Currently reading: How to buy a car during a pandemic
Dealerships are closed and we're stuck at home, so we go car shopping online
John Evans
News
5 mins read
19 April 2020

Until a few weeks ago, buying a car online appeared to offer one major advantage over physically buying it from a dealer: convenience. Now you can add one more: safeguarding your health. If you must buy a car at this time, doing so remotely has much to commend it.

Buying online has been around for years but is given extra prominence when, from time to time, a car maker or new player in the market launches its own platform, as Hyundai did in 2017 with Click to Buy. John Freel, one of its first customers, is full of praise for the new service. “I can’t be bothered going into showrooms and I don’t like being pressurised,” he says. “I did it at work when things were quieter and then thought: ‘Fine, I’m just going to go for it and click.’”

Convenience and lack of sales pressure: Freel put his finger on why buying a car online, directly from the manufacturers or via services such our sister brand What Car?’s New Car Buying, is popular. We could name a third reason: fixed, no-haggle prices.

Apparently, most people don’t like negotiating. I personally enjoy it and, in any case, you owe it to yourself to get the price best possible. As you chip away, you test the seller’s confidence in their prices and you may find all sorts of extras are thrown in. That said, it would take a pretty ruthless haggler to achieve some of the online savings we quote in our price comparison box on the opposite page.

All the same, as you would with a dealer, do shop around when buying online. Compare prices, including any additional fees and charges, before clicking. You wouldn’t be the first person to pay more for that fixed-price car than someone else.

The test drive

Freel also talked about convenience. It’s true that buying a car at work in the company’s time, or preferably at home in your own, is more convenient than trawling physical dealerships on a wet weekend. But aren’t we forgetting something here? That’s right: the test drive.

When buying new, you’re only establishing whether you like the model. With some online sellers who put you in touch with supplying dealers, a test drive should be possible to arrange. Alternatively (and it’s a bit cheeky), sort one with your local dealer. Either way, you’re going to have to leave your armchair.

Buying a used car online is a different matter. Unlike a new car, a used one is unique. You may not have the opportunity to drive or inspect it, so favour online sellers who are scrupulous about providing accurate descriptions of their cars, supported by detailed photographs. The cars should come from vetted dealers who abide by standards set out clearly by the online seller.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Find an Autocar review

Back to top

A word about your swapper…

Few of us buy a new car without having an older one to part-exchange. Fortunately, most online car sellers provide a vehicle valuation tool into which you enter your car’s registration, mileage and condition in return for a guide value. Don’t be surprised if the figure you’re quoted is low. The thing is, you’re getting a big discount on the new car, leaving nothing in the way of a part-exchange allowance on your old one. Don’t worry about that, though. What matters is the cost to change from one to the other and, when buying online, you should still be in a good position.

What you should worry about is being completely honest about your old car’s condition. If you said it’s like new but it turns out to be an old nail when it’s collected, the online seller will have to adjust the deal figures.

Know your rights – and your limitations

You may be surprised to learn that you have more rights buying online than when buying face to face in a dealership. They’re contained in the Consumer Contract Regulations (2013).

In addition to requiring the seller to give a detailed description of the car and a breakdown of charges and other costs, the regulations provide a cancellation period beginning the moment you place your order and ending 14 days after you receive the vehicle. During this time, you can return the car (or, more likely, have it collected), although the regulations say you have a further 14 days in which this can be done. Either way, you could be entitled to a full refund.

Full refund? Only if you satisfy the seller’s fair-use restrictions. You see, the 14-day period from delivery to cancellation isn’t a licence to treat the vehicle as a free hire car, since there will be limitations in terms of how many miles you can drive it (anything from 10 to 100 miles). Anything beyond these limits and the seller can refuse to take back the car.

If it’s a new car, the seller may be able to claim the car’s lost significant value and seek to claw some of it back from you. If you damage it, you’ll have to pay costs. If you’re returning it because it’s defective, there’s unlikely to be a collection charge, but if it’s because you simply don’t like it, there probably will be.

Finally, make sure you establish who your sales contract is with. Some online sellers are little more than an introducer who direct you to a supplying dealer to conclude the deal. This doesn’t necessarily affect your rights but could matter if there are disputes.

Don't forget your dealer

Back to top

Car dealers have their faults, but buying your next car from a good one is a chance to build relationships that can stand you in good stead for the future. Perhaps you’ll need a last-minute loan car, someone to fight your corner in a warranty claim or a mates’-rates deal next time around… They may be able to help.

To buy or not to buy online...

That is indeed the question, but as competition among online sellers hots up, so their standards are improving. Buying online currently looks like the safest way to acquire your next new or used car but, even when we’re out of this tight spot, it still looks appealing – at least for the time-poor and the shy and retiring.

Dos and don't when buying online

Do...

■ Compare sellers’ prices, charges, guarantees and warranties

■ Favour a seller who is clear and upfront at every stage of the buying process

■ Describe your part-exchange accurately

Don't...

■ Lower your guard just because buying online is convenient

■ Fit the process around other tasks but give it your full attention

■ Forget to check who your contract is with

READ MORE

Coronavirus: What motorists need to know 

Coronavirus and the car world: Audi, Daimler to restart production 

Vauxhall boss: coronavirus will change car buying for good

Join the debate

Comments
3
Add a comment…
rmcondo 19 April 2020

Here’s another idea. Unless

Here’s another idea. Unless it’s absolutely necessary right now, don’t buy a car.

si73 19 April 2020

I like looking at cars in

I like looking at cars in dealerships, actually getting hands on with them, used or new, if I am just being nosey and looking for looking sake, I tell the salesman straight that I am not buying, just looking, so as to not waste their time.
Peter Cavellini 19 April 2020

Video.

 I bought a used BMW from a dealer after a video walk round, the sales person showed me everything I needed to see inside and out, next week I had test drive in it, I found this way of buying simpler quicker.

Find an Autocar car review