April 24, 2017

Carsabi – Used Cars get a New Search Engine

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series Internet Sites

Many used cars could use a new engine, but a new search engine? What might seem far-fetched at first glance may turn out to be a great disruptive idea. If you’re in the market for a reliable used car you may well look for a used car under $5000 on Craigslist, or even a used car under $2000. Craigslist may be the largest used car market out there, with millions of car deals offered each year. However, finding a used car on Craigslist is something of a chore. The search utility offered on Craigslist is very simple, but fairly limited. Enter Carsabi.com.

Periodically I get an email asking for a link exchange on KnowaABit. Normally these are spam, some may be scams, and all get summarily deleted. This email from one Dwight Crow, however, seemed different. “I’m one of the founders at a new used car search engine, carsabi.com, and was curious if you would be interested in either a guest post or using some of our data. We crawl about 20,000 cars daily (Craigslist & California dealerships) and have a fairly unique data set as we use machine learning to read the classifieds and dealership html directly.”

What is Carsabi, and what does it offer if you’re looking for a used car?

Median prices of used Corollas based on Craigslist vs. dealer ads (courtesy of Carsabi.com); Shown are median prices vs. model year.

Carsabi co-creator Crow says used cars on Craigslist are typically about $2000 cheaper than comparable cars sold by dealerships (see graph). While many well-known automotive sites such as Edmunds, Cars.com, KBB, AutoTrader, eBay Motors, etc. offer car value estimators and/or car deals, Dwight says these often fail to take into account such things as temporary scarcity or glut conditions of a specific model and year, may be limited to specific dealerships that contract with the website in question, or may simply not reflect some better deals available on Craigslist.

Carsabi intends to be for the US used car market what Google is for the Internet at large. Carsabi crawls and indexes Craigslist car ads nationally, and auto dealership ads in California (planning to expand dealership crawling nationally in the coming weeks). The site then allows you to search all car ads based on make, model, price range, model year range, transmission type, distance from the zip code of your choice, and whether or not the title is stated in the ad to be clean (i.e. not salvage). You can also specify whether you want to see ads from dealers, private parties or both, and the age of the listing so you don’t get bogged down with obsolete ads.

Using the Craigslist search tool you’re typically limited to looking for cars in one region at a time, within the price range of your choice, specifying if you require an image to be included in the ad. You then need to specify a list of keywords (with the capability to exclude specified keywords). The keywords field is where you would specify the make, model, year, etc. If you’re comfortable with devising your own searches using keywords, the Craigslist tool would allow you to do such things as excluding any cars specified to be red in color, offered by a dealer, etc. However, if you’re looking for e.g. a Honda Civic that would be a 2000, 2001 or 2002 model year, you’d need to run several searches, one for each model year. You’d then need to repeat the search for each regional Craigslist site covering a location you’re willing to buy in.

Is Carsabi the go-to site for your used car search?

Screen capture of Carsabi.com search for used Ford ads (courtesy Carsabi.com)

Carsabi makes such searches much simpler and faster to carry out, allowing you to quickly identify Craigslist and dealership used car offers that match your query, and sort them based on low/high mileage, low/high price, new/old year, and best value (see screen capture). As such, Carsabi offers a great utility for identifying the market price and best offers on any car you happen to be looking for, whether it’s a rare model you’re willing to travel cross-country for, or a common one you’d like to buy no more than 50 miles from your home.

However, there are a few caveats.

  • Carsabi cannot (and does not claim to) separate legitimate offers from scams. Buying used cars, especially through Craigslist ads from private parties requires a “buyer beware” attitude and a big dose of common sense.
  • Similarly, Carsabi cannot provide more information than what the seller gives in the ad. If you’re looking for a “Honda Civic” and the ad only says “Civic”, your search would miss the ad.
  • If you specify “Only Clean Title”, Carsabi will not show any ads that do not specify if the title is clean or not, even if the title is clean. Similarly, if you specify automatic transmission you’ll miss any ads that don’t mention the transmission type.
  • The option to sort by value uses information given in the ad, which may or may not be complete. Thus, for example, an ad for a 2000 Honda Civic with automatic transmission, 171,000 miles and a clean title offered for $3700 outranks another ad for a 2000 Honda Civic with automatic transmission, 153,000 miles and an unspecified title, offered for $3200. If the latter has a clean title it would obviously be the better value, as it has fewer miles on it and is offered at a price that’s nearly 14% lower.

Finally, being very much a work in progress, Carsabi’s indexing of Craigslist is not perfect. For example, looking for a 2000 Honda Civic near Baltimore, MD, Carsabi missed several ads that should have been picked up by its search including e.g. this ad posted the day I searched both Carsabi and Craigslist: “2000 civic with air suspension – $3500 (silver spring)”, which listed 80k miles as the mileage, rather than 80,000 miles. Carsabi also inexplicably missed the following 6-day old ad, “2000 Honda Civic Ex Coupe – $5000 (Joppa md 21085)”, with 133000 miles, even though my Carsabi search allowed ads up to 14 days old and up to 200k miles.

The bottom line on Carsabi.com

Carsabi, put together by two self-described nerd engineers, has a great deal of promise. It currently isn’t monetized, but has huge potential through such possibilities as connecting car buyers with local mechanics who could inspect cars being considered, affiliate links to Carfax to allow Carsabi users to quickly and seamlessly check a car they really like, possibly negotiating a quantity discount to be passed on by Carsabi to its users (Carfax already offers private parties a title check on one car for $35 and five cars for $45), and possibly contextually-linked ads for cars, car accessories, etc.

So, should this free service be part of your toolkit when searching for a used car? Whether you want to search on Craigslist or not (the latter assuming Carsabi has indexed dealership offers in your market) – definitely! It’s a great service, and you can’t beat free. Can you use Carsabi to replace all existing car search tools? Not yet, and quite possibly not ever, but that’s true of all other tools.

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