How to buy a second-hand car online

Sandra Walsh
·5-min read
Photo credit: skynesher - Getty Images
Photo credit: skynesher - Getty Images

Most of us think nothing of doing our supermarket shopping online, but it’s quite a different prospect popping a car that costs thousands into your online shopping basket.

"It’s understandable that people feel daunted, especially as we’re used to buying through dealerships and showrooms," says Stuart Masson, editor of carexpert.com. "But as long as you do your research first, it’s the most practical way to buy a car these days."

So if you're looking to purchase your next vehicle on the wide web but aren't sure where to start then keep reading, as we've answered your most pressing questions to ensure you a smooth journey.

Will it be cheaper?

Online dealerships claim big discounts, but look around to see how much similar cars are going for. A big selling point of buying online is that you can haggle on the phone or by email rather than face-to-face.

Which site should I use?

Photo credit: dusanpetkovic - Getty Images
Photo credit: dusanpetkovic - Getty Images

Cazoo opened in 2019. There’s also Cinch, AA Cars, eBay Motors and Sytner, among others. Sites are easy to use. Type in the car you’re after, price and age range, and you’ll be offered a selection with details of wear and tear and any accident history. Most sites allow you to return cars within seven to 14 days if you’re not happy.

What if I don’t like the colour?

This can be trickier. ‘The sparkling Saharan Sandstorm you’ve been imagining on the basis of an online photo might turn out to be a muddy beige in the flesh,’ says Stuart. ‘You may be safer sticking to black, white and grey, but don’t forget you have the cooling off period to send the car back if you really don’t like the colour.’

Will there be enough choice?

Most definitely! A recent survey by carcondor.co.uk revealed car dealers Arnold Clark had three times as many used cars in stock in January compared to its nearest rival. Evans Halshaw was in second place, with Sytner-owned CarShop in third. Cazoo was 12th with 4,572 cars in stock in January*.

What's an approved used scheme?

If you want the reassurance of a manufacturer-backed deal, then approved used schemes could be for you. In most cases, the cars have low-mileage, with just one owner, and have been maintained by an official dealer from new. Companies such as Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, Volkswagen and Vauxhall have huge workforces, and some staff members may get new cars every few months, with their old ones finding their way on to forecourts soon after, which can make for great cars to buy.

There is also a ready supply of these low-mileage, nearly new cars thanks to the rise of the Personal Contract Plan. Buying through an approved used scheme also means manufacturers thoroughly inspect a car before selling it on.

What finance options are there?

"Finance is a great way to spread the cost into small, manageable chunks," says CEO of AA Cars James Fairclough. "Leasingis also popular, especially during the pandemic, as people are reassessing their outgoings."

Photo credit: tommy - Getty Images
Photo credit: tommy - Getty Images

Personal Contract Purchase (PCP)

What is it? A sort of long-term rental agreement lasting three to five years. You pay a deposit of around 10% of the car’s value then make monthly payments plus interest. At the end of your agreement you can choose to make a final payment - normally a few thousand pounds - to own the car or hand it back in exchange for a new car and a new PCP agreement.

Who does it suit? Someone who likes fixed monthly payments, with the flexibility of having options at the end of the deal

What are the cons? There may be restrictions, such as a mileage limitation. You’re likely to pay more than with other types of finance.

Personal Contract Hire (PCH)

What is it? PCH allows you to use a car over a set period of time – typically between two to four years – but you don’t own the vehicle at the end. A maintenance package is often included, covering items such as annual car tax and routine servicing.

Who does it suit? Someone who likes to drive the latest new model, updating every few years, and doesn’t want to pay an expensive upfront deposit.

What are the cons? There’s no option to buy the car.

Bank loan

What is it? A straightforward loan from a bank which you pay back in regular monthly payments over a pre-agreed amount of time. The best way to compare loans is on APR (the annual percentage rate), this is the real cost of borrowing money because it includes interest and charges. The lower the APR, the better the finance deal.

Who does it suit? Someone who wants to buy a car outright and who prefers to evenly spread repayments throughout the term of the agreement.

What are the cons? You may be fed up with the car you’ve bought long before you’ve finished paying off the loan.

Leasing

What is it? You pay a deposit and a fixed monthly payment, normally including service and maintenance charges.

Who does it suit? Anyone who’s unwilling - or unable - to pay upfront for a car and who likes the flexibility of a finance deal.

What are the cons: As with all the above deals, you may not be able to get out of the agreement if you find you can’t afford the payments.

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