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This Tip Will Make Searching for a New Car Less Frustrating



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Photo: Rick Bowmer (AP)

Trying to find a new car in this current market is an exercise in frustration. Buyers are finding that a large percentage of advertised vehicles aren’t available, and the ones that are on the lot are often subject to market premiums. I have found a search strategy to increase your chance of success in this market.

As a professional car shopper, the question I’ve gotten over and over again from consumers is: “How come all these cars that are advertised aren’t actually for sale?” I covered this in more detail in a previous post, but, to recap, it has to do with the automated listing system that dealers use for inventory. Essentially inventory listings populate automatically once a car is “in transit” to that dealer and then that listing is kicked out to various third-party websites even if this car is already “sold.”

I will often run dozens of new and used car searches every week in various metros and I’ve seen a pattern when it comes to new car listings and it has to do with how those advertisements are displayed. There has been a huge uptick in dealer ads that are using “stock photos” of a car and not the actual car for sale. They will look something like this –

Image for article titled This Tip Will Make Searching for a New Car Less Frustrating


As you can see the car pictured isn’t the actual RAV4 but rather a generic image of that car. If a listing uses a stock photo there is a high likelihood that the car is not on the lot but is rather “in transit” to the dealer. The pattern I have noticed for in-demand models is that depending on the market region 80-90% of listings with stock photos are for cars that have been “pre-sold” to customers. I have found this out by making hundreds of phone calls to various dealers only to get the same answer every time: “Sorry, that one is sold.” In the rare case that a stock photo listing is available, that dealer usually has a big markup … hence why the car is still available.

The biggest tip I keep repeating to buyers in this market is flexibility, if you are flexible on your timeframe or flexible on what brand/model you buy you increase your chance of success. A lot of folks just don’t have the luxury of waiting months for a new car so they need to focus on what’s available now. If you find yourself in that position look for the cars with the most live photo listings.

For example, if I run a RAV4 search in the Houston metro the first page is all stock photos, this will likely mean a much lower chance of those cars being actually available and/or offered at reasonable prices. Some of these ads won’t even advertise a number and it’s “call for price” which historically is not a good sign.

Image for article titled This Tip Will Make Searching for a New Car Less Frustrating


If I run the same search for the VW Tiguan roughly half of the advertised listings are live photos, and some of them are even advertising prices below MSRP.

Image for article titled This Tip Will Make Searching for a New Car Less Frustrating


While the Volkswagen may not be the top alternative to someone searching for a Toyota if a buyer that is in need of a crossover now has a choice between months for a RAV4 and/or paying well over MSRP or buying a Tiguan now with a potential discount, the VW doesn’t seem like a bad proposition.

If you are in the market for a new car remember that just because a car is advertised for sale, that doesn’t mean it’s actually available to buy. If you don’t have the ability to wait months for your ideal model, honing your search in on what’s currently available will reduce your frustration in this bonkers market. Also, there is nothing wrong with buying something now just to “hold you over” until the market shifts more in your favor.

Tom McParland is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs He takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. Got a car buying question? Send it to

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