How to Buy a Car on the Internet

  Why buy on the internet?

Because there are well over a million cars on the market at any one time in the UK and your computer or mobile devise is the best place to find and negotiate the purchase of your next car.

You will get far more choice and a much better deal if you do not restrict your search to your local area. Get the colour, the model and accessories you want and get it at the right price, rather than compromising at your nearest dealer.

We will help you answer these questions and more:

  • How do I get the best deal?
  • Should I trust the seller?
  • What are the risks of buying privately?
  • How should I pay for my car?
  • How should I check the provenance of the car?
    • Its mileage
    • Its service record
    • Its general conditional
    • Its history
  • How do I negotiate the best price?
  • What legal protection have I got when buying over the internet?
  • What do I do if I am not happy with the car?
  • How do I avoid scams?
  • Can I cancel the sale after delivery?
  • What do I do if I have a dispute with a dealer?

  •   Finance

    Before we talk cars, a quick word on finance. If you intend to take out finance on your vehicle and want a good deal, there are two golden rules:

    1. If you are coming to the end of a current finance agreement you may be better off paying this off first, before starting a negotiation for a new loan. Your current dealership or loan provider will probably want to tie you up with a new deal but we recommend you search the market first.
    2. We also advise that you agree your new finance (in principal at least) before you start searching for a car. By negotiating finance separately, it will make it far easier to compare loans.

    Get a quotation from your own bank or these specialist car finance providers:

      Market Sectors

    • New cars

    New cars can be ordered to your exact specification or they may be pre-registered. Pre-registered cars are available now and these are best sourced through the internet and we will explain how to get the best deal possible. Pre-registered new cars are often available at knock down prices.

    New pre-registered cars are often not advertised nationally and rather than contacting dealers throughout the country in search of a bargain try carwow. It’s a simple process- you input the specification of the car you are interested in and they do the searching on your behalf. Dealers bid for your business so you are guaranteed a good deal. No cost or obligation.
    • Nearly New Cars

    'Nearly new' cars are separately categorised as they are generally demonstrators or company cars registered by vehicle manufacturers or dealerships. There are a lot of these cars around because dealerships have to fulfil quotas and so buy up stock themselves. These cars are generally up to 12 months old, low mileage and often represent excellent value. You will find nearly new cars advertised on the websites below.

    • Second Hand Cars

    For every new car registered in the UK there are two second hand cars sold through the domestic motor trade. In total there are around 6 million second hand cars bought and sold each year in this country.

    Extra care should be exercised when buying second hand cars and it is important to manage your own expectations as used cars start to show signs of wear and tear.

    Our guide covers the purchase of both new and second hand cars.

    • Buying Privately

    You may be tempted by a ‘private sale’ as this will generally be less expensive than a comparable ‘trade sale’ but the legal protection when buying privately is minimal and the ‘risk’, therefore, much higher.

    If you buy a car privately it’s a case of ‘buyer beware’ so it’s doubly important to check the vehicle as well as the paperwork very carefully. We recommend you have a qualified mechanic or vehicle inspection agent such as the AA with you if you are considering buying privately. See below for other checks you should make.

    Because there is so little recourse to the law if things go wrong we do not recommend buying a car privately unless:

    1. You know the seller personally and trust him or her.
    2. Or the car is of relatively low value and you understand and accept that if there are mechanical or other problems it will be down to you to put it right.
    3. Or you undertake the following checks:

    Before you see the car:

    • Ask the seller for the registration number and confirm the make and model of the car by logging on to the DVLA vehicle enquiry service and check the details given by the seller match their records.
    • Check the vehicle’s MOT here, and that the MOT history matches the details you’ve been given.

    If that is clear, make the following checks when you visit the seller:

    • The V5 certificate has a DVL watermark
    • check that the seller’s name & address appears on the V5 certificate
    • view 2 forms of the seller’s ID including a driving licence or passport
    • view the vehicle at the seller’s private address as it appears on his or her ID and the V5 Certificate
    • Check that the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) matches the V5. (This number is usually found on the chassis, on the windscreen or on the floor by the driver’s seat. Check too that there are no signs it has been tampered with).
    • check the vehicle is HPI clear
    • invest in a pre-sale inspection
    • ensure no money changes hands until all your enquiries are satisfactorily answered

    Remember, you will only have a claim against a private seller if, the seller;

    • did not have the right to sell the car, or
    • the car was not roadworthy at the point of sale

    And even then, it does not guarantee you will be able to negotiate a refund.

    Buying privately is a risk which you are entitled to take; our guide explains this risk but in the interest of balance, we should point out that there are many hundreds of thousands of private car sales each year in the UK and many go without a hitch.

    See also SCAMS.

      Trade Sales and your Legal Rights

    The law offers protection for the consumer when buying from the motor trade, through the 2015 Consumer Rights Act and the 2013 Consumer Contracts Regulations. For more detailed information about your legal rights click here.

    The Consumer Rights Act provides a legal obligation for car traders to sell cars which are:

    • as described
    • of satisfactory quality
    • fit for purpose

    You have 30 days in which to reject a vehicle if a fault is found which was present at the time of purchase which renders the car not, of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose or as described. If a fault arises the onus of proof is with the dealer to prove that the fault arose after the sale of the vehicle. Otherwise you have the right to reject the vehicle and receive a full refund.

    After 30 days but before 6 months, if a problem comes to light which was present at the time of purchase the onus of proof remains with the dealer who has one opportunity to rectify the fault otherwise you are entitled to return the vehicle in exchange for a refund (minus a reasonable adjustment for the use that you have had during your time of ownership).

    You have additional rights if you are buying on the internet or over the phone and have not had the chance to view the vehicle before delivery. The Consumer Contracts Regulations gives you the right to return a vehicle within 14 days for a refund once you have had an opportunity of a test drive. After you have returned the vehicle, the dealer is obliged to refund the purchase price within a further 14 days. This is, effectively, a right ‘to change your mind’ so you can reject a car even if it has no faults.

    Warranties- providing an aftersales warranty on a vehicle does not negate the legal responsibility of a dealer under Consumer Rights legislation. In other words, a dealer cannot use the warranty as a way of side stepping its responsibility. If you buy a car and return it under the terms of the Consumer Rights Act because it has a fault, the dealer, not the Warranty Company is responsible for any repairs.

      What you need to know about Car Dealerships

    If you are buying a car ‘unseen’ it’s essential you trust the dealer you are buying from and to do that you, firstly, need to understand the market.

    There are essentially three categories of car retailer;

    • the ‘main dealer’ which is a manufacturer’s franchise (sometime known as a ‘franchised dealer’)
    • the car supermarket
    • the independent dealer

      Main Dealers

    The majority of new and nearly new cars are sold through the franchise dealer network.

    As a rule of thumb the main dealer has the highest overheads and will be the most expensive but with a high standards of customer service. Main dealers are listed on their respective manufacturer’s website (Ford, BMW, Honda, Hyundai etc.) or to search cars from franchised dealers online click here. If you follow our guidelines, buying on the internet from the main dealer network should, nine times out of ten, be a trouble free experience. Reputation is important for the main dealer and they will not relish bad feedback so even if there is a problem you should receive a professional response.

    But you will generally pay a premium price for a second hand car from a main dealer.

      Car Supermarkets

    Car Supermarkets are springing up all over the country and their business model is to turn over their stock as quickly as possible. Again, reputation is important to them, as bad online reviews will have a negative impact on sales. Like the main dealers the Car Supermarkets will generally check the background of cars they sell as well as carry out a pre-sale inspection. They will also be familiar with their legal obligations. Car Supermarkets are not always as cheap as you may think though; good value is sometimes more a perception, created by marketing, than a reality! Their cars come in mainly from lease or finance companies and often via auctions. Although not necessarily a problem, this may mean some of their cars have not been loved and cherished in their previous life.

    In short, you will generally pay a premium for buying from both the franchised dealer network and Car Supermarkets but the online buying experience should be straightforward.

      Independent Dealers

    Second hand cars are sold across all channels but most high mileage cars and cars over five years old are sold by independent dealers.

    The term 'independent car dealer' covers anything from a one-man band, selling a handful of cars each year from his home to the well-established car retailer with multiple sites across the country. What they all have in common is that they are ‘car dealers’ and are subject to the laws of the land which means they have to comply with UK consumer protection law. In theory then, you are protected when you buy a vehicle from an independent car dealer just as you are if you buy from a main dealer.

    If you search the internet for a second hand car many of the best deals will be on offer from independent dealers as their overheads are lower than the franchised dealer and the car supermarket. Buying from an independent dealer in fine but you should take pre-cautions. Think of it this way; yes, it is true that all dealers must comply with the law but life sometimes is more complicated in practice than on paper.

    What will be the result if you end up in a dispute with a dealer? You could instruct a solicitor and in the long run you may win your case but what a hassle! Far better to avoid that possibility by some advanced planning. (For more on dealing with after-sale problems click here).

    There will be many small dealers who, unfortunately are unfamiliar with the terms of the Consumer Rights Act or the Consumer Contracts Regulations and were you to return your vehicle after three months with a problem you may either get referred to the warranty or worse, told to sling your hook! This guide is written to help consumers get a good deal on their next car and we therefore feel obliged to point out risk where we see it. But we do not wish to give the impression that we are against buying through independent dealers. On the contrary, for cars over three years old, the independent dealer network offers more choice and often the best value.

      How to check out a dealership

    Unfortunately, there is no website where you can plug in the name and address of a dealer and get an instant report to give you complete peace of mind. However, if you follow these guidelines your chances of running into trouble are vastly reduced. Before we go further, one piece of important advice: if a dealer does not co-operate with your enquiries our recommendation is that you walk away and don’t look back.

    What we are trying to achieve with these enquiries is to give you confidence to buy a car over the internet whether or not, you have not had the opportunity to view or test drive it.

      Dealer Check

    If you are intending to spend thousands of pounds on a car from a dealer on the internet you should at least make some basic checks as follows:

    A good starting point is the dealer’s website:

    1. Start with the basics and check that the website includes a landline, an address, a company registration number and a VAT number. A company’s website will give you a good feel for the business, its history and its size. You may get other clues too such as, links to review sites, membership of motor trade associations, retail awards, Black Horse or RAC approved sites.
    2. Check the Company address details and registration number on the Companies House register (Click here) to ascertain that the business is a bona fide company, how long it has been trading and that it’s accounts are up to date. This will help identify the ‘fly by night’ operation which is here today and gone tomorrow. If the dealer's accounts are shown to be long overdue it may suggest financial problems.
    3. Check to see if the dealer accepts credit cards. If you pay a deposit for a vehicle using your credit card, the card supplier will be jointly liable with the dealer for the whole debt (up to £30,000) and even if you pay the balance by another means (e.g. bacs, debit card) you are still covered. So, for example, in the event that the car is stolen and the company you are buying from goes ‘bust’ you can claim your money back from your credit card supplier.
    4. Check to see if the dealer has any independent reviews on the following sites (or other independent review sites).
    5. Check if the dealer is a member of the RMI (Retail Motor Industry Association). A member should be familiar with their legal obligations and the RMI run a conciliation service so if you are in dispute with a member you can take advantage of their independent arbitration.
    If you are buying your car on the internet you want to be as certain as possibly that when it’s picked-up or delivered there no after sales issues. We recommend that if you follow the guidelines above and still do not feel totally confident in the dealership, you should look elsewhere. At the very least pay the deposit by credit card to give you financial protection.

      Finding a Car

    This is the fun bit and once you see the huge market you have opened up you will understand the benefit of buying over the internet. The choice can be bewildering but the internet savvy will soon get the hang of it, as all car selling websites have similar and easy to navigate search facilities.

    You can narrow you searches by geography, make, model, price and many other criteria. If it’s for your daughter and she wants a red Mini, you’ll find plenty to choose from!

    The majority of the million or so cars which are on the market at any one time in the UK can be found through these sites:

    Once you have identified a car you like, start to construct a list or spreadsheet, of at least five cars with the following information:

    • Make
    • Model
    • Registration no (to denote age)
    • Mileage
    • Colour
    • Fuel
    • Gearbox
    • Extras

    Put them into order with the best at the top and then assess the dealers using the dealer check above. After this exercise if you have whittled down your shortlist to less than three you may want to add to it. When it comes to negotiating a price, having a shortlist of at least three cars will strengthen your hand.

      The Car

    Once you have a shortlist of cars your next task is to check the car’s history and condition. This is best handled via email using the Vehicle Enquiry Form (click here) and Car Checklist/Damage Report (click here). You will then have a signed document which you can use to help you compare the vehicles on your shortlist.

    If you prefer you can complete the information over the telephone but you should ask the dealer to sign the completed questionnaire and keep it on record in case a dispute arises later. So once you have completed it, scan and email or fax/ post to the dealer for a signature.

    The Vehicle Enquiry Form and Car Checklist /Damage Report covers the things you should always ask when buying a second hand car but often forget! It checks the car’s history, its condition and the extra’s included in the sale, such as a warranty. In the heat of the moment it’s easy to forget to ask about such things as spare keys or the locking wheel nut. Both could set you back £200 or more if have to source one yourself afterwards!


    A word about HPI. A car history check is highly recommended if you are buying a second hand car whether from a dealer or privately. For less than £20.00 (1st Jan 2017) you receive an electronic check of the car’s history which will identify potential problem areas, including:

    • recorded as stolen on Police National Computer
    • recorded as an Insurance write-off by the DVLA
    • recorded as having outstanding finance
    • recorded as scrapped
    • recorded as having mileage discrepancies
    • checks that the V5 registration document belongs to the car
    • checks the VIN/Chassis belong to the car
    • confirms the number of previous owners

    A dealer will often HPI check all cars they sell but otherwise we strongly recommend you invest click here.

    When making an offer on a car you can always state, ‘subject to being HPI clear’.


    If you follow all the advice in this guide you are extremely unlikely to fall victim of a car buying scam but a couple of additional warnings:

    One common scam of recent years has concerned buying cars from abroad and transferring money to an ESCROW account. The way the scam works is that a car is advertised at well below its normal market rate to attract interest. Once a potential buyer contacts the seller, he/she is told the vehicle is abroad and that ‘for security’ reasons he /she will be asked to transfer the price for the car to an independent ESCROW account which will release the money once the car is delivered to the UK. The car doesn’t arrive and the money disappears. Also:

    • If a car appears too cheap there is probably an underlying problem or it’s a scam so be very weary.
    • Never transfer money for a car unless you have made all the checks highlighted in this guide.
    • Buying a car from abroad can be very risky so be doubly vigilant and don’t part with any money until you have seen and checked the vehicle.


    Negotiating the price of a car is easy if you follow these simple steps.

    Negotiation is the final step in the car buying process before you commit to buy. Start negotiating only when you are happy that your enquiries have been answered and you are prepared to commit to buying the car.

    Generally, a dealer will only negotiate a lower price if they believe it will secure the deal. Before you start, decide on the price you would be happy to pay and write it down (and don’t deviate!). Remember, there are lots of cars for sale and if you don’t get the first one at the price you feel comfortable with, move on.

    Your job when you phone the dealer is to create the impression you are interested in the car but not desperate to buy it. You should also make it clear you have the means to buy and are close to making a decision.
    1. Make the dealer aware you are looking at a number of similar cars.
    2. Make it clear you intend to put an offer on one of these cars and although the car on offer is attractive to you it’s just a bit more than you intend to pay.
    3. Give a timeframe of no more than 24 hours (e.g. I will be making a decision this afternoon).
    4. Finally give the dealer your offer which should be less than you are prepared to pay because a dealer’s instinct is always to push up your initial offer. (E.g. If the car is on the market at £15,000 and you are prepared to pay £14,000 your first offer should be no more than £13,500).
    5. If your offer is rejected, thank the dealer and tell them you’ll think about whether to make a further offer after you have made calls to the other dealers.

    If the dealer is prepared to negotiate further he will try and keep you on the phone and close a deal, there and then. He will not want you making the other calls. Stick to your guns and don’t agree a price higher than the price you had originally set and don't be suckered into accepting 'sweeteners' (for example, don't accept a dealers offer of three months additional warranty if you pay a higher price). Remember there are a lot of cars out there!

    If you would rather not negotiate on the phone drop the dealer an email /text with your offer. Keep it short and simple, something like this:

    I have shortlisted your VW Passat we spoke about earlier and would like to make an offer of £13,500. I would like to make a decision this afternoon so would be grateful for your quick reply. If you accept my offer I will arrange to pay the deposit this afternoon.

      Payment and Delivery

    Under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, customers who have a claim against a supplier for breach of contract or misrepresentation will generally have an equal claim against the card issuer. What this means is, if you pay for a vehicle using a credit card and for example the dealer ceases trading and fails to deliver the car you can make a claim against your credit card supplier.

    For section 75 to apply the cash price of the goods or services must be more than £100 and not more than £30,000. If the deposit is paid by a credit card and the balance by some other means you can make a claim for the full amount against the card supplier.

    One important disclaimer is that the card transaction must be with the dealer selling the car. If the dealer, for example, borrowed his neighbour’s credit card machine to take a deposit for a car, section 75 would not apply.

    So, our advice would be to pay the deposit by credit card especially if you are buying the car unseen as this will provide you with additional financial protection.

    The balance can be paid by debit card, old fashioned cheque or via online transfer but you should avoid paying large sums in cash, as you may run into trouble with money laundering regulations.


    Buying a vehicle on the internet without viewing it, has advantages in the law as you have additional rights under the Consumer Contracts Regulations which give you 14 days to return the vehicle if you decide you do not want it. Note, that if you use the car during this period, beyond what would be considered a ‘reasonable’ test drive, the seller is entitled to impose a charge for its use.

    If you complete the purchase contract without having seen the vehicle you can pick it up and still be covered under the Consumer Contracts Regulations but if you pay a deposit ‘subject to a test drive’ you will lose your rights under this regulation because it will no longer be regarded as a ‘distance selling’ contract.

    If the vehicle is being delivered to you ensure you have the agreed price including delivery in writing and a signed copy of the Vehicle Enquiry Form.

      After Sales Problems

    Although your rights as a consumer are clearly enshrined in UK and European law it does not follow that you won’t suffer some aftersales problem. During the course of the next twelve months there will be thousands of disputes arising from the sale of new and second hand cars in the UK. If you read and follow this guide your chances of avoiding a dispute are greatly improved but risk cannot be completely eradicated.

    This section concerns how to deal with a problem after you have taken receipt of your car. If a problem arises your first response must always be to contact the dealer which sold you the car and you should very clearly explain the nature of the problem and what it is you want done about it. However frustrated you may feel, keep calm! You don’t want an argument; you want a problem resolved.

    If you wish to return the car because you consider it is not fit for purpose, as described or of satisfactory quality, you must explain your reasons. The more evidence you can gather to support your case, the better. The dealer must be given a ‘reasonable’ time in which to respond to your complaint and provide a satisfactory resolution.

    If, after a reasonable length of time has elapsed, the dealer has not rectified the problem or agreed to refund your money, there are a number of avenues open to you, to seek redress:

    1. If you have an issue which cannot be resolved with the dealer you are entitled to make a complaint to the Motor Ombudsman. The Motor Ombudsman is the UK's automotive dispute resolution body and a powerful ally if you have a legitimate complaint.
    2. You can also enlist the help of a local Trading Standards Office or Citizens Advice Bureau if you think your consumer rights have been contravened. There is plenty of free advice on the The Citizens Advice website about car related disputes.
    3. If the dealer is a member of the Retail Motor Industries Federation you are entitled to approach the National Conciliation Service (NCS). The NCS offers dispute resolution services when disputes cannot be resolved through the internal processes of a business.
    4. As a last resort you can make a 'court claim' which means you are asking the court to enforce a claim against the dealer. You will need to be armed with all the facts so you can argue your case or if the opposing side chooses not to put up a defence, they will be obliged to pay. If, for example, you paid several hundred pounds to rectify a fault which you feel the dealer should have covered, you may consider making a court claim to get the money you spent reimbursed. To make a court claim click here

      Last thing…

    We hope you found our free of charge guide to buying a car on the internet useful and that it helps you make the right choices and avoid some of the pitfalls of buying over the internet.

    If you have found the guide useful we would love to hear from you. Your testimonials help to support us so we can deliver more FOC content. Click here.

    We would be grateful too if you would recommend us to your friends and family and support us through Facebook and other social media sites.

    And finally don’t forget to bookmark our website as it is full of links and advice for car owners as well as car buyers.

    Thank you!