How to buy a car online

Not sure how to buy a car online? Read our step-by-step guide to get you through the process

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Advances in technology and the growing ease of home delivery has led to countless businesses moving online in recent times, and Covid-19 restrictions greatly accelerated this shift online for car selling and buying. The majority of manufacturers and dealers now make it simple to buy a new car online, with delivery straight to your doorstep. 

This raises some important questions, though. Do you have the same consumer protections when buying online? What happens if your car develops a fault? Is it risky to buy a car without seeing it beforehand? And can you still negotiate for a discount without heading to a dealership in person?

Thankfully, numerous retailers are now well-established online and are used to dealing with these kinds of issues and more. Better still, they can even get you the best model available at a price to rival or beat your local dealership – some even offer exclusive online trim levels and deals. Buying a car online might feel unnatural or risky if you’re used to going the traditional route, but it can be completely safe and hugely convenient when done correctly.

Elsewhere, some brands are now taking on the sales process themselves. One of the first was Tesla, whose electric vehicles can be bought and ordered in a handful of clicks. This includes everything from speccing the vehicle and adding options to payment and organising delivery. Currently, they’ll even let you return their cars for a no-questions-asked refund within seven days and with up to 1,000 miles driven. Now many other brands are following Tesla’s lead.

While we wouldn’t recommend ordering a car (especially an expensive one) without seeing it in the metal and taking it for a test drive first, it does at least show that the future of buying a car could look very different to what we’re used to. 

Know your rights when buying online

Fortunately, you're not going into an online car purchase without any backup from consumer organisations. If anything, it can actually be safer, as there are more protections in place when you make an online purchase than when you buy a car face-to-face.

While vehicles and other goods bought at retailers fall under the Consumer Rights Act, the Government has set out online consumer protection rules in the Consumer Contracts Regulations (2013). Chief among the legislation included in this is that there's a 14-day ‘cooling-off’ period, when a buyer can decide whether or not they want to keep the goods. Within the 14 days they can hand back the product with no questions asked. 

Some independent new car brokers already offer a 14-day return period on new and used cars and can even sort out delivery of your new car to your house. Finance can also be sorted online thanks to services like BuyaCar.co.uk, which is owned by Autovia, the company behind Auto Express. 

If you go with BuyaCar, once you've been approved and you've reserved your car, all you need to do is sign the documents as you would in a dealer showroom with proof of identity.

Then, simply confirm and complete your order form and you'll have your new car within 10 working days.

Car finance deals explained

After your purchase, you'll have that 14-day 'cooling off' period - which is useful, if a little limited. And if you do want to return a car, then you'll need to check the small print to ensure there are no extra costs to pay. Within the trial period, buyers are still liable for any damage and diminished value for the goods, and with a car that means the mileage would be taken into consideration. Manufacturers could also include clauses regarding mileage covered, because you'll essentially be returning a brand-new car that it will now only be able to sell as a used model.

Auto Express understands that online retailers allow a mileage limit of around 100 miles before charging for depreciation to stop buyers taking advantage of the rule. Any car, despite the mileage and condition, can be handed back after two weeks, but buyers will likely face penalty fees subject to the original agreement. Manufacturers will also have to be transparent about the trial period, because if buyers aren’t made aware of their rights, the trial period is extended to 12 months.

Q&A with Joanne Lezemore

Solicitor at www.consumer-genie.co.uk

We asked legal expert Joanne Lezemore about some of the finer points of the rules:

Q: Do the rules apply to both new and used cars bought online? 

A: “The law applies equally to both new and used cars. All goods sold have to be of satisfactory quality and be durable; this means that they should last a period of time that can be reasonably expected, and the quality of the goods takes into account the age of the goods and the price paid.”

How and where to buy a new car

Q: What if I’ve driven several hundred miles in two weeks. Can I still hand back the car? 

A: “Yes. However, the 14-day period exists only so that you can establish the nature, functioning and characteristics of the goods. If you go beyond that, the seller can claim the “diminished value” of the goods. This can include the loss of income to the trader that will be incurred as a result of having to sell a new car as second-hand.”

Q: What happens if I’ve bought the car online but collect it from a dealer? 

A: “If the contract was entered online, then the same rights apply. You still have 14 days to make up your mind. It doesn’t matter if you collected the car from a dealer.” 

What's best for you: leasing or buying a new car with cash? 

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