How to buy a car online

Want to order your next car from the comfort of your home? Find out how to buy a car online with the benefit of a money-back guarantee

By BuyaCar team

Fed up with travelling to dealerships to look at lots of similar cars and would rather order one from the comfort of your home? Buying a car online is getting increasingly easy with more and more ways to purchase a car from home and have it delivered to your door.

Whether you're short of time, looking to avoid pushy sales staff or simply can't face trudging around showrooms, the online car buying process ensures that you can browse through thousands of cars online and find your ideal car from the comfort of your own sofa - and even have it delivered to your door.

That's reason enough to buy online for many drivers but there are other significant benefits too. You can compare savings from across the country and be sure that you've chosen the best deal available.

Furthermore, you’ll often benefit from fixed prices, so you can completely avoid the stress of trying to haggle with a salesperson who’s trying to get the greatest possible commission. It's quick too: you can find and order your car and, in some cases, apply for car finance in as little as 30 minutes. 

The big difference with ordering a car online is that in many cases you won't be able to see the car before it arrives on your doorstep.

This may be a concern, but with most large online car buying websites, all of the cars meet age, mileage and condition standards and come from trusted dealers. They also typically include a minimum amount of warranty and potentially remaining MOT cover (for cars over three years old) and a minimum amount of time until the next service is due.

This arrangement means that an online car purchase is classed as distance selling, so you also have 14 days from the date of delivery to return the car to the seller for a refund.

So, in the unlikely event that the car isn't as described or you decide that you don't want it, you're entitled to get your money back, subject to fair-use restrictions. Be aware that if there are no faults with the vehicle, you may have to pay towards costs including collection of the car.

A number of companies that sell cars online offer more thorough cover than this in the form of 'no quibble' money-back guarantees, where you shouldn't need to provide any reason to return the car.

With these, you are able to return the car in a specified period of time for a full refund, and shouldn't have to pay anything at all, provided you haven't caused any damage to the vehicle and have only covered a handful of miles.

How to buy a car online: money back guarantee

The money-back guarantee that applies to distance selling is a huge safety net for online buyers. If you feel that the car isn't how you expected within this period, you can hand it back and have your money back, without having to provide a reason.

This should be a long enough period to give the car a thorough going over to make sure that you're happy with it and that it suits your needs: checking that the kids' child seats fit easily, for instance, that you can get comfortable behind the wheel and that any bulky luggage that you have to regularly transport will fit in the boot.

The Consumer Contracts Regulations (2013) allow you to drive a reasonable distance within this time period to try out the car, and still receive a refund if you send the car back. Fair use policies apply, and if you go beyond a reasonable distance, the option to return the car may no longer be available. If you're looking to purchase online, therefore, it's worth clarifying exactly what is considered reasonable by the company you're purchasing from.

Some companies may set the distance at 30 miles - which is a lot longer than most dealer test drives would be - beyond which the option to return expires, or you may have to pay a fee if you drive the car more than this amount and then return it.

Check the specification of a car online

When choosing a car, it’s important to check that it is the right type of car for your needs and has all the features you want. Car manufacturers are always changing trim levels and the amount of equipment fitted as standard to each trim level. Individual cars may also have a number of optional extras added, so it's best to know exactly which features come with the cars you're considering - especially if certain features are must-haves for you.

This isn’t so much of a problem when you’re ordering a new car, but ensuring that a car has everything you want can seem like an enormous effort when buying used, especially if you can't see it in person. If you're buying a car online without seeing it in person, checking out the photos provided can be a good way to get a feel for what the interior and exterior are like and some of the equipment fitted to that specific car.

Every vehicle sold online should include a description and list of standard equipment, but you can always ask the retailer to double-check that a specific feature is included so you can be 100% sure the car has the kit you're after. It’s much wiser spending a bit of time checking that any car you’re considering ordering has all the essential features you’re after - whether that’s Bluetooth, a reversing camera or sat-nav - rather than ordering it, hoping for the best and then having to organise returning it and getting a refund.

Apply for car finance online

Although you can potentially complete the purchase of your car in the time it takes to drink a cup of tea, buying online means that you can take it at your own speed, too. This means that there is plenty of opportunity to look at prices for a variety of different models and compare car finance quotes before committing to anything. This helps you to be confident that the car you choose fits your needs and offers good value. 

If you’re opting for car finance, it’s important to consider which type of finance is right for you and getting like-for-like quotes for a number of different models, as monthly payments often don’t directly correlate to cash prices; it’s perfectly possible for a £20,000 car to cost more per month than a £30,000 equivalent - especially with PCP finance, where a car’s predicted value at the end of the contract has just as much impact on monthly payments as its initial price.

Once you’ve decided upon a type of finance, consider the interest rates available - reflected in the quoted APR figure - and whether a deposit contribution discount is available. The best way to compare finance costs is to get like-for-like quotes (with the same type of finance, deposit, contract length and mileage allowance), as you can then directly compare the monthly payments of the different options.

Some online car selling companies work with just one lender, while others work with a panel of lenders, so there should be an option to suit your circumstances. In many cases, you will be able to apply for finance online, so there should be no delay in securing your car and getting it delivered to you.

As with all finance products, your credit rating will have an impact on the finance offers that are available to you. If you have a very poor credit rating, for instance, with a history of missing a number of payments on several finance contracts, you’re unlikely to be able to access the very best deals. Consequently, if you’re looking to order a car online with finance, it’s worth doing your research into the car finance options before going to place an order.

How to buy a car online: arrange tax and insurance

Arranging your car insurance is easy, and little different to buying a car from a dealership. As always, it makes sense to get quotes before ordering your car to ensure that you've found a good deal and can afford the premium.

Once you’ve placed your order, you’ll be given the precise details needed to finalise quotes and sort out insurance, so that your insurance cover is ready to begin on your car's delivery date.

When this is done and your car arrives, you’ll be able to arrange 'VED' road tax. The V5C logbook, which is typically delivered with the car, has all the information you need to tax it. The process can be done within minutes online or on the phone.


How to buy a car online and have it delivered

Getting your new car delivered straight to your door certainly beats travelling across the country on a series of trains or buses to get to a showroom, then having to fill out lots of paperwork and then driving back to your home.

Most online car deliveries are made from Monday to Friday and you’ll usually be able to choose the day of your delivery. You’ll be given an estimated time of arrival and you should expect a courtesy call from your delivery driver when they are nearly at your door.

The cheapest way to get your car delivered is to have it driven to your address. There is also the more expensive option to have it brought to you on the back of a transporter in some cases.

If you’re purchasing through finance, your car will normally need to be delivered to the home address on the finance paperwork. Cash buyers, meanwhile, can choose to have the car delivered elsewhere - to a workplace, for example. 

If you’re part-exchanging your current car, it's sometimes possible for it to be picked up from your home address, potentially at the same time as your new car is delivered. This means that you don't have to worry about doing without a car for any period of time.

The differences between buying new and used cars online

There are typically three different ages of vehicle that are sold online, ranging from brand new models and pre-registered cars that are essentially new, but have been registered by a dealership to meet sales targets, up to those that are eight years old or potentially more in some cases.

New cars and pre-registered models

It's possible to order many new cars and have them delivered or to go for a new car in stock with a dealer that can be dropped off at your door. Models in stock are typically pre-registered cars that have already been built and are in the country. These are likely to be registered to a dealer, meaning that you will be classed as the second owner. However, as a result of these cars not technically being new any more, they are often available for many thousands of pounds less than brand new equivalents.

If a car has been pre-registered by a dealer, it will typically have less than 100 miles under its belt and will be ready for delivery. With such low mileage, these cars are practically as good as new, though the prices are likely to be a lot less than if you ordered a similar new car from the factory.

Nearly new cars

Nearly new cars are typically less than a year old and have already had an owner and been driven a small amount. Consequently, they are even more affordable than pre-registered models, though they will potentially have a little wear and tear.

Most won’t have been driven far - potentially only a couple of hundred miles in some cases or several thousand miles for older models - again giving you 99% of that new car feel for much less than the list price. They are also ready for delivery.

Used cars

Finally, there are used cars. Used cars vary from a year or two old to many decades old, but it's generally the ones up to eight years old or so that are widely available to order online and have delivered to your door. Used cars are the most affordable option as they will have already lost a substantial proportion of their original value, with cars typically losing value fastest when they're new, and the rate slowing down as they get older.

This means that if you're on a tighter budget or simply want the most car for your money, a used car could be for you. Most of the large online car sellers that offer used cars typically apply similar standards to newer models, with age, mileage and condition limits, helping used car buyers to feel confident to order one and have it delivered to their door.

Buying a car online: new and used car finance

All models - new or used - should be available with Hire Purchase finance, which spreads the cost of the car across a deposit and a series of monthly payments. After the final monthly payment, you take full ownership of the car. Newer models that are up to four years old are likely to be available with PCP finance, too, which offers lower monthly payments, although you'll need to pay a large, optional final payment - or refinance it - if you want to own the car at the end of the agreement.

With PCP you have the choice to hand the car back at the end of the contract with nothing left to pay - provided you've stuck to the pre-agreed mileage limit and kept the car in good condition - or you can make the optional final payment to buy the car outright.

Be aware that the optional final payment could be as much as half - or even more - of the car's price at the start of the contract, so if you intend to pay this, it's worth thinking about how you will fund it. Alternatively, you can refinance the optional final payment, paying for this with a new finance contract.

If you know that you want to own the car from the start of the contract, however, Hire Purchase may be a wiser idea, as you'd pay off the finance balance faster with this than PCP, meaning there's less interest to pay with a comparable contract of the same length.