As with so many aspects of modern life, the internet has - or is in the process of - revolutionising the way we buy cars. As such, more Britons are buying new or used cars online than ever before.
A raft of websites selling new or used cars have appeared in recent years. They offer advantages over the traditional way of finding and buying a vehicle.
Covid-19 social distancing restrictions have made buying a car online even more popular in the last 18 months, because it minimises or eliminates the need for in-person contact.
You can browse cars online from the comfort of your own home. This means you don’t need to spend time visiting a dealership or private home and haggling over the price of a vehicle; they are generally all fixed price. And as mentioned, social distancing is built-in to the process.
When you buy online your car will be delivered to your home - in some cases within 72 hours. This makes it a convenient option. Some websites - such as Cazoo - also have pick-up locations if that is your preference.
The Covid-19 pandemic means many of us are concerned about safety and hygiene, making buying online a much better option compared to traipsing around dealerships for hours. Online car websites also maintain a strong focus on thoroughly sanitising cars before delivery, further enhancing peace of mind.
Buying online comes with the usual payment options - HP and PCP. Many UK buyers prefer one of these plans as they involve affordable monthly payments instead of paying one lump sum.
Many websites have hundreds of cars to choose from - offering a choice much greater than if you bought locally. They are also offered fully checked, MOT'd, and come with a warranty. Some sites will also let you return the car with an agreed period - usually 7 or 14 days - even if you simply don't like it.
Are there any drawbacks?
The key disadvantage to buying online is that you cannot test drive the car before you receive it. You also are not able to visually inspect the car - although the online photos or description should be accurate.
Spend time thinking about the kind of car you need on a practical level: passenger capacity, number of doors, boot space, running costs and reliability are some things to consider.
Read reviews and articles related to the car website you're thinking of buying from. You're making a sizable purchase so it's important to ensure the firm is reputable and reliable, and that it offers good customer service.
If you're buying a nearly new or used car, it's a good idea to get a Vehicle History Report, to help set your mind at ease that the car is in reasonable condition. A car’s full history can be accessed via one of many paid services, but you can get MOT history, mileage and whether a car has road tax free from the DVLA.
Buying a car outright is an expensive business. Finance options are a good alternative, resulting in manageable monthly payments. Of these, Hire Purchase (HP) and Personal Contract Plan (PCP) are most common.
With HP you pay a deposit, then make monthly payments usually of 12, 24, 36 or 48 months. Once you've paid off the agreed amount, you own the car outright.
With PCP you pay a deposit and then monthly payments which are considerably lower than with HP. However, there will be a "balloon payment" at the end. Once this final optional payment is made, you own the car. If you choose not to pay it, you hand the car back to the seller.
Buying online via HP or PCP essentially works in the same way as with a dealership. However, with lower overheads, the online seller may be able to offer a better price than a dealership.
Part exchange is available with many online car sellers, and will reduce the overall cost of buying a car.
Read the returns policy thoroughly. Make sure you understand under what conditions the car may be returned. For example, some websites let you return the car within seven days - simply because it doesn’t suit you. Others may only accept return if the car is not sold as described or suffers a fault. Naturally, the car must be in the same condition as when it was delivered.