusing as the array of vehicles themselves. Now, at least, you have a better idea where to spend time researching your next purchase.