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 Covid-19, 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 adapted to lockdown life during the last couple of years, online car sales rocketed – and all indications are that they’re not dropping off even though physical car yards are once again operating as normal. As such, we’ve been regularly updating our round-up of the top sites for you to buy a new or used car from the comfort of your own sofa. They’re not ranked, but we think they’re all worth a look.
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.
Please note that several of the companies listed below have an asterisk next to their name – they are commercial partners of The Car Expert, which means that we may get a small commission if you click through to their website. This doesn’t affect the deals you are offered or the price you pay; it just helps us to keep running our site.
Used cars: YES (253,650 cars as of January 2023)
New cars: NO
They say: “We make finding the right car simple”
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 quite the largest site in overall numbers (that honour remains with Auto Trader), 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.
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.
Used cars: YES (More than 6,400 as of January 2023)
New cars: NO
They say: “The better way to buy a used car”
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. Despite some challenges, the company continues to expand its influence across the UK’s automotive marketplace.
Cazoo provides a complete service from start to finish. 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 detailed 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 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 strong 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 (413,559 cars as of January 2023)
New cars: YES (6,094 cars as of January 2023)
They say: “Here to help you find the right one”
We like: Dealer admin fees now clearly highlighted
We don’t like: Site doesn’t remember how you sort results (cheapest first, newest first, etc.) so you have to change it every 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.
Despite new challengers arriving to chake up the marketplace, Auto Trader it is still the largest used car classifieds site in the UK. 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. Unlike most other similar sites, Auto Trader also has plenty of private sellers as well as car dealers.
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 car dealers, 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 35 different UK websites to bring you a definitive rating for every new car.
Used cars: N/A
New cars: N/A
They say: “Buy. Sell. WOW.”
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, although it’s still small compared to some of the better-known used car marketplaces. The review section is quite good, and we include it in our list of approved review sources for our award-winning Expert Rating Index.
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 (75,976 cars as of January 2023)
New cars: YES (2,596 cars as of January 2023)
They say: “Only the best quality cars”
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: YES (4,076 cars as of January 2023)
New cars: NO
They say: “Finding your next car is easy”
We like: Very straightforward site
We don’t like: Details less extensive than some
Motorpoint sells ‘nearly new’ cars which all come with a warranty. As well as the website, Motorpoint has 17 stores across the UK.
Click on ‘browse cars’ and you’re taken to a page offering lots of options, from car makes, to bodies, lifestyle (4x4s, automatics), finance (how much per month) and ‘Economical driving’ (low cost, high mpg or hybrids).
You get a picture of each car along with the outright price and monthly finance cost, and brief details including year, mileage, length of warranty and fuel type. Click through on ‘full details’ for your chosen model and you’re given more pictures, inside and out including one wheel, and a list of features.
Some details are assumed or taken from official manufacturer figures so it’s worth checking with the supplying dealer if you are taking your choice further. Some of the offered cars could have been rental or lease vehicles so again that’s worth confirming. You can reserve any car online for £99.
Free home delivery is offered from your nearest store, although there might be an internal delivery fee for cars moving between stores. Like all online retailers, you have a statutory 14-day cooling-off period if you’re not happy with the vehicle or simply change your mind.
Used cars: YES (165,841 cars as of January 2023)
New cars: NO
They say: “Find great deals from top-rated dealers”
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 (190,279 cars as of January 2023)
New cars: NO
They say: No cute taglines here, just a large number of cool cars
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.
Used cars: YES (6,714 cars as of January 2023)
New cars: NO
They say: “Cars without the faff”
We like: Good search technology to help find the right car
We don’t like: The dealer cars section looks a bit scrappy
Cinch has a good selection of cars and multiple ways to narrow down your search but, if you’re not sure what you want to drive, there’s a good matchmaker tool on the site which helps you make up your mind.
It starts with your budget, asks if you are going to part exchange a car and whether you want finance, and then delves deeper – asking how many people are likely to in the car and what sort of driving you do (motorways, A-roads, country roads) before coming up with a ‘Top’ suggestion, followed by other possible choices from stock.
Cinch promises a 225-point quality check along with a 14-day ‘faff-free’ money back guarantee. You can have your new car delivered anywhere in mainland UK within a two-hour timeslot. All its cars are under seven years old and have travelled fewer than 70,000 miles.
Finance packages are offered including monthly payments and HP and PCP deals and you can arrange to part-exchange a car as long as you have bought one of C inch’s models online. There is a separate list of cars available for sale through approved dealers. This section looks a little disjointed mainly as the pictures of the cars are taken from different angles and don’t have that smart, uniform look of the rest of the site.
The promise is worry free motoring and Cinch backs that up, for £34.99 a month, with its ‘CinchCare’ warranty package. This gives lifetime cover for the car (with exclusions), regular servicing and roadside breakdown assistance.
Used cars: YES (2,536 cars as of February 2023)
New cars: YES
They say: “Find your perfect new or used car”
We like: Extensive choice of makes and models
We don’t like: Some of the vehicle descriptions leave a lot to be desired
As one of the largest car (and van) retailers in the UK – incorporating Bristol Street Motors and Macklin Motors – Vertu is well placed to offer a wide range of both new and used vehicles. The company also handles MOT, servicing and repairs too, across its network of dealerships, providing everything you need to keep mobile.
Buying a car is a simple process on the Vertu website. From the landing page you can select new or used cars, and at this point you can also select make, model and your budget. As you refine your search parameters, the menu updates you with the number of relevant cars available.
A list of potential vehicles is offered, each with a photo and brief details such as engine and fuel type, body style, age, colour, miles covered, cash price and monthly PCP cost. It also states where in the country the car is being held. There’s also a ‘special offers’ section if you are not looking for a particular make of car.
Nationwide delivery is offered – it’s free up to 30 miles from the dealership – along with mechanical inspections, after sales help and a customer service department for assistance with buying a car.
Used cars: YES (6,243 cars as of January 2023)
New cars: NO
They say: “A zen out of zen experience”
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 (“Over 120,000” cars)
New cars: NO
They say: “Discover your dream car today”
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.
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.
Incidentally, almost all of the sites listed above have notably fewer cars on offer in September 2022 than they did when we last updated this article (about six months ago). This is largely due to the global shortage of new cars, which is having a knock-on effect on the availability of used cars.
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 Auto Trader, Carwow, Cazoo, Heycar, Motors and Motorpoint. If you click through to their websites and view any of their vehicles, or proceed to purchase a vehicle, we may receive a commission.
Additional reporting by Andrew Charman, Tom Johnston, Stuart Masson, Sean Rees and Lee Williams. Originally published in January 2018, most recently updated July 2023.