An Alternative to AutoTrader?

An Alternative to AutoTrader?

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The AA has launched a used car sales website called AA Cars which can be found at vcars.co.uk. So finally there is an alternative to AutoTrader. How do the two websites compare?

Overall Conclusion – We much preferred the simplicity and clarity of the AA Cars website. It has been designed for the buyer rather than the seller. The information is clearly explained, well laid out and for all the cars we came across there was an independent instant online history check available for free with a £30,000 indemity which is a brilliant feature for peace of mind.
The AutoTrader website seems to have been designed for sellers rather than buyers; it is not as well laid out, has a lot of adverts and lacks explanations. However the AutoTrader website does offer private sales in addition to trade sales and has a much larger database of cars.  Autotrader provides more technical information about each car and it is easier to find reviews.

Search Options

AutoTrader offers a two stage search. The home page offers a general search where you enter your postcode and then the number of miles you are prepared to travel, the make and model of car you are looking for and you can also choose to enter the minimum and maximum mileage. Press search and you are taken to the search results. At the top of the results are lots more search options which you can use to refine the results – price range, fuel type, age, private or trade sales, transmission, engine size, colour, number of doors, body type. You can also use a keyword search box to enter additional specific terms.

AA Cars Search
AA Cars Search

AA cars offers a single simpler search. You enter your postcode and the number of miles you want to travel and then you can choose to select from the following options; make, model, fuel type, age, mileage, transmission and price range. AA Cars also offers a keyword search box to refine results. Once you click search you are taken to the results. At the top the same options are displayed allowing you to change them to refine the results without having to start the search from scratch.

Autotrader Search
Autotrader Search

Summary – The AA website offers a single stage simpler search whereas AutoTrader’s search is two stage with more options. The AA cars website does not offer these as standard search options (but AutoTrader does) – colour, engine size, number of doors or body type. However we found that entering terms like red, estate or 1997cc in the AA Cars keyword search box worked a treat. We prefer the AA Cars search as there is only one, it is simpler and the layout is easier on the eye.

Range Of Cars

Both websites offer the full range of Marques and Models. A big difference between the two websites is that AA Cars only offers second hand cars sold by trusted dealers whereas AutoTrader also provides private sales. AA Cars currently has 130,000 cars in its database whereas AutoTrader has about 380,000. The difference is due to private sales and also the fact that AutoTrader has been around longer.

Conclusion – We performed a range of different searches across different makes and models and both websites returned a good selection of cars. AutoTrader has a larger database at the moment and offers private sales whereas AA Cars only offers cars from trusted retailers.

Buying Security

This is the major difference between the two websites. For the AutoTrader every car is different so not only do you have to vet each car you have to vet the seller. For private sales there is no security. For trade sales it is up to the dealer to say if anything is offered like a Warranty or Dealership check and AutoTrader provides no assurances about the accuracy or reliability of these checks or statements. AA Cars on the other hand offers a standard AA 26 point history check on virtually every car on its website. It is clearly stated if the check is available or not and it is free and instant to view a check online. The history check is totally independent of the dealer and if the information turns out to be inaccurate indemnity coverage up to £30,000 is provided by AA Cars. Although AA Cars readily admit that they do not proactively vet the dealers on their website they do note that only trusted dealers are used without defining what they mean by a trusted dealer.

Visual Appeal and Images

Conclusion – We are offering the conclusion to this section first as there is quite a bit of detail and you might want to cut to the chase! We found the AA Cars website much easier and simpler to use. It seems to have been designed with the user in mind. We found the AutoTrader website to be less well laid out with lots of features designed for sellers which were not explained or that helpful for the buyer. This was not helped by the fact we could not find a simple website search on the AutoTrader site so we could not find explanations for some of their terms and categorisations. The AutoTrader website did offer a live chat function for lots of their dealerships which could be helpful for coming up with your shortlist and arranging test drives.

AA Cars Summary
AA Cars Summary

The search results for both websites presents virtually identical information – there is a featured image, a number to tell you have many more images there are, a summary of key features like the mileage, engine size, transmission and colour and a short description. The type of seller and garage are identified. The AA website shows if a free history check is available (which it seems to be for nearly every car). AutoTrader shows if the car has an RAC warranty and a useful headline which varies between cars but for many notes MOT and tax status.

Every car on both websites has a detailed page with full information on that car. The AutoTrader website provides two different review ratings for each car – one based on owners opinions and the other on experts opinions. There are links so you can read the detailed reviews. In addition you can get an idea of the cost of insurance for each car. There is lots of technical information too. The image gallery layout is poor and rather nasty looking and ad heavy which is disappointing. However there are hardly any adverts on the page itself. The AA Cars website provides a phone number for the dealer and a contact form which you can use to ask the dealer to contact you about the car. There is no live chat functionality and less technical information about the car model but the image gallery is much better. There is a single large ad for an AA product. There is also an offer for 12 months free breakdown cover when you buy with AA Cars.  There is a very subtle link to car reviews provided by AA members.

AutoTrader Summary
AutoTrader Summary

AutoTrader seems to present several different listing types with no clear explanation of what they mean to the buyer. A standard listing for either trade or private sales seems to have a light grey background but then one will appear with a blue or yellow background and we could not tell if this was random, had been paid for by the seller or signified something about the car. We also noticed a single featured listing appeared at the top of the results for some of our searches – we assume these favourable positions had been paid for by the seller. We noticed a couple of blue background ads had green lettering at the top – either ‘manufacturer approved’ or ‘franchise’. We could not find an explanation for these terms. We think the franchise label means sold by an official dealership. We are not really sure what manufacturer approved means. Neither of these terms are search options and using them in the keyword search box does not work. If these labels provide assurance to the buyer that the car has been vetted in some way then they should really say so and explain how!

AutoTrader has adverts dotted around the page mainly on the right and above the page header. The adverts are easy to spot but they are a bit distracting, especially as several large ad areas deliver adverts based on your browsing history so they throw up none car related images. In addition it increases the amount of scrolling you need to do. There was an annoying pop up asking us for our opinion as well.

There is a mobile version of both websites and both allow you to save a selection of your favourite cars for later and to allow easy comparisons.