How to buy a car online

March 26, 2021 by

If you need a new car but are nervous about visiting a dealership, this advice guide covers everything you need to know – from the practicalities of buying from online retailers to your rights and protections as a consumer.

Where can I buy a car online?

More and more car manufacturers are starting their own online sales platforms for new cars — taking the hassle out of having to visit a dealership and letting you order a car from the comfort of the sofa, bed or even toilet seat if you fancy. You’re spoilt for choice nowadays — Dacia, Hyundai, Land Rover, Peugeot, Renault Vauxhall and Volvo are just a handful of the growing numbers of brands that will let you buy a car through their own website.

Exactly what you can do does vary a bit depending on the brand, though. For example, Vauxhall only lets you take out a Personal Contract Purchase deal on the cars it has in stock, while ordering a Dacia means you can pick between monthly financing or a single, one-off, outright payment to own the car. If you want to trade in your current car towards the price of a new vehicle, some platforms will also have a calculator to see its part-exchange value — based on the car’s age, mileage and condition.

It’s not just manufacturers directly that are getting in on the online sales market, many dealerships are starting to offer them as well. This is largely as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, which has forced many to close up for physical sales. The government has clarified that dealers can sell and deliver cars under current lockdown rules though, as long as they follow guidelines to ensure the health and safety of both employees who are unable to work from home and their customers.

A common solution adopted by dealers has been to mimic supermarket ‘click and collect’ services, allowing customers to come and pick a car up themselves after completing a purchase online. Many offer home delivery as well.

Buying a car through carwow

We’ve been selling cars online for years. It’s what we do! Our unbiased reviews help you find the right car for you.

Unlike visiting a manufacturer or dealer’s website, you can pick and choose through hundreds of models from pretty much any car maker on carwow — configured to your liking. Dealers will then come to you with their best offers through your carwow account, so you don’t have to worry about haggling for the best price on your next car.

You’ll see all your offers in one place, rather than having to cross shop across multiple dealerships and manufacturers sites, manually keeping track of all your prices and getting lost in a sea of notes or phone calls to haggle prices.

When you get an offer through carwow, you’re also informed of which dealers are offering collection or home delivery options to help you streamline the car buying experience too. If you want a further look before going ahead with a purchase, many of our trusted dealers also offer video calls to walk around of the car you want to buy.

Once you find the right car for you, you’ll buy it directly from the dealership who can take your details, sort finance if that’s how you’re deciding to buy your car and take any deposits remotely — so all you have to do is kick back and relax.

Is buying a car online safe?

Don’t worry, buying a car remotely is completely safe. In fact, it comes with extra protections over buying a car from a dealership.

Under UK law, if you buy a car 100% remotely, you’re covered by the Consumer Contracts Regulations. This includes online, or over the phone.

Most notably of these is a right to cancel your order, without question, within 14 days of receiving it with a full refund issued. You wouldn’t get this if you bought the car from the dealer in person.

You can only benefit from this if you haven’t stepped foot in the retailer, though. If you’ve been there to pay a deposit or fill in any paperwork, you won’t be guaranteed a full refund — rather, you’ll be bound by the terms and conditions set by the dealership.

On top of that, you could be restricted by how many miles you can cover in that time. Again, this will be covered in your terms and conditions, so have a flick through before committing to anything.

If you buy a car through carwow, you’ll be able to see which dealerships are offering services like remote electronic signing of paperwork over email rather than in person. You’ll see these in your offers, so don’t worry about having to commit to a purchase before finding out.

What kinds of new cars can I buy online?

Depending on the vehicles the retailer is able to sell you, you’ll be able to buy one of up to three types of car online:

Built to order
Just as it says on the tin, these are brand-new cars that have been built for you to the exact specification you’ve asked for it in. This takes longer than buying cars already in stock do, particularly so at the moment with a worldwide shortage or components as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Build your factory order car

Dealer stock

Dealer stock cars are brand-new vehicles that are pretty much available immediately. These are already built and ready to go from a storage depot, but it does mean configurations are at the mercy of manufacturers — meaning you might not find every option you want ticked. Specific paints may be a little harder to come across, too.

You will be the car’s first registered owner when you collect it, as dealer stock cars aren’t registered until after they’re ordered by the retailer.

Nearly new/pre-registration

As you may have guessed, nearly-new cars are cars that have been slightly used but not as a customer vehicle. These are generally pre-registered, and are often used as a test drive demonstrator so they’ll have a few miles on them.

This does mean you won’t be able to change the spec, and you’ll be the second registered owner of the car, but they do tend to be more affordable than dealer stock or brand-new cars.

If you’re buying through carwow, you’ll be able to see nearly-new/pre-registered cars among your offers if you wish.

Next steps

Configure you next car
See the latest new car deals
Compare cars

Consumer Contracts Regulations

The Consumer Contracts Regulations are an important behind-the-scenes part of distance car buying. Below, you’ll find out how these rules affect you when you’re buying a car without visiting a dealership.

What are the Consumer Contracts Regulations?

The Consumer Contracts Regulations are rules that dictate how much information you’re provided with when you’re shopping around for a product, and what rights you’re entitled to. This is especially important with a brand-new car, as it will almost certainly be one of the most expensive purchases you’ll ever make — perhaps just coming second to your house.

What consumer protections do I have?

As well as guarantees on the info you’re provided (like the car’s features and its price including taxes), the Consumer Contracts Regulations also give you a temporary cooling-off period if you change your mind if you buy a car remotely – typically online or over the phone.

Under these rules, you’re able to cancel your order with no questions asked from the moment the order is placed, up to 14 days after you receive the car you’ve purchased. The guidelines also allow the deposit you placed when ordering the car to be refunded. However, while some car dealers are offering full deposit refunds, the exact amount you’re entitled to get back will depend on the terms and conditions of the contract you signed — so it’s worth having a flick through them.

The Consumer Contracts Regulations also allow the trader to recover some of the costs if you’ve used the car “beyond what is necessary” – if you’ve racked up loads of miles on it by driving it with no destination within a 14-day period before you decide to return it, for example. There may also be additional charges if you arrange for the car to be collected from your home address, rather than you visiting the dealer and handing over the car in person.

Do these protections apply if I’ve bought a car in a dealership?

While you’re still entitled to being properly informed about the car before you purchase it, you’re only able to benefit from that cooling-off period law if you buy the car 100% remotely. If you pay for the car at the dealership, it’s recognised under the regulations as an “on-premises contract”, rather than an “off-premises contract”, so the order cancellation and refund options don’t apply.

In fact, you lose the right to any of those entitlements if you visit the dealership at any stage of the car-buying process. This includes signing the necessary paperwork, paying the deposit and even collecting the car from the showroom premises.

My consumer rights when buying a new car

A new car will be one of the most expensive things you’ll ever buy, so it’s important that you’re covered if things go a bit wrong. Here’s carwow’s guide on some of the protections you’ll have when you’re buying your next new car.

What happens if I buy a car that’s faulty?

If the car you’ve bought develops a fault within the first 30 days of ownership, you are entitled to return the car to the dealer and receive a full refund under the Consumer Rights Act. However, it’s best you should only push for the refund if there’s a major fault with the car, as the dealership are likely to be able to sort out any minor issues under the car’s warranty.

You also have some protections after those 30 days are up. While you won’t be automatically entitled to a refund, you can ask the dealer to either repair or replace your car if it develops a fault within the first six months of ownership. If the dealer can’t repair or replace it, you can then ask for a refund, or have a price reduction if you decide you want to keep the car despite the issue.

It’s still possible to have your car repaired or replaced after those six months, but only if you can prove the car was sold to you as faulty. That said, you may be able to have your car repaired by the dealer under the manufacturer’s warranty. While the exact terms vary between car makers, it should cover parts on a car that don’t wear out with general use – for example, it’s unlikely to cover replacement windscreen wipers, brake pads and tyres under warranty.

What can I do if my car is delayed?

While you’re well protected in the event that your new car doesn’t work as advertised, this isn’t the case for postponement of its delivery. As the possible reasons for this (such as production problems and shipping delays) are generally outside of the retailer’s control, there’s very little you can do to hold them to account.

What you are able to do will depend on the terms and conditions of the contract you signed – for instance, if the paperwork explicitly says your new car will be delivered in a timely manner, you may be eligible for some compensation. While they’re not legally obligated to do this, the dealer or the customer services department at your new car’s manufacturer may be able to offer you a goodwill gesture to make up for the inconvenience too.

Do I have any protections if I buy a car with a credit card?

If you do opt to buy a new car with a credit card, you will have an extra layer of protection, in the form of Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. In simple terms, it means the credit card company is just as liable as the retailer for providing you with what you bought – which is ideal if, for example, the dealer you’re buying the car from goes bust before it’s delivered.

In order to make a Section 75 claim, you will need to have spent at least £100 and no more than £30,000 on your credit card. As the legislation covers the value of the car you’re buying, rather than how much credit you used, it also means you’ll be recompensed even if you only used the credit card to pay for the car’s deposit.

It’s not all rosy with buying cars on credit, though. Depending on the dealer you’re buying a car from, you may be limited on how much you’ll be able to pay using a credit card. The credit limit on your card is also something you’ll need to consider, as will the interest repayments – depending on your card provider’s interest rates, a bank loan or a finance agreement may work out more affordable.

What happens if the dealership goes bankrupt before I get my new car?

If the dealership goes out of business and ceases trading after you’ve paid your deposit but before you get your car, your options are limited – there will be a whole line of creditors ahead of you in the queue to try and get their money back.

Still, the threat of dealerships closing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic has receded a bit because of the furlough scheme. But, if you pay as much of the deposit as you can with a credit card, you’ll have that Section 75 protection, as described above.

See new cars available for immediate delivery