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?
Car makers are increasingly starting their own online car sales platforms. Dacia, Hyundai, Peugeot, Vauxhall and Volvo are some of a handful of car makers that let you buy a car through their own website. Expect other car brands to follow suit. Exactly what you can do varies from brand to brand. Vauxhall is currently offering just Personal Contract Hire deals on cars it has in stock, while with Volvo’s solution you can part-exchange your car and buy most of its range through the finance method that suits you.
Car dealerships are starting to offer online sales, too. The biggest issue they have faced recently is that they were unsure if they could legally deliver cars given the Government action for social distancing. However, the Government has clarified that dealers can sell and deliver cars as long as they follow guidance from Public Health England to protect both employees who cannot work from home and their customers’.
Some dealers are aiming to have supermarket style ‘click and collect’ areas, where customers can safely pick up their new car, though this isn’t quite as convenient as home delivery.
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.
And unlike visiting a manufacturer’s or dealer’s website, you can configure hundreds of models from virtually every car brand on carwow – and then get dealers to send their best offers to your carwow account without having to haggle. You will see this all in one place, rather than have to register different accounts with different dealers and manufacturers. You can email dealers through our platform and agree on a deal without meeting face to face and all from the comfort of your own sofa.
When you get offers through carwow, you’ll also be informed of which dealers are offering which options to streamline the process as we come out of lockdown. These include video calls with the retailer, to virtual walkarounds of the car you’re interested in, delivering the car to your home address and ensuring the car is cleaned and disinfected before it’s handed over to you.
If you choose to buy a car, you buy it directly from the dealership, who can take your details, sort finance and take any deposit money remotely.
Is buying a car online safe?
Under UK law, if you buy a car 100% ‘remotely’, you will be covered by the Consumer Contracts Regulations. In a nutshell, these rules give you extra protections when buying a car online or over the phone that you wouldn’t have if you bought a car at a dealership.
Perhaps the most notable right you have under these rules is the fact you can cancel your order, no questions asked, within 14 days of placing it and get a full refund. You don’t get this extra protection if you’d bought a car directly at the dealership.
However, you can only benefit from this as long as you never set foot in the retailer’s premises. If you went to the dealership to pay your deposit or fill in the paperwork, you won’t be entitled to a full refund, and you’ll need to check the terms and conditions to see what the repercussions are for cancelling an order.
And you may be restricted in how many miles you can drive if you wish to return the car within that 14-day period. Again, you need to check the paperwork as if you drive more than the maximum you may not get a full refund.
When you get offers from dealers through carwow, you can see which dealers are offering services such as being able to sign documents electronically over email rather than in person in a dealership.
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
These are fresh-out-of-the-box cars that you will have likely configured beforehand, and will have been built to the specification you ordered it in. Because many car factories worldwide have shut down due to the coronavirus lockdowns, it may take longer than expected to have a built to order car delivered to you.
Dealer stock cars are new vehicles that are pretty much immediately available from dealerships to order – as a rule of thumb, they’re generally already built, and are ready to be shipped out from a car maker’s storage depot. Car makers build stock cars in generic colours and in the spec it thinks most customers would like.
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.
As their name suggests, nearly new cars aren’t new cars, but they aren’t used cars either. Despite being known also as “pre-registration cars”, they will already have been registered by a dealership, and will generally be used as showroom stock or test drive demonstrators. Because of this, there’s no way of changing the spec and you won’t officially be the car’s first owner, though nearly new cars tend to be more affordable than dealer stock and brand new cars.
Again, when you buy a car through carwow, you will have all these options available.
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 when buying a car, as a new car will almost certainly be one of the most expensive purchases you’ll ever make.
What consumer protections do I have?
As well as guarantees on the info you’re provided (such as the car’s features and how much it will cost including taxes), the Consumer Contracts Regulations also give you a temporary cooling-off period if you decide to change your mind after buying a car remotely – such as over the telephone or online.
Under the rules, you’re allowed to cancel your order 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.
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 driven the car extensively within that 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 adequately informed about the car before you purchase it, you’re only able to benefit from the cooling-off period if you buy the car 100% remotely. If you pay for the car at the dealership, the purchase is recognised under the regulations as an “on-premises contract”, rather than an “off-premises contract”, and therefore 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 dealership 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 it may be possible for the dealer to repair smaller issues.
You also have some protections after those 30 days are up. While you aren’t automatically entitled to a refund, you are able to ask for 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 to keep the car.
It’s still possible to have your car repaired or replaced after those six months, though 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, the warranty should cover parts of the car, as long as they’re not expected to wear out with general use – for example, you generally won’t be able to replace 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 you buy a car that doesn’t work as advertised, this isn’t the case when your new car’s delivery date is postponed. 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 able to be compensated in some way. While they’re not legally obligated to do this, the dealer or your customer services department at your new car’s manufacturer may be able to offer you a goodwill gesture to make up for the inconvenience.
Do I have any protections if I buy a car with a credit card?
If you do decide to buy a new car with a credit card, you will have a very piece of cover, in the form of Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. Put simply, it means the credit card company is just as liable as the retailer for providing you with what you bought – which is handy if, for instance, 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.
Of course, buying cars with credit has its downsides. 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 will also be something you’ll need to consider, as will the interest repayments – depending on your card provider’s interest rates, it may be more affordable to buy a car with a bank loan or a finance agreement.
What happens if the dealership goes bankrupt before I get my new car?
If the dealership goes out of business 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, in the short term, 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.