Motoring website Auto Trader launched an iPhone app yesterday, which contains car listings and reviews, as well as a number plate recognition tool. 

It’s potentially a very useful app, so I’ve been seeing how user-friendly it is…

Car search tools

Users of the app can search by make and model, while a postcode is also required. This can be typed in, or the app will detect your location and use that as the starting point for a search. 

To select a make and model, users need to scroll down and select these from the drop-down menu, which can be a bit annoying, especially if you want to search for VW or Volvo.

With 100+ car manufacturers in the list, this could be made easier, by allowing users to key in the first letter and jump to the relevant point in the list. 

Users can specify other parameters in their search, such as distance from the postcode entered, or price. Price and mileage can be adjusted by using a slider tool, which looks good, but can in practice be a little tricky to use as one little movement will shift the price by £5,000

I’m not sure there are enough increments in the pricing either. For example, from £10,000, the next price up is £15,000, which is a big difference in your budget. 

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For more specific searches, there are advanced options, allowing users to specify mileage, transmission, fuel type and more, as well as adding a keyword to the search, which is a useful addition if you have a particular model in mind. 

This is fine for most searches, though I would have liked to be able to distinguish between dealer stock and private listings when searching, as you can on the main website. 

Also, and this may be tricky to implement on an app, the website updates the number of available cars as you add each filter, which prevents searches from returning no results at all. With the app though, it’s best to start with a broad search and add filters as you go on. 

Search results

The results are clear, and give key details on price, model, mileage etc, as well as a small photo of the car. Results can also be sorted by price, proximity, mileage, age etc. 

Car details

Depending on the level of detail and the number of photos added by the seller, the listings can be very useful. 

Technical specifications, such as performance and economy are included for each car, which could very useful when checking out cars on a dealer’s forecourt: 

A detailed review is provided of each car, examining different aspects of performance, safety, reliability, and providing an overall score: 

Larger version of photos can be viewed by turning the phone horizontally or clicking on the pictures, though it is unclear how to get back to the car details page after viewing pictures: 

Number plate recognition

The USP of the Auto Trader app is the number plate recognition tool, which allows you to take a photo of a number plate, then returns results for that make and model. 

This removes the need to spend time searching, and allows you to quickly look up details of a car they have just spotted on the roadside and find similar cars for sale nearby. 

It also allows for easy price comparison, so if you are looking at a second hand car on a dealer’s forecourt, you can easily check other dealers in the area to see if you are getting a good deal. 

Crucially, it works well, as long as you take a clear photo in the first place. One you have the photo, simply pinch and zoom the photo so it fits in the rectangle on the screen, and then submit the photo: 

Within a few seconds, you will see details of the make and model, with reviews and technical specs, as well as the option to search listings for similar cars. 

Here, it would be useful if the app assumed you were searching from your current location or the most recent postcode entered, just to speed the process up as, even if you haven’t closed the app you need to enter the location again. 

Conclusion

The Auto Trader app is one of the first apps to do used car searches, and is the best one I have used so far. 

There are a few things that could be improved on the app, such as this message which advises me to restart the app, often after I have only just opened it up: 

The app could make searching easier by using the current location for each search as a starting point, and there are other possible improvements, such as making the slider tools easier to use, and providing a shortcut for selecting car makes and models from the drop-down list. 

These issues aside, it is a usable and very useful app, and the number plate tool provides the ‘wow factor’ that could also give the app a chance of being featured on an Apple iPhone ad.  

With an excellent review score on the App Store so far, it should become a very popular app…