4 Cool Apps for New-Car Shoppers

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BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Mobile apps are becoming a bigger and bigger part of the car-buying process these, with lots of consumers whipping out smartphones or iPads at dealerships to show salespeople competing offers or lower suggested prices.

"What we're hearing from consumers is that they're really using apps to help them with negotiations," says Kenny Goldstein of car-information site Edmunds.com. "They're not being shy about literally pulling out a mobile device on the showroom floor."

Some 1.5 million consumers have downloaded Edmunds' mobile app since it went live in 2010. All told, 3 million of the site's 18 million unique users now access information via apps or the mobile Web rather than through the traditional Internet.

Most car-shopping apps give you mobile access to lots of photos, reviews and pricing data for all sorts of models. Once you know what you want, you can usually search nearby dealerships' inventories by either entering your ZIP code or using your device's global-positioning software to ascertain your location.

Car-buying apps also typically include calculators to help you figure out what you can afford and what your monthly loan or lease payment will be.

Here's a look at four cool, free apps consumers should check out when they're looking for new cars. The apps are in alphabetical order.

Cars.com
Cars.com's app boasts what seems to be the most-comprehensive database of local dealers' inventories, at least in my neck of the woods.

For instance, the app came up with 1,539 new Toyota Corollas available for sale within 50 miles of my home -- more than double the 580 new Corollas that Edmunds.com's app listed.

The Cars.com app also has a great comparison tool that lets you look head to head at up to three cars actually in dealers' inventories. Most apps allow you only to compare models head to head (such as the Corolla vs. the Honda Civic), but won't show you individual cars.

Add in an easy-to-use design and real-world price estimates from Kelley Blue Book and the Cars.com app works great. Its only real weakness is that it lacks a tool for building and pricing the model of your choice with whatever particular options that you want.