July 27, 2011, 10:29 AM
Blogger

Smartphone access proved itself when buying a car

Kevin Woodward

Senior Editor

Lead Photo

It takes some pinching and zooming to find the log-in box on a non-mobile optimized web site viewed on a smartphone.

Buying a car this time around was a far better experience compared to the time I bought a used 1974 Pontiac Ventura, in part because of a smartphone. And because that high-school kid who tore up the gravel roads of rural Illinois didn’t own the Honda Civic I just bought.

I used the Carfax service, which checks a vehicle identification number against public motor vehicle records to generate a history for a car. The report shows the number of previous owners, where the car has been titled and any service records automobile dealers submitted to Carfax. It’s a handy e-commerce site for car shoppers. Many dealers provide a free Carfax report, but I was in negotiations with a private seller. If I wanted to use Carfax, I had to pay. For $44.99 I bought access to five vehicle reports, realizing I might evaluate several cars before making a decision.  And I did it all on my smartphone.

However, I hesitated to do so because Carfax does not offer a mobile commerce site or app. The only app it offers is for dealers. Without an app or mobile-optimized web site that meant accessing Carfax’s e-commerce site on my iPhone. Let’s just say it worked and I was able to generate a report for the Civic, but it wasn’t the smartphone-friendliest of sites.

One reason is that the e-commerce site has to be shrunk to fit on the iPhone screen. I had to zoom in to find the log-in button. Then, of course, came typing my user credentials. But the most tedious aspect had to be typing in the 17-digit string of numbers and letters that constitute a vehicle identification number. Immediately upon seeing the box for the VIN I looked for a button that would activate the phone’s camera to scan the VIN. The dealer app, which requires a dealer account, enables scanning. Carfax’s competitor, AutoCheck, also has a dealer-only app with this feature. But not the Carfax e-commerce site. Ask someone who’s had to type in a string of numbers and letters via a smartphone, switching back and forth between the alphabetical and numerical keyboards. OK, so it didn’t kill me.

As it turned out, I needed only one report. I received what I paid for: reassurance. The Civic had a clean title with no accidents and verified low mileage.

Offering a consumer a mobile app that could scan VINs would be an asset and improve the mobile experience for Carfax users. That said, the lack of an app or mobile-optimized web site did not deter me from using my smartphone to conduct commerce. My motivation to lock in the deal outweighed the inconveniences along the way. 

 

Comments | 2 Responses

  • We hear ya, and a consumer CARFAX app and mobile site are both in the final stages of development and testing. Dealers love our app we built for them, and that great functionality is headed to consumers soon. Just scan the VIN and up pops the CARFAX report right on your phone. Simple! -CAR FOX

  • Great. Let me know when it's ready. Thanks. Kevin Woodward

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