Features of good automotive search tools

  • Ease of navigation to search tool. This is perhaps not the most important feature on an automotive site, given the focus on new car sales, but it should still be easy to find. 
  • Plenty of search options. There is a limit, but the more options users have before they search, the more accurate the results should be. 
  • Mobile friendly forms. Research on mobile are on the rise, so make sure mobile users can access forms and see optimised versions of pages.
  • Keep results up to date. When dealers are responsible for updating the cars on the site, as well as actually selling them, this can be a problem. It’s frustrating for potential buyers to enquire about cars, only to find that they were sold days ago. 
  • Make it simple. Let users enter the first part of their postcode, or town name. Why make this harder than it needs to be? 
  • Clear calls to action. This could be a phone number for the dealership or a form to book a test drive. 
  • Provide extras that make the car research process easier. A car is a big purchase for most people, so they’ll take their time. Features such as saved searches and email alerts will keep people coming back. 
  • Explain the benefits. People are tempted by approved used cars as they take away the uncertainty of buying from independent dealers. Automotive brands should explain the benefits – warranties, checks carried out, and so on. 

In this post, I’ve looked at examples of used car search tools from the various car brands’ official sites. I’ve worked my way from the homepage to the search tool, with varying degrees of difficulty. 


This is the clearest navigation on any of the sites I looked at. The five options allow customers to find what they want to achieve very quickly. 

The used car search tool looks good, but the user experience doesn’t match it. 

You can select the location, search radius and which models to search for, but that’s it. This means that customers can’t refine searches according to their preferences. 

For example, I might only be interested in a diesel Golf with manual transmission, but I’m forced to search through lots of irrelevant results first. 

Once you have results, you can refine the search, but why not give people these options upfront? 


Nice summary of the key benefits of Kia’s approved used car policy here, laid out so the main points are easy to scan and digest. 

Kia makes the same ‘mistake’ as VW, allowing no search filters upfront, just model and search radius. As you can see, this produces 1,777 matching cars, which is a foreboding number. 

It also won’t accept just the first part of the postcode, which is unnecessarily strict. 

At this point, I can then start to search properly, adding price, colour and feature preferences to narrow my results. 

Again, this search tool isn’t awful, but a few tweaks would greatly improve the user experience. 


Too many clicks to find the tool here. From the homepage to actually beginning to search takes three clicks. And I have to enter the full postcode. Grrr. 

Once through this, I can filter and search all in one. Much better. 

There are a comprehensive range of filters, while the results update instantly as you add and remove filters, making it easy to see the number of results returned and to narrow the search to a more manageable level. 


Once you find the tool, Honda lets you get down to business straight away. 

You can select the models you’re interested in, then search options and desired accessories before hitting the search button. 

However, as the filtering options are not connected to the actual cars available, you can select features and colours which simply aren’t available, meaning no results at all for some searches. 


BMW allows you to begin searching a click away from the homepage, and at least lets you select price range and bodystyle in addition to location and model. 

However, I can only select one model at a time. 

The next step allows you to refine your search with a comprehensive list of options. The number of matching cars updates with every feature you add or remove, which removes the risk of returning no results at all. 


You can select various filters on the first page of the search here, while the number of matching results updates (slowly) as you go. 


This is terrible. The search tool takes up a fraction of the page, and small white text on a black background hurts your eyes. 

In addition, it isn’t immediately apparent that these are drop-down options to select. No buttons, text boxes, tick boxes or indeed anything to indicate this is a search tool. 

The presentation of results isn’t much better. There are some refinement options, but selecting them is just as bad as the initial search tool. 


This is a good example from Nissan. It’s visually appealing and has some decent, if not comprehensive, filtering options.  

It also allows you to entire a town or postcode, as well as auto-detecting your location to save users’ time. 

The results page brings further refinement options, while showing the selected options above the results is a useful reminder for searchers.

This is a good all round search tool, while creating alerts for selected searches is a good idea. 


This is excellent. It looks great, refinement options are clearly laid out, and results update instantly. 

Jaguar also sets out the benefits of its approved used car schemes, providing some compelling reasons. 


In summary…

The user experience of used car search tools has certainly improved over the last few years.

There used to be lots of Flash and painfully slow loading of results, but now they all reach at least a minimum standard of usability, with the exception of Mini, which is woeful. 

Not that there isn’t room for improvement. I think car brands could learn from sites like Autotrader, which just provide as many filters and options as they can to ensure that customers’ preferences are covered. 

Of the search tools shown here, I think Nissan provides the best experience, with extras such as saved searches and alerts lifting them above some rivals. 

What do you think? Have I missed some excellent search tools from other automotive brands? Let me know below…