Why Do Websites Show So Many Cars That Aren’t Available?

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Image: Hyundai

As Jalopnik’s resident car-buying expert and a professional car shopper, I get emails. Lots of emails. I’ve picked a few of your questions and will try to help out. This week we are discussing why it’s hard to find accurate information for dealer inventory and how to evaluate a unique trade-in situation.


First up, why do so many inventory websites show cars that are either sold or not available?

“I understand that dealers have unusually low inventory right now due to the chip storage, transportation issues, etc. My question though is why the dealer websites and the manufacturers’ US websites are so often wrong about the inventory on dealer lots. One would think that they are all using software that can track when cars arrive and when they get sold.

I’m asking because I’d really like to take a Tucson Hybrid for a test drive, but it’s hard to do when websites that say the cars are available end up being wrong.”

Figuring out which dealers have the inventory you want in stock has become a challenge. Often what happens is a customer sees a car online, calls the dealer to confirm that it’s there, only to be told that the unit is gone. Of course, this begs the question – Why was the car still posted for sale? The answer has to do with how inventory is usually listed on dealer websites and third-party sites like Autotrader, etc…Typically there is an automated process, and when the factory has a car “in transit” to a dealership that listing will populate on the dealer’s website. Most dealers are linking their inventory to the third-party sites and therefore that same unit will get cross-listed elsewhere. What is happening now is that many of these cars that are on the way have already been sold to a waiting customer. However, the autogenerated listings can’t accommodate for that, and the listing isn’t usually pulled until the deal has officially closed. This is why I recommend that customers always call the dealer to confirm the availability of something before they take the drive to the showroom.

Next, how do you determine an accurate value on a car with higher miles on the body but a new motor?

“We have a 2014 Santa Fe Sport with the 2.4 GDi and fairly well loaded with Power Drivers seat heated front seats, leather, we have a aftermarket tow hitch on it, remote start, power locks, awd, tow assist, cargo tray…Now the odd ball part the engine is brand new (replaced under warranty) with less then a 1000 miles on so far …the body has about 98k on it …it has some cosmetic issues of course on the interior but is mechanically sound otherwise…how would we get a fair idea of trade in value for it?”

This one is tricky because, frankly, a dealer probably isn’t going to give you any kind of premium due to the fact that the motor is essentially new. If they take that car on a trade they need to market it at a price that is competitive with other cars with similar miles or they won’t get as many leads. However, a private buyer might pay a bit more knowing that the engine will have a lot more life in it compared to similar cars. You would want to see what other 2014 Santa Fes with about the same mileage are selling for and perhaps market your car slightly above that. Another possibility to get the most “value” out of your new motor is to hang onto it for a bit longer.

Got a car buying conundrum that you need some assistance with? Email me at!

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