Researching and buying a car has never been easier, thanks to the power of the internet. All the information required to make an informed purchase of a new or used car is available online: consumer car buying advice sites like The Car Expert; owners’ forums where other people discuss the good and bad points of their cars; manufacturer sites with all the technical information for the latest models; and sites where you can buy a new or used car online, without having to set foot in a car dealership.
The days of buyers rocking up at a dealership to kick a few tyres and be sold a car by a suited salesperson are pretty much over. Even before the Covid-19 lockdowns started last year, car buyers tended to visit just 1.2 dealerships before buying a car. That means most customers pretty much know what they’re buying before setting foot on a dealer’s forecourt.
If it’s a used car, a buyer can find out what the dealer has in stock, how vehicles are priced compared with the rest of the market, what they can get for their part-exchange and how much the purchase is going to cost if they opt for a finance deal – right from their computer or smartphone.
New car customers are similarly empowered. Simple online research will show what new cars a dealer has in stock, how much a personal contract purchase (PCP) or personal contract hire (PCH) deal will cost them each month, and how much they can get for their trade-in.
As we have adapted to lockdown life through 2020 and the start of 2021, online car sales have rocketed. As such, we’ve been updating our list of the top sites for you to buy a new or used car from the comfort of your own sofa.
The power of knowledge is now in customers’ hands
Buying a car now is all about consumer empowerment. Indeed, car sales staff are more used to dealing with customers who are fully genned up on the minutiae of the model they are buying and often know more about specific models than they do.
This empowerment has come from the internet. Here at The Car Expert, for example, we have welcomed more than ten million visitors who are looking for advice and expertise on buying a car. Customers are no longer prepared to simply go along with whatever a salesperson tells them, and they have become very savvy at checking facts and shopping around.
The downside of having all this readily available information is knowing where to start, because buyers are spoilt for choice.
If you’re casting a wide net and haven’t decided on brand or model then the world really is your oyster. To make the process as easy as possible, The Car Expert has gathered together the best websites for buying a new or used car.
The benefit of all these websites is that they are not aimed at petrolheads, but serious buyers who want to choose the most appropriate models for their needs and budgets. Each website has their own strengths and USPs, but all of them offer the time-saving option of being a one-stop shop for your next car.
One thing to note is that many of these sites are owned by companies trying to sell you something, rather than traditional listings where dealers pay for advertising space for their stock. So they’ll be earning commission from a lot of these sales, which will often influence the results you see.
Used cars: YES (445,000 cars as of March 2021)
New cars: YES (47,000 cars as of March 2021)
USP: The biggest selection of new and used cars for sale in one place
We like: Lists nearly-new cars separately
We don’t like: Results are always sorted by whichever dealers pay to rank higher. You have to change it to something more useful every single time.
Auto Trader has dominated the used car market for decades. Although the print publication was discontinued in 2013, the online version has evolved into the most visited car website in the UK thanks to its use of cutting edge online technology and its ability to attract the country’s biggest listing of used cars. It also lists new cars for most makes and models, although these won’t necessarily be in stock and ready for immediate purchase.
The website’s biggest USP is that it is – by far – the largest used car classifieds site in the UK. Accordingly, it’s usually the first port of call for used car buyers. As a generalisation, cars that appear on various other sites will also be on Auto Trader, but there are lots of cars on Auto Trader that don’t appear anywhere else.
Buyers can fine tune their search by vehicle size, fuel type, economy, emission levels and much more. There is also the ability to search by monthly finance cost, an essential function as car buying has moved increasingly to the PCP monthly payment model. Bear in mind that the finance payments are only examples, and may often require large up-front deposits to achive the monthly payments shown. For more information about car finance quotes, we have a comprehensive guide to understanding a PCP quotation.
The vast majority of cars (more than 90%) are sourced from franchised and independent dealers across the UK, although it remains a popular site for private sellers to advertise their cars.
Auto Trader now also conducts its own car reviews, and is one of the sites we include in our unique Expert Ratings analyser, which aggregates new car reviews from 25 different UK websites to bring you a definitive rating for every new car.
Used cars: YES (393,000 cars as of March 2021)
New cars: NO
USP: Search engine for used cars
We like: Direct links to dealers actually selling the cars
We don’t like: Listings lack the consistency of other used car classifieds sites.
Carsnip is a newcomer set on shaking up the way used cars are presented and sold online. The site describes itself as the “UK’s largest search engine for used cars”, and it works a bit differently to other used car listings. Carsnip is now also a partner of ours here at The Car Expert, so you can search for cars right here from our website using the power of Carsnip’s search engine.
Carsnip is basically the used car version of Google. You search for a car according to brand or vehicle type and are presented with results, much like other classified sites. However, by clicking on the model you’re interested in, you are sent directly to the dealer’s website rather than a listing on Carsnip itself. This means you’re cutting out the middleman and can make your search easier, but can get a bit clunky if you’re going back and forth to look at multiple cars from different dealerships.
The site is owned by Oodle, a car finance company, which earns money from finance deals associated with the cars sold by the dealers advertising on the site. Unlike Auto Trader or Motors, dealers don’t pay to advertise their cars on the site; instead, the finance company earns commission on car finance sold by the dealers. You’re obviously not obliged to take out any finance agreement, so you can simply use it as a search engine and still pay cash for your next car.
Used cars: YES (More than 3,600 as of March 2021)
New cars: NO
USP: Complete package including finance and delivery plus part-exchange if wanted
We like: Extensive photos of cars including imperfections
We don’t like: Some concerns over levels of customer service when things go wrong
Some online buying options specialise in used cars only and in recent times, Cazoo has become one of the most familiar names, due mainly to heavy TV advertising.
Cazoo was founded in 2018 by Alex Chesterman, who has plenty of experience in online selling having previously been responsible for DVD rental specialist Lovefilm and property sales site Zoopla.
The site claims to provide a complete service. Potential buyers can browse through more than 250 makes and models and narrow down their search through engine, colour, features and such like. Clicking on a model reveals full details including around 30 detail photos, while any imperfections are highlighted.
Cazoo owns all the cars it sells and each undergoes a check including a test drive before being put up for sale – the site claims to buy only 5% of the used cars it looks at. Choose a car and you are offered finance and part-exchange options, and your chosen model is delivered to you within 72 hours. Alternatively you can pick it up from one of Cazoo’s 17 centres across the UK. And if you don’t like the car after buying you can return it in seven days for a full refund.
Cazoo enjoys a 4.7 out of 5 Trustpilot rating, but the one repeated issue appears to be the quality of customer service when problems arise.
Used cars: YES (More than 6,400 as of March 2021)
New cars: NO
USP: Extensive history as a used car supermarket that long pre-dates the online era
We like: Extensive choice of cars
We don’t like: No highlighting of imperfections. Home delivery may be chargeable
CarShop is another selling used cars only and claims to be the UK’s leading car supermarket. Launched back in 1999, it has since 2017 been owned by major dealer group Sytner.
Again the search engine is easy to use and the descriptions of each car extensive including around 30 photos, though unlike Cazoo any damage or imperfections are not highlighted. CarShop does say that every car on its site undergoes a 586-point inspection.
If you see a car you like you can reserve it for a refundable £99. CarShop offers PCP and HP finance options, or you can pay in full using a debit or credit card and collect the car from one of the 11 stores across the country. There is a home-delivery option, though the site warns that this might be subject to an extra charge.
All cars come with a 14-day money-back guarantee – double that of Cazoo – and CarShop also includes a three-month warranty.
Used cars: YES (323,000 cars as of March 2020)
New cars: NO
USP: Clever use of graphics to help select buying criteria
We like: ‘Smart search’ feature lets you search by vehicle type and usage, rather than just make and model
We don’t like: Reviews are not as reliable as other sources
Although not as large as Auto Trader in the overall number of stock listings, Motors has made great strides in recent years with high-profile TV advertising campaigns that have successfully attracted visitors and stock to its site.
Motors was first to market with the ability to view by monthly payments and is supremely user-friendly, with the clever use of eye-catching graphics enabling buyers to select their criteria according to practicality, budget, road tax and creature comforts.
Stock is sourced from a wide range of franchised and independent dealers from across the UK. There are a few private sellers as well, but not very many. The site also has a feature for buyers to price and advertise their cars free of charge for up to four weeks.
Like Auto Trader, Motors provides car reviews with useful information about running costs, used car pricing and so on. One thing to be wary of is that often the image will show a new model but the review will actually be for an old model. We have recently added Motors to our list of review sources for our Expert Ratings database, but many of their reviews are currently not reliable enough to use.
Used cars: YES
New cars: YES
USP: Focused on finding market-leading finance offers
We like: Good at showing exactly what a buyer can really afford
We don’t like: Site so focused on finance cars can get lost
FairSquare is another new player on the market, having been around since 2018. Unlike most other car buying sites, it puts the finance aspect of buying a car firmly to the fore. This is a sensible approach, since the vast majority of car buyers are financing their vehicle in some form.
New and used cars are available to search on the site, but before searching you choose the amount you feel able to pay each month. This governs the choice of cars you are given and if you click on a particular model you immediately get details of the likely finance terms – in fact it’s easier to see what you pay than find details of the chosen car.
FairSquare seeks out a range of sample quotes from approved lenders. The site claims to be fully independent, not favouring one finance house over another, and that site users can make searches without affecting their credit score. It also offers option for buyers with a poor credit rating.
The company does not carry its own stock of cars, instead linking to major dealer groups. However if you buy a car from the site it will be delivered to your home free of charge, and carry a 14-day money-back guarantee.
Used cars: YES (235,000 cars as of March 2021)
New cars: NO
USP: High level of price transparency
We like: Email alerts if the price of a car has been dropped
We don’t like: Only half as many cars for sale as Auto Trader
Launched in the UK in 2016 by the co-founder of TripAdvisor. After becoming the biggest online marketplace for used cars in the US, CarGurus is in a position to use online technology and tools that have been road tested in the US and Canada to give UK car buyers a new online shopping experience.
All cars are sourced from franchised and independent dealers with the site offering price transparency as buyers are advised whether the price is in line with market values. It also shows any price drops and will tell you if the price reflects a “Great” or “Fair” deal.
What’s clever about the search facility is that cars are listed according to the accuracy of their market pricing as well as the reputation of the dealer, as car retailers cannot pay extra to be listed first.
Definitely one to watch.
Used cars: YES (84,000 cars as of March 2021)
New cars: YES (4,000 cars as of March 2021)
USP: Invited dealers only
We like: No adverts or sponsored listings
We don’t like: Limited to newer used cars
Heycar is yet another new player in the used car classifieds marketplace – soon we’re going to need a marketplace for all the different used car marketplaces.
Launched in 2019, Heycar is jointly owned by Volkswagen and Daimler through their financial services divisions, as well as a private venture company. So why do VW and Mercedes want to get into the used car classifieds scene? Presumably to help them sell more cars, and to direct more of your spending into their dealerships. There are no ads for third-party providers of finance, GAP insurance or any other services like you’ll see on Auto Trader, so you’re less likely to discover that you can buy GAP much cheaper from somewhere other than the dealership…
Heycar only works with ‘selected dealerships’, which means it’s mainly big franchise operations rather than smaller local garages. All cars must also be less than eight years old and have covered less than 100,000 miles, which is exactly the sort of stock that franchised dealers carry anyway.
Inevitably, this limits the number of cars available – but if you’re looking for a low-mileage, reasonably new used car then the number of vehicles available on Heycar is probably not too different from Auto Trader or anywhere else. If you want something a bit older or more niche, Heycar is probably not very helpful to you.
Used cars: N/A
New cars: N/A
USP: Site currently specialises in new cars
We like: No haggling over prices
We don’t like: You can’t see the car you’re buying
Launched in 2013, Carwow works a bit differently from the sites above. It is aimed primarily at buyers in the market for a new car, with all stock provided by franchised dealers. You select your make, model and specification, then Carwow invites its partner dealers to make you an offer.
The search facility is easy to navigate with budgets ranging from £8,000 to over £80,000 and there’s plenty of consumer friendly advice on what to choose, complete with a large and growing car review section.
What differentiates Carwow is that once the buyer has chosen the model they are interested in, it’s then up to dealers to come up with the best price. This process is done by email and removes the need for haggling. A lot of the best deals are dependent on you taking the dealer’s finance, which can cause confusion for some buyers.
Carwow is growing its used car section, but this is still pretty small compared to other sites. It’s really best for new car buyers. The review section is quite good, and we have recently added it to our list of approved review sources for our unique Expert Ratings database.
One caveat to Carwow is that they seem to think you really want to hear from them every single day, regardless of whether you’ve bought a car from their dealers. Do yourself a favour and unsubscribe as soon as the first one hits your inbox.
Used cars: YES (“Up to 170,000” cars)
New cars: NO
USP: One-stop shop for buying and funding used cars
We like: Ease of use
We don’t like: Less than half the number of cars for sale at Auto Trader
Another new player in the online classified market is Findandfundmycar. The site offers an interesting proposition as it links funding to every used car advertised on the site: hence the rather clunky name.
Like Carsnip above, the site is actually owned by a car finance company, so they’re using the listings as a means to get new finance customers. Again, you are under absolutely no obligation to take finance, in which case the site works like any other used car classified listing.
The website is operated by MotoNovo Finance, an established player in the car funding sector. By offering a one-stop shop for buying and financing a used car, it earns money from nearly every car sold on the website.
Findandfundmycar also offers discount shopping offers from retailers like John Lewis and Halfords when customers take out finance with MotoNovo.
Used cars: YES (110,000 cars as of March 2021)
New cars: YES (1,500 cars as of March 2021)
USP: One of the best selections of enthusiast cars with the biggest enthusiast motoring forum in the UK
We like: Rarities and special editions in the classifieds, insights and conversation from enthusiast owners in the forums and strong editorial section
We don’t like: The reduction in private cars listed compared to a few years ago; these are often the real gems in an enthusiast market
PistonHeads is one of the oldest and most popular motoring websites with a unique offering of enthusiast marketplace, extensive news and the famous motoring forum, which has a staggering 20 million-plus posts from car enthusiasts.
If you are looking for a special edition or rare vehicle, this is definitely a good place to look. From supercars to prestige editions to classics, there is a great choice and thew vehicle often have more extensive descriptions than found elsewhere. Be warned – you can spend hours in the forum reading up on your dream car from the enthusiast owners posting everything from common faults, favourite drives and rebuild photos.
Whilst there are fewer private cars on the site today, there is still a good mix of major dealer groups, independents and specialists that cater for this market. PistonHeads is a car buying website with a clear identify and differentiation.
Is there a clear winner here?
Not really. All of the sites above work slightly differently and offer particular strengths and weaknesses. In many cases, it may depend on what sort of car you’re looking to buy, whether you’re financing, whether you’d prefer to buy from a dealer or privately, and whether you’re looking for something relatively common or more obscure.
Have a look at all of the above sites to see which suits you the best. Before you speak to any car dealer, have a read of our Ten Golden Rules for Buying a Car, because it will help you enormously. And before you commit yourself, cover yourself with a vehicle history check.
*The Car Expert has commercial partnerships with CarShop, Carsnip, Cazoo and FairSquare. If you click through to their websites and view any of their vehicles, we may receive a small commission. We do not receive any payment or commission if you proceed to buy a car or sign an agreement via any of these sites.
Additional reporting by Stuart Masson, Andrew Charman and Lee Williams. Originally published in January 2018, most recently updated April 2021.