Online car buying services have gained a reputation as a hassle-free way to sell your car, but will you get a fair price for it?
3 April 2017

Planning to sell your car?

You could put it on eBay, park it on the side of the road with a ‘for sale’ sticker in the window, advertise it in the classifieds – or sell it to an online car buying company such as webuyanycar.com.

Like its competitors, WBAC, as it’s known, claims to be a hassle-free way to dispose of your car. You go on its website, describe the vehicle and its condition and it generates an offer price. Following a physical inspection of the car by a company representative, this price is agreed or revised. If both sides are happy, WBAC buys your car and you get the bus home, a few quid richer.

Business is booming. In the year ending March 2016, WBAC bought 172,000 cars, up 15% on the previous year. However, back in 2011, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) took action against WBAC after it found that nearly 96% of customers who sold their car to the company received less for their vehicle than the company’s original website valuation, sometimes by hundreds of pounds.

It said consumers had been given the impression they would be paid the online valuation if the company’s on-site inspection of the car matched the condition entered by the seller online. Once at the appointment, though, some customers found that other factors, including ‘market conditions’, forced a reduction in the price.

The OFT also found that vehicle inspectors were set targets regarding the purchase of vehicles, sometimes to reduce the valuation offered by up to 25%. WBAC’s directors promised to address the concerns raised in the OFT’s report.

To test the fairness of the online valuations the company gives today, I offered WBAC my 49,300-mile, 2012/12 Peugeot 107 Allure. First, though, I asked CAP, the used car experts, to value it unseen. Taking into account what I described as mildly kerbed wheels and a light scratch on the body, it suggested a ‘CAP average’ value of £2325. By coincidence, seven days before, I had the Peugeot inspected and valued as a prospective part-exchange by a Hyundai dealer. It valued the car at £2150 without including any part-exchange allowance, having already discounted to the maximum the new Hyundai I was considering buying from them.

So armed, I visited WBAC’s website for its guide valuation. Without me revealing the car’s scuffs, it generated a guide price of £2285. When I then updated the system with the damage, it revised the price to £2185.

Next, and without explaining the true purpose of my visit, I booked an appointment to have the car properly valued. Accordingly, a day or so later, I drove the Peugeot to my local WBAC inspection centre, where I met one of the company’s inspectors. He took me to his office to go through the Peugeot’s paperwork. He confirmed WBAC’s opening offer price of £2285 but had no record of the lower £2185 guide price that took into account the scratch and the kerbed wheels.

Leafing through the Peugeot’s booklets and V5, he spotted that the car had had three previous owners and not two as I’d mistakenly recorded online. He checked the service history and my ID, and then we trooped out to the car.

It was raining, so the inspector whipped out a cloth and wiped down each panel as he went, checking for body repairs with a paint depth gauge. He pointed out a few light paint chips on the door edges, the bonnet, the front bumper and one on the passenger side A-pillar. He also noted the kerbed wheels (the worst offender was the front nearside; the others were very lightly marked). He started the car, checked the controls and looked around the interior, before declaring his inspection complete. Back in his office he entered his condition report into WBAC’s online calculator, which generated a final offer price of £1706.37. This was £478.63 less than WBAC’s original online guide price of £2185 for my car with damage.

The inspector said the fact that the car had had three previous owners and not two, as I originally claimed, reduced its value by £220. On the other hand, that it had done 49,300 miles and not the 50,000 I’d rounded it up to online, had boosted its value by £10. The remaining £268.63 reduction was accounted for by the marks on the body and wheels. I thanked the inspector for his time and hurried away.

Back at my office, I asked WBAC how it could justify the difference between the two damage-related quotes. Richard Evans, head of technical services at webuyanycar.com, said: “WBAC guarantees to give the price quoted on the website if the vehicle is as described, but if issues come to light on inspection, then the price needs adjusting.

“Each car is different and each has a unique value. The price offered by different buyers will vary and it’s for this reason WBAC recommends motorists shop around to get the best price.”

I needed no further encouragement. At wewantanycar.com – the name is so similar I almost logged onto webuyanycar.com again – the system generated a guide price of £2810 for my car in showroom condition. I then used the company’s vehicle description tool and the offer fell to £2190. How much further would it drop once WWAC’s inspector saw the car?

I booked an inspection and, as requested, emailed pictures of the 107 ahead of it. However, within minutes, WWAC’s buyer telephoned to discuss the car in greater detail, before revising the company’s offer to £2070.

James Talbot, head of IT and marketing at WWAC, explained the £120 difference. “Our consumers use the valuation slider on the website to generate a proposed valuation,” he said. “This figure is verified at the physical inspection when a final ‘condition value’ is agreed.”

Finally, I offered my 107 to wizzle.co.uk. Instead of buying your car, Wizzle displays it to 1500 dealers and 3500 trade contacts who can bid for it.

I uploaded a description and photographs of the 107 and by return received a guide valuation of £2160. Then I sat back and waited for the bids to roll in. In the end, just two dealers offered to buy the car: the first for £2082, the second for £2150.

Seb Duval, CEO of Wizzle, said the service isn’t just about achieving a good price. “Because we get the customer to upload every detail about their car along with pictures, they’re giving a truthful description on which a realistic valuation can be based,” he explained. “Sellers can also suggest a price they’d like to get for their car. The point is that everyone knows where they stand from the outset.”

WBAC’s strong sales are evidence that there is a market for car buying companies, and as a quick source of cash, they are hard to beat. However, that convenience comes at a price, since car buying firms are scrupulous about accounting for every dent and scratch, not least because most sell cars on to the trade on very tight margins. For this reason, to save them wasting your time, you should describe your car in painstaking detail, leaving nothing to chance.

Personally, though, I’d rather try my luck in the private classifieds. In fact, that’s what I did; a couple of weeks after I wrote this story, I sold my Peugeot 107 privately for £2900 to the first person who called. That’s almost £1200 more than WBAC’s offer and £750 more than Wizzle’s, less the cost of the ad (£37). Happy days!

John Evans

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Comments
7

3 April 2017
Last time I tried to sell a car through the private classified ads was a Peugeot 205 in great condition. For two weeks all we got was dealers and other papers ringing us offering to advertise the car on our behalf!

Was that local newspaper, free newspaper, specialist car magazine or what for your successful sale?

3 April 2017
A very interesting story and pretty as expected despite the on TV where they always get more than they had been offered elsewhere.

Last time I tried to sell a car through the private classified ads was a Peugeot 205 in great condition. For two weeks all we got was dealers and other papers ringing us offering to advertise the car on our behalf!

Was that local newspaper, free newspaper, specialist car magazine or what for your successful sale?

289

3 April 2017
....is for lazy people, and they will pay dearly for their laziness.
If they have the money to burn, then its up to them, but lets not forget that if they are -say- £500 down, then they likely will have to earn £800 to cover that loss (net income tax).
Offering a come and get me price and then chipping 25% is one of the oldest tricks in the dealers book, what do people expect?
On the other hand (in defence of dealers), owners notoriously mis-describe their cars, overlooking countless blemish's (on the basis that it is a USED car), but co-incidentally not accepting ANY blemish's when buying!!! Paintwork is expensive and delays substantially the re-sale of the car, and used car selling is all about fast stock churn to make a profit.
Interestingly, it sounds as if none of the companies bothered to test drive the car!....you cannot tell the cars condition from 'starting the engine', all manner of expensive repairs could be uncovered by a test drive rendering the car a potential loss making exercise to the dealer.
The best method of sale is by putting in the legwork and selling privately through AT or similar, then you can control the buying process and any subsequent discounts. Sadly you have to get off your arse to do this and prep the car well for it to look its best.
Of course if you are a millionaire then go ahead and blow your brains to the advantage of others, but for most of us who have to make the most of what the Inland Revenue leaves us with after they have had their hands in our pockets, £5-600 is better off in our account.

3 April 2017
They do heavily knock down even the slightest of marks, as most of the stock ends up going through BCA anyway (parent company) so they want to buy them well below trade price from the book. I have tried a few times to get a valuation, last time it was for my Discovery, and they came back with an offer of £450 - before seeing it. Eventually sold it on a well know auction site for £1200.
If you have a car under 5 years old, mint condition, with a full history, then they are worth considering - for those of us with anything else, the old ways usually work the best, and at least you will get somewhere near the asking price.

3 April 2017
"Personally, though, I’d rather try my luck in the private classifieds. In fact, that’s what I did; a couple of weeks after I wrote this story, I sold my Peugeot 107 privately for £2900 to the first person who called. That’s almost £1200 more than WBAC’s offer and £750 more than Wizzle’s, less the cost of the ad (£37). Happy days!"...these companies are "bottom feeders" they exist by selling the car they bought from you at a "knock down price" for a tidy profit otherwise they would go bust..it's up to you to get out there and sell your own car as you are in effect paying someone else to do it for you.

4 April 2017
So they're bandits. Whoever would have thought it.

I don't need to put my name here, it's on the left

 

7 April 2017
I would say that you need to get onto a car buying or selling website that's reputable - meaning that there are more than enough people who are using the website to list their vehicles and that there is a support system I the backend that will help with any discrepancies between the potential buyer and seller. If you ask me, I'd much prefer transacting in person at a dealership where I can work out financing figures too, but the convenience of doing online is tempting sometimes!

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