Although there's room for improvement, the eBay Motors app outpaces any other mobile car-buying experience.

Although randomly stumbling across your next prized possession makes for a good story, it is never wise to count on serendipity. The eBay Motors app, a mobile tool for searching and bidding for autos on the popular auction website, revs up the process with a simple, yet useful, list of features.

Versions include a stand-alone app for the iPhone, which work on the iPad and iPod Touch, and an Android version built into the flagship eBay app. For this test, the Android version was used.

Driveways and backyards in your back pocket

Some apps provide so many options that it can be difficult to know where to begin, but eBay Motors gets straight to the point – search for a car or look for auto parts. You can initially break your car search down by make, model and year, and also add any relevant keywords, like color and style.

The classic car for this test was a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro, one of the most popular muscle cars of its or any other era. When connected to Wi-Fi or 3G, results popped up in three seconds or less, even when specifying a red convertible in the keywords (why not, right?). The main results screen shows pictures, make, model and year, pricing, number of bids and when the bidding ends. It may seem like a glut of information, but it's critical browsing info and it doesn’t crowd the screen.

Clicking on any of the generated results pulls up much more information, like the deposit amount, where the car is located, mileage, seller rating and how many bids have been placed. The descriptions page is the most entertaining of the lot, filled as it is with pictures – admittedly, of varying quality – of the searched vehicle. If the images are what you are after and nothing more, all the ancillary details can be bypassed. The app pulled relevant results, plus one car best described as "rust bucket" instead of "red convertible".

Room for a tune-up

While most of the information the app provides has its utility, you must navigate through three pages to arrive at the seller's description. And once there, a user might be confronted not with an informative description, but the seller’s own website. If a seller opts to cram their website into a space where a few hundred words should be, it renders the description feature largely useless.

The app has a cool feature where you can snap a picture of a car's backend, and it will find the car for you automatically. The app scans the shape of the car's rump and matches it with cars listed on eBay's website. It works about half the time, which isn't bad considering the fact that image recognition features for apps are still in their infancy. Image results took less than 10 seconds to load on a 3G connection.

The takeaway

Overall, the eBay Motors app is a great way to make a quick car search. The same collector cars you find on the eBay website pull straight to the app, as long as they're for sale. You can add cars to a watch list, input your car's information to search for auto parts, and access a fairly robust search feature. Signing in with your eBay account is painless, and you can bid on cars straight from the app. For those leery of buying a car through your phone, eBay's trusted system of buyer and seller ratings makes the process less scary.

As far as competition goes, there isn't much. The Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds and AutoTrader apps let you search for cars, but you can't buy them from the app. If you’re looking for new or used cars, as opposed to collectibles, you won't find expert reviews in the eBay Motors app though, like you would on the Edmunds app. Although there's room for improvement, the eBay Motors app outpaces any other mobile car-buying experience.