What should I look for when buying a used car online?
Buying a car online is becoming increasingly popular. Not only does it save you the time and hassle of shopping around in person, but it’s also been a safer way to purchase a new vehicle during the Covid-19 pandemic. Plus, it also saves you from pushy sales staff. Instead, you can take your time and browse cars from the comfort of your own sofa.
In response, many car dealers have put in a range of options to make buying a car remotely more convenient.
However, there are things you should check before buying a car online. After all, purchasing a car is expensive – whether you buy new or from a used car dealer or private seller. If you dive into the sale, the consequences could be costly.
But if you do your research, you’ll make a more informed purchase and you’ll be less likely to experience any hassle or buyer’s regret.
Check the used car’s history
If you’ve found a car that you like, you can do some simple checks online to make sure it’s being sold legally and isn’t in need of any major repairs.
Costing up to £20, a private history check will tell you if:
- The car has been reported stolen
- The car has previously been involved in a serious accident
- The displayed mileage is correct
- The seller still owes money for the car – if this is the case, you could end up in debt by purchasing it
- The car has been written off, repaired and then returned to the road
Check the car’s details with the DVLA
By using the DVLA’s free online vehicle information checker, you can double-check whether the details provided by the dealer or seller are correct.
To do this, you’ll need the following information:
- Registration plate number
- MOT test number
- Car make and model
Vehicles over three years old also require annual MOT tests to make sure they’re roadworthy. If the car you’re buying is over three years old, you can check the MOT history of the car online. Any inaccuracies should raise a red flag and you should think twice about making the purchase.
However, bear in mind that cars that are unused or registered Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN) do not require MOT checks. Check with the car dealer or seller if you think this may be the case.
Research the used car’s value
It’s very important to do your research when buying a used car. Take the time to look at price guides to get a feel for how much the used car you’re looking at is worth and whether the price matches up.
Looking at a car magazine or comparing similar used cars for sale online are a great way to do this. Another helpful tool is our Car Price Guide. This will help you understand the current car market, factors that affect car prices and how much cars are selling for right now.
Inspect the photographs
Never buy a car online without looking at photographs of it first. Ideally, you should look at images of both the interior and exterior, as well as some pictures of the car’s equipment and any disclosed marks or scratches.
The car you’re looking at should also include a description of the standard equipment it features. Don’t be afraid to ask the dealer or seller as many questions as you need to. If you’re after specific features, you should double-check that they’re included. This way, you can be 100% sure that you’re buying the right car for you.
Check your return policy
We hope that you’re happy with your new car. But to be on the safe side, double-check your return rights before making the purchase. If you’re buying from a car dealership, you have the right to return the vehicle within the first 30 days of purchase.
Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, you can ‘reject’ the car if it does not match the description, is not fit for purpose or of satisfactory quality. You are entitled to a full refund, or you can ask for a repair. If you’re buying from a car dealership, it’s also worth checking out customer reviews online before buying a used car sight unseen.
When you buy from a private seller, you have fewer rights if something goes wrong. That’s why you might generally get a cheaper price for the car. Your rights when buying from a private seller include:
- The car must match the description
- The seller must be legally allowed to sell the drive
- The car must be roadworthy and safe to drive by law
For more information on your rights, have a look at our ‘What are your rights when buying a car?’ guide.