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How to buy a car online

These days it’s as easy to buy a car online as it is to buy a book or T-shirt. But since a car is a far more expensive purchase, you’ll need to keep your wits about you. Here’s what to look out for when buying cars online.


These days it’s as easy to buy a car online as it is to buy a book or T-shirt. But since a car is a far more expensive purchase, you’ll need to keep your wits about you. Here’s what to look out for when buying cars online.


Written by
Julie Daniels
Motor insurance expert
Last Updated
5 min read
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How to buy a new car online

Most vehicle manufacturers will let you buy a car online and the process is pretty simple.

You choose the model to your own specifications, then the manufacturer will have it delivered to your local dealership once it’s ready.

What are the disadvantages of buying a new car online?

As with anything, there can be disadvantages to buying your new car online.

  • There’s a risk you won’t like it - choosing your car’s spec remotely may be easier and more convenient, but there’s nothing like seeing a car in-person to make sure it’s exactly what you’re after.
  • There might be a long wait involved - ordering a new car online could mean a relatively long wait to have it delivered. You certainly won’t be driving it away from the showroom that day.
  • You can’t see or test drive it - you won’t be able to physically inspect or see the real condition of the car you’re buying. You also won’t be able to test drive it.

What are the advantages of buying a used car online?

You’re likely to have more choice if you buy a used car online. You may also have more chance of finding a bargain.

Buying a used car online is likely to be cheaper, especially if you can buy directly from the seller and avoid the dealer’s mark-up.

What are the disadvantages of buying a used car online?

You won’t be able to physically inspect or see the real condition of the used car that you’re buying, and you also won’t be able to test drive the car.

What should I look for when buying a used car online?

When you’re buying a car online, you’ll need to do your due diligence.

Do your research

It pays to do your research so you know exactly how much you should be paying for your chosen make and model. Prices will vary depending on a number of factors, including the year of manufacture (as with wine, some are considered better than others). Once you know how much a car should cost, you’ll be better placed to spot a good deal.

Check the car’s history

You can use the government’s website to check the car’s MOT history. Simply type in the car’s registration number and you’ll be able to see its mileage and whether it passed its MOTs.

Other online services can tell you about the car’s history, for example, if it was previously written off, stolen or if there’s any outstanding car finance on it. Some could even tell you if there are mileage discrepancies or give you a valuation.

Look outside your local area

Depending on where you live, it could be worth travelling to find a bargain. Second-hand cars, like most everything else, are generally more expensive in London and the South East, so it’s worth looking outside those areas to see if you can get a deal.

Be prepared to negotiate

It’s always pays to try to haggle on a used car, whether you’re buying from a dealership or an individual. Most prices are set with some wiggle room in mind, so try offering 10% less than the asking price, especially if you’re paying in cash.

What are my consumer rights when buying a car online?

When you buy a new or used car from a dealer, you’re protected by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This gives you the right to send back a faulty car within 30 days and get a full refund.

Online consumer protection also allows you to return any purchase within 14 days, no questions asked. But you may find that there are certain charges or clauses, so be sure to read the small print.

When I buy a car online, can I check its history?

Yes, you can. Some companies offer a one-off check or, for a little more money, you can check a certain number of vehicles during a set time period. That way, if you don’t buy the first car, it won’t cost you as much to check other models.

You can also ask the seller if they’ve used AutoCheck and have a vehicle history available.

Some car-check providers offer a vehicle inspection service, so you can make sure the car doesn’t have any serious mechanical or structural problems. Their mechanic will even road test the car if you can’t do this yourself. Naturally, this will add to the cost, but it might save you money in the long run. However, it’s worth remembering that they can only pick up faults that show up that day.

Frequently asked questions

Is it safe to buy a car online?

Although scams exist, buying a car online with a reputable dealer or manufacturer is surprisingly safe. Your consumer rights give you the right to return a car within 14 days, and buying on a credit card can give you extra security.

However, be sure to do your research on the dealer and model you’re buying.

Can I return a car that I’ve bought online?

Anything you buy online comes with a 14-day ‘cooling-off’ period, during which you’re allowed to change your mind without charge.

But you’ll want to check the small print. Most sellers will set a mileage limit to make sure you don’t return an almost brand-new car they have to sell as used.

Can I use a part exchange to buy a car online?

Some dealers will let you part-exchange your old car online to save money on your new vehicle.

You can expect a few questions about your current car and might be asked to provide detailed photos.

Can I use a finance agreement to buy a car online?

Many dealers now offer finance deals online to help you spread the cost of payments.

Find out more about finance options

Is it better to buy a car online using a credit card?

Paying by credit card can give you some extra protection, if something goes wrong – for example, the car doesn’t arrive, or is damaged or faulty. But this isn’t guaranteed and depends on the individual circumstances as well as the terms and conditions of your credit card provider and the Mastercard, Visa or American Express scheme rules.

Bear in mind that some dealers charge a handling fee for credit cards while others might not accept them at all. And, of course, you’ll need to consider your card’s limit and interest rate.

It may be worth looking at other finance options or using your credit card to part-buy your new car instead.

Can I buy a car online with bad credit?

You may find it more difficult to get a car finance deal with bad credit. But we can help you compare car loans and finance packages to find the right deal for you.

We can also offer tips for building your credit score.

How do I know if a dealership or website is trustworthy?

It’s worth searching the seller or dealer to see if it brings up any negative feedback. You could also visit websites like Trustpilot to see what other customers have to say.

And it’s worth checking the manufacturer’s website to see if the dealer is listed.

Can I ask the dealership/website for a vehicle history report?

Of course. Some car retailers use vehicle-check services to get a service history and are happy to provide you with details.

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Julie Daniels - motor insurance comparison expert

Julie is passionate about delivering a great customer experience and rewarding people for saving on their insurance through our loyalty and rewards programme. She’s spoken to the media, including outlets like Sky News and Capital FM, about car and home insurance, as well as our rewards scheme.

Learn more about Julie