With online car buying set for a surge thanks to the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, we’ve updated this guide to the best car buying websites for 2020 to bring it right up to date.
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. On average, car buyers 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 – all from the comfort of their own sofa.
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.
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 8.5 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.
At long last, car dealers and car manufacturers have started to respond to this demand for information. You can now expect greater levels of transparency in order to entice and win customers. And that’s got to be good news for buyers.
The downside of having all this readily available information is knowing where to start, because buyers are spoilt for choice.
If you’re in the market for a new or used car, and want to shop locally with a particular brand, then simply go on to your local dealer’s website. Chances are most of the answers you require will be there. Dealer websites have changed beyond recognition in recent years in terms of content and functionality. Expect 360º images of cars, maybe even a video, a choice of funding options, independent reviews of the dealership and the ability to talk to someone out of working hours through Live Chat.
However, if you’re casting a wider 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 (482,000 cars as of May 2020)
New cars: YES (47,000 cars as of May 2020)
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 21 different UK websites to bring you a definitive rating for every new car.
Used cars: YES (320,000 cars as of May 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 number two in terms of overall 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 (243,000 cars as of May 2020)
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: 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 (382,000 cars as of May 2020)
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.
Another newcomer set on shaking up the way used cars are presented and sold online. Carsnip 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 basically the used car version of Google. You search for a car according to brand or vehicle type and you land on a page showing what’s on offer. 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 is good if you decide you want that car, but can get a bit clunky if you’re going back and forth to look at multiple cars from different dealership websites.
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. This may mean the prices and deals on offer may not be as good if you plan on borrowing money from elsewhere.
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, launched in January, 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.
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 (213,000 cars as of May 2020)
New cars: No
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.
Is there a clear winner here?
Not really. All of the sites above offer strengths and weaknesses, so it depends on what sort of car you’re looking to buy. Auto Trader certainly has the most cars to choose from, but the site can be annoying to use. Carwow brings dealers to you with whatever they have to offer, but you will get loads of spammy emails from the site every day until you unsubscribe.
Have a look at all of the above sites to see which suits you the best. And 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.
What’s your go-to site when you’re looking for a used car? Let us know below.
Originally published in January 2018. Updated with additional reporting by Stuart Masson in May 2020.