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.