How to buy a car online

Buying a car remotely may have once felt like a daunting process, but times have changed. Researching, viewing and paying for a car online has never been so easy.

Buying a car remotely may have once felt like a daunting process, but times have changed. Researching, viewing and paying for a car online has never been so easy.

Alex Hasty
Insurance expert
minute read
Do you know someone who could benefit from this article?

How to buy a new car online

For the best way to buy a brand-new car online, follow these steps:

  • Find the perfect car: Chances are you’ll find a detailed test-drive video and information about fuel consumption, boot space or any other queries you might have online. Make sure you digest it all thoroughly before clicking ‘buy’.
  • Decide on a budget: It may sound obvious, but you should pay close attention to costs while you search for your ideal car. Do you really need that heated steering wheel? Could you go for a cheaper trim? Your add-ons might just tip the price of your car over the threshold for a plug-in car grant or make financing a deal more difficult.
  • Sort your finances: Will you go for a hire purchase, personal loan, or Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) deal? The choice is yours and doesn’t end there, you could try a part exchange or even buying your car outright. Make sure you explore all your car finance options with your seller.
  • Research your retailer: Take time to research the dealership or website that you plan on buying the car from. Always look out for online reviews and check to see if the vehicle manufacturer lists the seller on its website. Some manufacturers will also sell direct, so it could be worth comparing deals for a new vehicle.

How to buy a used car online

The best way to buy a used car online includes all the steps above plus a few more crucial tips:

  • Check the car’s condition: Used cars may have deteriorated through wear and tear, so you should ask your seller if there’s any damage to the paintwork or workings of the vehicle. You might be able to arrange a video viewing to let the seller show you around the car in real time.
  • Check the car’s history: You can use the government website to check the car’s MOT history for free, where things like mileage and MOT fails are recorded, using the vehicle’s registration number.

    You can ask the seller or pay for a vehicle check yourself through a variety of online services such as AA car check, RAC Vehicle History Check, Experian AutoCheck or similar. These types of services will tell you if a car has previously been written off, stolen or if there’s any outstanding car finance, some may even tell if there are any mileage discrepancies or supply a valuation for the model.

What are my consumer rights when buying a car online?

If you’re buying a new or used car from a dealer, you’ll be protected by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which gives you the right to reject a faulty vehicle within 30 days of purchase with a full refund.

Online consumer protection also gives you the option to return a purchase within 14 days, with no questions asked. However, there may be some charges involved, or clauses that state you must not exceed a certain mileage for a hassle-free return.

Is it better to have a car delivered to my home or to collect it from a showroom?

That’s up to you. Many manufacturers and dealerships offer contactless car deliveries to minimise contact between you and the seller and make the process as hygienic as possible.

Vehicles are sanitised inside and out before keys are dropped off at an agreed address. Some retailers even provide handover videos to walk you through the car’s controls and features, and all the necessary paperwork can be delivered electronically or by post.

Of course, you might prefer to make the trip to a dealership and pick up the keys and documents in person.

Can I check the history of a used car when buying online?

Yes, you can. There are online vehicle checking services that can tell you if a car has been written off, stolen or if there’s any outstanding finance on it.

Some providers will give you the choice of a one-off check or, for a little more money, you can check a set number of vehicles in a fixed timeframe – such as a couple of months. This means if you decide not to purchase your first option, the subsequent cars you research won’t cost as much to check.

Alternatively, you can ask the seller of a car if they’ve already used AutoCheck and have a vehicle history available.

Some car-check providers will also offer a vehicle inspection service for a car you are considering buying. This can help you be sure that there aren’t any serious mechanical or structural problems with the car. The car will be road tested for you by their mechanic, if you can’t be there to do this yourself. This kind of check will add to the overall cost of the vehicle, but it may save you money in the long term. Remember, they will only pick up faults that show up that day.

How do video viewings work?

Some sellers will be happy to arrange a video viewing of a new or used car to save you making a journey. You might be able to book a viewing online or make a special request with a seller.

Viewings work like a normal video call on a mobile phone or tablet, and give you the chance to check the inside and outside of a car while you ask any questions that you might have.

What types of cars can you buy online?

You can find all sorts of cars available to buy online: SUVs, hatchbacks, superminis, even electric cars.

New car options include built-to-order models directly from the manufacturer; ready-to-go models or ‘dealer stock’, where you’re limited to the cars available from a retailer; and ‘nearly new’ cars that may have been used for test drives only.

You can also find deals for used cars online, together with other types of vehicles including vans, motorbikes and more.

What are the pros and cons of buying a car online?

One of the greatest benefits of buying your car online is the time and effort you’ll save on travelling to different sellers. A digital search can save a lot of leg work and allow you to choose from cars further from home, which you might be less likely to consider otherwise. It’s also easier to compare the costs of models from sellers in different parts of the country where prices may vary.

The main disadvantage of buying a car online is not being able to see it in person or take it for a test drive. Although virtual viewings can help answer questions you might have about a specific car, nothing quite replicates getting behind the wheel yourself.

Frequently asked questions

Is it safe to buy a car online?

Buying a car online with a reputable dealer or manufacturer is surprisingly safe. You have the option to return a car within 14 days as part of your consumer rights, and can choose to make a purchase using a credit card for an extra layer of security.

You can carry out all your research on the dealer and the model you’re buying completely remotely too. The whole process, including payment, is trustworthy and growing in popularity.

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

All online purchases come with a 14-day ‘cooling-off’ period, which you can use to decide if you want to keep your new car.

However, you should check the small print on your contract to see if there are any fees involved. Most sellers will set a mileage limit so that you don’t return an almost brand-new car that can only be sold again as a used model.

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 might be asked to provide detailed photos to get an accurate valuation and can expect a few questions too. The virtual appraisal process takes a little more effort but should ensure you get a fair price for your car.

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

Dealers don’t expect to make every sale an outright purchase and many of them will offer finance deals online to help you spread the cost of payments.

Find out more about your car finance options.

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

That depends on your circumstances. Buying with a credit card does offer an extra layer of protection, because credit card companies are just as liable as the dealer to provide you with the goods you’ve agreed to buy.

You’ll need to pay at least £100 and no more than £30,000 of the cost of your car on the credit card and keep up with monthly payments.

However, there are some things to bear in mind. Some dealers can charge a card handling fee of up to 3%, while others might not accept credit cards at all. You should, of course, consider your card limit and its interest rate too.

You might want to look at other finance options, or the possibility of using your credit card to part-buy your new car instead.

Can I buy a car online with bad credit?

It might be more difficult to find 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 help you with tips for building your credit score.

Remember, arranging a deal and meeting all the required payments on time and in full could also improve your credit rating.

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

The best way is to look for online reviews. Websites like TrustPilot are useful for scoring dealers and collating customer comments. You can also try searching for the dealer through the vehicle manufacturer’s website.

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 they should be happy to provide you with any details you’d like.

Looking for a quote?

Compare quotes with us today and see if you can start saving.

Get a quote
Compare car insurance Get a quote