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
  • Mileage
  • 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.

Can you check V5C online?

When you’re buying a car, it’s also important to check its V5C registration document. It provides details of the registered keeper and all previous keepers.

However, this isn’t as straightforward when you’re buying a car online. After all, the V5C registration certificate is a physical paper document. Check with the seller that they have the V5C and ask them to send a photograph of it. Inspect the document details to make sure they’re genuine – the owner’s name and address should appear correctly and the car vehicle details should match up. The document should also be undamaged, intact and filled out in block capitals with a black ballpoint pen.

Once you’ve purchased the car, you should then receive the car’s V5C. Never make the purchase without it. Make sure it’s the original document and never accept a photocopy.

Can I buy a car online and have it delivered?

Yes! You can buy your car online and have it delivered to your front door. In fact, it’s the best way to buy a car online as it makes things much easier. Not only will it save you the hassle of travelling, but you also won’t have to bring an extra driver with you. And often, you can select a guaranteed pickup and delivery date for ease.

Once you’ve agreed on the price, you should discuss the arrangements to get car delivered. Cars less than 100 miles away can usually be delivered to you quite easily. Some dealerships may even offer home delivery – both for test drive purposes and after purchase. If you’ve ever wondered how new are cars delivered, this is usually the way.

However, if the car is further afield, a car transport service may be required at an additional price. If this is the case, shop around for the best car shipping services. Less expensive ones will save you money, but premium providers will securely cover your transport – this is essential if you are buying an expensive, exotic or vintage car.

When you buy car online delivery, confirm all the details with the seller as soon as possible. Make sure someone will be there when the vehicle is due to be picked up. Once you’ve made the payment, all you need to do is sit back and wait for your new wheels to come to you.

Is it better to buy a car online or at the dealership?

There are pros and cons to both. When car shopping online, you are taking a slight risk simply by not viewing the car in person. That said, there are so many benefits to purchasing a vehicle remotely – from avoiding pushy sales staff to being able to take your time over the decision.

And as outlined above, there are many checks you can do from the comfort of your own sofa to make buying a car online easier and safer. Don’t forget that the car dealer and seller ultimately want to sell the vehicle in question – ask as many questions as possible and be as thorough as possible with your checks. Buying a car online also saves you the hassle, time and costs of having to travel to browse for and pick up your new vehicle. And if you’re buying from a car dealership, you have the right to return the vehicle within 30 days if you’re not completely satisfied.

Meanwhile, buying a car in person has its own unique benefits. By being able to view the car in person, you can better inspect its interior and exterior, view the V5C registration document and of course, take it for a test drive right there and then. By seeing the car close up and being there in person, you can also ask all your questions on the spot and (hopefully) get some instant responses.

Either way, it’s crucial you do your research and carry out the important car checks before you make your purchase. And remember: don’t part with your money until you have full possession of the car. This way, you’ll better protect yourself from being a victim of fraud.

For more information on this, check out our Car Registration check: all you need to know and Online Ordering a Car guides.

Now that you know all about the checks you need to make when purchasing a car online, you’re in a good position to make a good buy.