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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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If you’re looking to buy a car online then you’re better catered for than ever. The process of online car buying has become so much easier over recent years, but there’s still key information that you need to familiarise yourself with before purchasing your next car on the web. 

Buying and selling cars online has grown in popularity thanks to advances in technology and the expansion of home delivery services. The majority of manufacturers and dealers can now deliver a new or used car straight to your doorstep with just a few clicks of your mouse. 

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?

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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.

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One of the first was Tesla, whose electric vehicles can be bought and ordered in just a few simple steps. 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.

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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. 

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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. Whether it be on a finance plan or buying outright, this can be sorted online thanks to services like BuyaCar.co.uk, which is owned by Autovia, the company behind Auto Express. 

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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.

After your purchase, you'll have a 10-day money back guarantee 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.

Some dealers offer extended test drives, while manufacturers such as Genesis will even bring the car to your house with a ‘Genesis Personal Assistant’ to let you experience a drive on your local roads. Of course, you should expect some limitations placed on your test drive such as the amount of time available with the car, mileage and driver restrictions based on age or how long they’ve held their driving licence. 

Now read our full used car buying guide...

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Senior news reporter

A keen petrol-head, Alastair Crooks has a degree in journalism and worked as a car salesman for a variety of manufacturers before joining Auto Express in Spring 2019 as a Content Editor. Now, as our senior news reporter, his daily duties involve tracking down the latest news and writing reviews.

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