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Coronavirus: Can I still buy a car?

With many unable to leave the house, online vehicle shopping could be a welcome relief. Here's our top tips for buying a car from the comfort of your sofa.

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UPDATE, January 2021: Almost every car dealership in the country has now closed for vehicle sales, although many are still open for car servicing. A growing number of manufacturers and dealers are now accepting online purchases with home deliveries, but other deliveries are likely to take place after showrooms have reopened.

Buying a car purely online is a relatively new concept. One of the best parts of it – particularly given the current climate – is that there are thousands of new and used vehicles out there available to browse, all from the comfort of your own home.

But, should you need a new car during the coronavirus pandemic, is it still possible to get one? And what processes are in place to ensure that the whole experience remains safe? We’ve been investigating to find out.

Browse away

Browsing for a new car is one of the best bits of the entire process. As we’ve already mentioned, there are thousands of cars available to view via the internet, allowing you to check them out without having to leave the house.

Of course, going online limits the amount of exposure you get – so make the most of it. Check out car postings, read reviews and research as much as you can. Many dealers will make you a personalised video of the car you’re interested in, so take advantage of technology to go beyond the simple photos posted on classified websites.

Pick a car

It’s come to the crucial point – it’s time to choose a car. Thankfully, the whole process from here – for many outlets – can be managed entirely online. James Hind, CEO of Carwow, told the PA news agency that the firm ‘is this week adding additional functionality to the website so buyers can see which dealers will offer home test drives, to help consumers who may be worried about visiting the showroom’.

Visiting a dealership shouldn’t put you at any more risk than any other public space, but you should still follow NHS safety guidelines. And of course, if you’re experiencing coronavirus symptoms or belong to an at-risk group, then you should stay at home.

However, if you want to visit a dealership to see a car you still can. It’s all about making a sensible decision and limiting your distance from other people.

Is it possible to buy a car without entering a dealership?

Yes, certainly. In fact, it can be to your benefit to buy a car from a dealership online rather than on-premises.

Stuart Masson, editor here at The Car Expert, points out that customers benefit from stronger consumer rights laws that apply to buying a car online or over the phone: “If you buy a new or used car from a dealership at a distance, which means signing the paperwork via email and making any payments via phone or online banking, you automatically have a 14-day cooling-off period for that purchase. That means you can change your mind for whatever reason – even if you simply don’t like the car.

“By comparison, if you physically walk into a dealership and buy that same car, there is no cooling-off period. Once you sign that contract, you don’t have the right to cancel it.”

Online car sales, especially for new cars, were already ramping up prior to the coronavirus outbreak, but this current period of forced isolation is likely to help make it even more popular. Erin Baker, Auto Trader editorial director, told PA: “Increasing numbers of car brands are offering the public an online buying experience, where you can do the entire thing – part-exchange your car, sort finance, purchase the new one and have it delivered to you – without leaving your home.”

Brands already offering an end-to-end online new car buying process include Dacia, Hyundai, Jaguar, Kia, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Peugeot and Volvo.

A spokesperson for online used car retailer Cazoo told PA: “Cazoo is continuing business as normal as our service allows consumers to purchase our cars entirely online in much the same way as buying any other product today.

“We own all our cars and recondition them fully before offering them for sale and delivering them to customers’ doors in a convenient two-hour delivery slot, and our handover process has been adjusted to be done at a safe distance in the current climate. Every car comes with a full seven-day money-back guarantee, destined to replace the seven-minute test drive at a dealer, and includes free comprehensive 90-day warranty and roadside assistance.”

Can I still sell my car?

If you were looking to sell your car privately, then it’s more than likely that you’ll have to wait longer for a sale. With people being asked to distance themselves from one another, there’s a good chance that most people will want to steer clear of an in-depth test drive. Plus, we’ve always promoted that you should stay with the car when it’s being test driven by another person – and this goes against the current government guidelines.

However, if you are part-exchanging your car against another new or used vehicle at a dealership, your should be unaffected. There are also businesses that offer to buy your car, which are currently trading as normal.

If I buy a new car, will it be delayed?

That depends on whether you are buying a car from existing stock or ordering a car from the factory.

If you’re buying a new vehicle that is already on the dealer’s premises or in storage, there shouldn’t be any significant delay. Things may be moving a bit slower, as there are likely to be fewer staff on hand to manage the process, but it probably won’t make much of a difference.

If you are ordering a vehicle that does not yet exist, it’s a different story. With plants shutting down across the UK and around the world, the likelihood is that production of your new car will probably be delayed. With logistics operations being slowed across the board, there’s also a good chance that even if your car has been built, it will probably take a bit more time to reach you.

Is this a good time to buy a new car?

There are positives and negatives to buying a car right now, as our editor Stuart Masson explains:

“With so many people currently confined to their homes, dealers will be very eager to sell whatever they can at the moment. That means there will certainly be deals around for buyers who are in the market and ready to buy now. The flip side of that is that your part-exchange vehicle is going to be worth less money as well, so your overall cost to change may not be as good as you’d hoped.

“In addition, many customers are going to be unsure of their own circumstances and whether they’ll even have a job in a few weeks’ time, let alone a couple of years. For the average family, now is not really the ideal time to be making a large financial commitment that locks them in for the next three or four years.

“Whatever your situation, it’s important to remember that The Car Expert’s Ten Golden Rules for buying a car still apply. Don’t be swayed by what looks to be an amazing deal – take a deep breath and properly scrutinise the numbers to make sure it all works for you. And in uncertain times, don’t overextend yourself with anything you don’t need. A car that’s a bit cheaper to finance and run each month could be critically important in coming months.”

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Jack Evans
Jack Evans
Articles by Jack Evans are provided for The Car Expert by PA Media (formerly the Press Association). They include test drives of the latest new cars and features on various aspects of automotive life.