Buying a car online – all you need to know

With everything from takeaways to dining tables available to order online, it was only a matter of time before buying a car online became more commonplace.
The pandemic lockdowns accelerated the shift to online shopping and now dealerships, marketplaces, and dedicated online car retailers are all getting in on the act.
While you might still prefer to go down to your local dealership to find your new wheels in person, buying a car online can offer greater choice, convenience, and transparency in the purchasing process.
Not only can you explore thousands of cars at your leisure, but you might be able to arrange your car finance online, organise a home delivery, and benefit from additional perks such as  ‘no-fuss’ money back guarantees – all without leaving your house!

Got a specific question? Why not jump to:

Where can I buy a car online?

Whether you’re looking for a brand-new or used car, there are plenty of places where you can browse and buy vehicles from the comfort of your sofa:


Many franchised and independent dealerships now offer an online service alongside their physical forecourt. This ranges from large groups like Bristol Street Motors, Motorpoint, and Arnold Clark to manufacturer dealerships and family businesses. 

Online retailers

Several online car dealerships have set up shop in recent years including Cinch and Cazoo; some own the stock they sell while others act as a broker connecting car buyers to third-party sellers. 

Online marketplaces

The days of private sellers putting a cardboard “For Sale” sign in their car windows are long gone. Now, individuals can list their cars on sites like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, and Autotrader, usually in return for a small fee or sales commission.

What are the benefits?

Added convenience

When you buy a car online, there’s no need to worry about taking time out on the weekend to visit your local dealership or checking the opening hours to make sure you can arrive in time.

Instead, you can shop from your sofa at 8pm on a Thursday evening or browse listings on your lunch hour – it’s all about fitting it in with your schedule and finding a time and place that works for you.

Home delivery

While it’s not always an option, home delivery is often part of the service when you buy a car online. What could be better than having your new pride and joy delivered straight to your driveway?

Keep in mind that a small fee might apply and there may be restrictions based on how far away you live from the dealership.

Time saving

Depending on the car that’s caught your eye and how you’d like to pay for it, you might be able to complete your entire buying journey online.

Carrying out every step – from browsing models to completing your paperwork – online can help you save time that would otherwise be spent at the dealership. You can also typically use search filters to narrow down your shortlist and make the process even more efficient.

Pay a fixed price

When buying online, you’ll usually pay a fixed price based on the listing. That means no awkward conversations with a salesperson, no need to haggle, and no time wasted worrying that you’re not getting a good deal.

You might even be able to arrange your car finance online at the same time, so you know exactly how much your new car will cost you.

How safe is it?

Shopping online is never entirely risk-free; it’s important to take precautions when completing transactions, research the retailer, and don’t share any personal or financial information with websites that you don’t trust.
With that being said, the good news is that buying a car online means you’ll be protected by the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013. Under this legislation, you have the right to cancel your order and return the car within 14-days of receiving it.
As you won’t see the car before it arrives at your door, knowing you can get your money back can give you extra peace of mind in case it doesn’t meet your expectations, has an issue, or isn’t the right fit for your family after all.

What should I do before buying a car online?

It might be the Scout motto, but it’s a good rule to apply when buying a car online too: be prepared.
The more due diligence you can do before you click to buy, the better:

Research the seller

Put your googling skills to the test and take time to thoroughly research the seller. Check whether their website looks trustworthy and genuine and, if it’s an online car marketplace, it’s well worth checking whether you’re buying from them directly or with a third party.
If the website is acting as a broker rather than a direct seller, read over the terms and conditions carefully and double-check the customer service that you can expect to receive.

Read reviews

Independent reviews are a great way to gauge whether an online car seller is genuine or not. Look for comments from verified buyers on websites like Trustpilot, YouTube, Google Reviews, and Feefo. You may also be able to look at comments on the company’s social media profiles.
While almost every retailer will have at least one or two bad reviews (used cars can develop faults, after all), by looking at a few reviews you’ll be able to judge whether these are one-off occurrences or a worrying pattern.

Vehicle history check

Depending on the website you buy from, a vehicle history check may be included in the price. If it’s not, you should still consider paying to carry out your own.
This check – also known as an HPI check – will tell you important information about the vehicle such as whether it’s been written off in the past or has any outstanding car finance owed.
Unfortunately, it won’t tell you anything about the car’s service history or usage, so you’ll still have to look at the V5C logbook to find out more.

Watch out for scams

If you’re an avid viewer of Watchdog, Rip Off Britain, or similar consumer awareness shows, you’ll probably already be on the alert for a potential scam.
The good news is that scams are rare and improvements in technology are making it more difficult for unscrupulous sellers to try and mislead you.
Be vigilant when picking up the car or having it delivered to your home. One of the most common scams is known as ‘clocking’, which is when the mileage on the car’s display has been tampered with to falsely inflate its value.
If you’re worried about clocking, look at the vehicle’s MOT history to assess its true mileage and check that its interior and exterior match the condition of a car with that number of miles on the clock.

Know your rights

As a consumer shopping online in the UK, you’re covered by certain rights. It doesn’t matter whether you’re buying a cardigan or a car, the same legislation applies:

Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013

Also known as distance selling rules, these regulations offer online shoppers some protection when buying a product sight unseen. It gives you the right to return the car within 14 days, even if it’s not faulty or damaged, and you’ve simply changed your mind. Restrictions may apply if you’ve driven or damaged the car in that time.

Consumer Rights Act 2015

These rights apply whether buying a car online or in person and offer you the right to reject a car that is faulty or damaged within 30 days. If the fault doesn’t appear until 30 days have expired (but before six months have elapsed), you may be entitled to a repair, replacement, or partial refund.

It’s worth noting that The Consumer Rights Act unfortunately doesn’t apply with private sales.

Check warranties and guarantees

When buying a car, don’t assume it’ll be covered by a warranty. In most cases, a brand-new vehicle will be covered by a manufacturer’s warranty that could last between two and five years.
If you’re buying a nearly new car, you may still have a few years left on this warranty or be given the option to extend it for an added fee.
A used car that’s more than a few years old is likely not to be covered by a warranty so may have added risk.

In any case, it’s well worth asking the seller for more information about any warranties attached to the car you're buying to ensure you’ve confirmed whether or not this still applies.

How do I pay for it?

It all depends on your circumstances; if you’ve got savings built up and ready to go, you may be able to buy a car online in cash. All you’ll need to do is have your debit card ready or make an online bank transfer to pay the seller and the car will be all yours.
However, not all of us can afford to buy a car outright. If you’d rather spread the cost of your new car over time – in return for paying interest on the amount borrowed – you can take out a car finance loan instead.
There are three main types of car finance:

  • Hire Purchase (HP) – one of the most popular ways to finance a car, HP lets you spread the cost of a car over a period of between one to six years. You’ll usually need to pay a deposit upfront, followed by fixed monthly payments. Once all the payments are made (include a small Option to Purchase admin fee), the car will be all yours.
  • Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) – PCP is a lot like HP but offers more options at the end of your car loan term. You can choose to buy the car by paying a one-off balloon payment, return it to the lender, or use any available equity as a deposit in a new deal.
  • Personal Loan – Unlike HP and PCP, personal loans aren’t usually secured against the car. That means that as soon as you’ve used the loan to pay the seller, the car will be legally yours. A good or excellent credit score might be needed to qualify for a personal loan.

Depending on the dealership or online retailer you’re buying from, you may be able to arrange your car finance online too. Some online sellers will work with one lender while others will offer access to a panel of lenders and cater to buyers with a wide variety of credit histories.

Collection or home delivery?

Can’t wait to get behind the wheel? Some dealerships will offer you a click and collect option so you can swing by and pick up your car as soon as possible.
While this doesn’t offer the same level of convenience as home delivery, it could be preferable if the fee for delivery is high, or you live beyond the standard delivery area.
If the transaction has been completed online and you’re only collecting the car, distance selling rules may still apply. However, if you enter the dealership to complete paperwork or take the car for a test drive first, you may not qualify for these protections.

How do I arrange tax and insurance?

Once you’ve found your dream car and committed to buying it, you can start collecting insurance quotes.
The dealership should be able to provide all the car details you’ll need to search for a policy on comparison sites or direct from an insurer. When you decide on the best policy for you, make sure the start date coincides with the day your car will be delivered (or you plan to collect it).
When the car arrives and has taken pride of place on your driveway, you can arrange to pay your road tax. The V5C logbook should be delivered along with the car and will contain all the information you need to tax it.

What are the key differences between buying new and used cars online?

Whether you’re looking for a brand-new car straight from the factory floor or hoping to find a great deal on a used model, you might find there are fewer differences than you might think when car shopping online.  
In fact, online is blurring the lines between new and used as buyers start to search based on their affordability rather than the age of the car.
People tend to be more comfortable buying a brand-new car that they’ve never seen in person online as they can be relatively confident it’ll meet their specifications, have all the required paperwork, and not have any unexpected issues. A used car can come with more unknowns and the risk that  you can’t be certain of its condition from its online listings and images alone.

FAQs about buying a car online:

Can you get a car completely online?

It’s possible to complete your full car transaction online. From searching for your dream set of wheels online to arranging the finance, you can carry out every step of the car buying journey from the comfort of your own home if you wish.

If you order online, can you test drive?

If you’re keen to get behind the wheel and take your new car out for a spin before you complete the purchase online, you can usually arrange a test drive. Contact the seller in advance and they may be able to organise a time.
Keep in mind that choosing to test drive will mean distance selling rules no longer apply and you won’t have the 14-day returns window offered by the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013.
You may be able to complete a test drive during that 14-day period if you choose to wait until the purchase is complete. However, make sure to review the Terms and Conditions of the sale as there may be limits on the number of miles you can travel without incurring extra charges or voiding the 14-day returns policy.

Can you return a car you’ve bought online?

If every step of your car buying journey has been completed online, your purchase will fall under the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013. This means you’ll have 14-days to return the car, even if it’s not damaged or faulty. If you don’t like the colour or simply change your mind, you can send it back.
This protection may not apply if you’ve taken any steps in person such as going to view the car or signing the papers at the dealership. In that case, your purchase will be covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, and you’ll only be able to return the car if it’s damaged or faulty.

How do you pay for a car online safely?

To protect yourself when paying for a car online, there are a few handy rules to follow:

  • Never send money abroad
  • Avoid anonymous payment options like cryptocurrency or a prepaid debit card
  • Be cautious if an escrow service is involved

Escrow services act as a middleman, holding your payment until the car has been collected or delivered. Unfortunately, fraudsters have been known to use false escrow services. If the logo looks amateur, the copyright details are incomplete, the website doesn’t have a padlock icon, and there are no results for the service when you google it, it may not be legitimate.

Is bank transfer safe when buying a car?

Bank transfer is one of the safer ways to pay for a car as it avoids handling large amounts of cash and the potential problems associated with cheques. However, it’s important that you double-check that the account numbers you enter are correct and that you trust the seller before completing the transaction.