Rapid improvements in technology and a shift in consumer preferences have meant that it has never been easier to buy a car online.

While buying a car online offers a convenient way to purchase your next car, it can be a daunting process. However, ensuring that you know what to look out for can make this process less overwhelming.

This guide will provide an overview of the online car buying process and highlight some key factors to consider before making a purchase.

Is it safe to buy a car online?

Buying a car online is a safe and convenient way to purchase a car. In fact, online car buying comes with additional protections compared to in-person purchases.

When the entire car buying process takes place online (or ‘off-premises’), you are protected by the Consumer Contracts Regulations (2013). These regulations give you the right to cancel your order within 14 days of receiving it. This is a right that you would not have if you had bought your vehicle in-person from a car dealership or elsewhere.

What are the benefits of buying a car online?

Not only does buying a car online provide you with more consumer protection, but additional benefits include:


Unlike visiting traditional car dealerships and showrooms, the process of purchasing a vehicle online offers more flexibility. When buying a car online, you are not limited by opening hours, allowing you to make a purchase at your convenience from the comfort of your own home.

Home delivery

When you buy a car online, many car dealerships now provide a home delivery service. When you complete the transaction, you’ll be able to arrange for your car to be delivered to you (usually for a small fee) meaning you never actually need to visit a physical car dealership.


Visiting multiple car dealerships can consume a large amount of your time. However, online car buying allows you to browse cars at your own leisure, enabling you to fill out the paperwork in your own time.

Things you should do before buying a car online

Before you purchase a car online it is good practice to do some background research into both the vehicle and the seller. By taking the following steps, you will be equipped with the skills needed to confidently navigate the online car buying process.

Be realistic

If a car deal seems too good to be true, then it probably is. A suspiciously low price – often thousands cheaper than other equivalent cars available – is an initial red flag, as is a lack of contact details or a detailed description of the car.

Exercise caution, and trust your instincts when looking at car adverts. You’ll quickly notice that false or suspicious adverts stand out from the rest. Should a car advert trigger suspicion, it is advisable not to interact with it. If you have additional concerns, you can read more about some common car scams and how you can protect yourself from them.


Research the seller

If you are considering buying a car online, your first step should be to research and establish whether the seller is trustworthy and genuine.

Online car marketplaces can operate in different ways: either you are buying from them directly, or you are purchasing from a third party. You’ll need to understand which one applies to your situation as it can impact the terms and conditions and customer service.

While it always helps to buy from an established seller, there’s no reason why buying privately can’t be safe too. If you are purchasing a car from a private seller, it’s worth having a conversation with them to establish a level of trust and gain a sense of reassurance. If you still have doubts about their authenticity, you should ask to see the vehicle’s V5 and ensure that the address on it matches up with the seller’s.


Do a vehicle history check

Once you have found a vehicle you like the look of, it’s best practice to carry out a vehicle history check to avoid any potential future complications.

Also known as an HPI check, this report provides information about the vehicle, such as if it has any outstanding car finance or if it has previously been written off.

Remember, an HPI check won’t show you details about the car’s service history or usage. If you require this information you will have to see the vehicle’s service manual and logbook.


Watch out for online car buying scams

While car buying scams are relatively rare, by remaining vigilant you can avoid falling victim to them.

One of the most common car scams is known as ‘clocking’, whereby fraudsters tamper with the recorded mileage on a car’s display. While clocking has become less common due to advancements in onboard trip computers, it still remains a way for people to falsely increase the value of their cars.

To protect yourself against car scams, you can conduct an online check and assess the vehicle’s MOT history to certify the car’s mileage. Additionally, visual checks can be conducted to assess whether the condition of the car (both exterior and interior) matches what you would expect for a car of that mileage.


Know your rights when buying a car online

As discussed earlier, you are granted certain rights when buying a car online. The following pieces of legislation provide you with different rights depending on how you purchase your car online.

The Consumer Contracts Regulations (2013)

When you purchase a car at a distance, such as online, you will have additional rights under the Consumer Contracts Regulations.

These regulations allow you to cancel your order within 14 days of receiving it. This means that you can assess whether the vehicle suits your needs, and you can return it without having to prove it is faulty or damaged.

The Consumer Rights Act (2015)

If you have bought a car from a registered car dealer, you are protected by the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Under this act, if you purchase a car that is faulty or damaged upon delivery, you are entitled to ‘reject’ it within 30 days. If you notice a fault between 30 days and 6 months, you may be entitled to a repair, replacement or partial refund.

Legally you are entitled to return a car within 6 years, however, the longer you wait to report any faults, the harder it is to prove that this fault existed prior to buying the car online.

It’s important to know that the Consumer Rights Act 2015 does not cover cars purchased privately.

What to do if you suspect you have been a victim of online fraud

If you believe you’ve fallen victim to online fraud while buying a car, maintain composure and promptly report the incident to Action Fraud.

Action Fraud is the UK’s fraud reporting centre that offers round-the-clock support and assistance. You can report fraud using their online reporting service where you will need to submit all the relevant information.

Alternatively, if you’d prefer, you can also speak to a specialist anonymously at Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 for help and advice (Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.).

It’s also worth contacting your bank or building society if you notice any unusual or unauthorised activity on your account. They will be able to freeze your account, cancel your card, and issue you with a new one. Once you’ve notified them of the issue, your bank should not hold you liable for any further authorised withdrawals and will refund you if any money is taken.

Frequently Asked Questions